Commonwealth: lessons in living with difference
This book project builds on Farhan’s Ph.D. research to explore the everyday implications of an increasingly diverse world. Centered around ethnographic research in the ‘superdiverse’ London neighborhood of Kilburn, from 2014-2016, this book weaves together everyday stories of cooperation and conflict with major questions from the fields of psychology, political history, and anthropology, in order to interrogate our capacity for living with difference. The scope of the book moves from a shared evolutionary history, through the particular political history of liberal democracies, and up to the ways in which difference has become contentious in the present day. This history is interwoven with scenes from contemporary Kilburn, which show these historical questions playing out in prosaic contexts. The book’s central argument is that the politics of diversity play out on two distinct levels - everyday encounters and symbolic politics - each characterized by a different form of political reasoning, drawing on distinct psychological capabilities. These two levels can and do intertwine, but also pose distinct political challenges, where forms of everyday harmony may not translate into more inclusive narratives about difference, and vice versa. Empirically, this is illustrated through a range of ethnographic examples from Kilburn - where people hold strong, highly-cooperative interpersonal relationships, but also critique or resist migration, multiculturalism, or the truth claims of other groups - or vice versa, where those with reasonably accepting politics in the abstract resist the building of collaborative relationships in person. These ethnographic vignettes are set alongside historical and ethnographic stories from elsewhere in the world, ranging from indigenous communities in the Amazon, to Islamic rule in Southern Spain, to post-conflict reconciliation in Northern Ireland.