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Corner-shop cosmopolitanism : negotiating public space in a super-diverse London neighbourhood


Wessendorf,  Susanne
Socio-Cultural Diversity, MPI for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Max Planck Society;

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Wessendorf, S. (2011). Corner-shop cosmopolitanism: negotiating public space in a super-diverse London neighbourhood. Talk presented at Conference on ‘Comparing Conviviality’. Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity. Göttingen. 2011-06-16 - 2011-06-17.

The London Borough of Hackney is one of the most diverse places in the world. It is not only characterised by a multiplicity of ethnic minorities, but also differentiations in terms of variables such as migration histories, religions, educational and economic backgrounds both among long-term residents and newcomers. This paper attempts to describe how people negotiate social interactions in public space in such a ’super-diverse’ context. It develops the notion of ‘commonplace diversity’, referring to ethnic, religious and linguistic diversity being experienced as a normal part of social life by local residents, and not as something particularly special. Closely related to commonplace diversity are intercultural skills which are needed to facilitate everyday social interactions in public space. These competences are particularly important for business transactions in shops and at markets, and traders practice what I describe as ‘corner-shop cosmopolitanism’. While traders adapt to their costumers’ origins by using such cosmopolitan skills, residents tend to treat everybody universally the same. At bus-stops, in parks or streets, people act with ‘civility towards diversity’ and do not adapt their behaviour to other people’s origins, because they find it too difficult to categorise strangers in a context where ‘everybody comes from elsewhere’. The paper ends by asking whether there are differences in behaviour in public space according to the demographic set-up of an area, with a super-diverse context leading to a more universal treatment of strangers, as opposed to a context with more clearly defined groups.