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‘Being open, but sometimes closed’: Living together 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. (2013). ‘Being open, but sometimes closed’: Living together in a super-diverse London neighbourhood. MMG Working Paper, (13-11).

The London Borough of Hackney is one of the most diverse places in the United Kingdom. It is characterized not only by a multiplicity of ethnic minorities, but also by differentiations in terms of migration histories, religions, and educational and economic backgrounds, both among long-term residents and newcomers. This paper attempts to describe how people negotiate social interactions 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. This commonplace diversity has resulted in people acting with ‘civility towards diversity’. While in a public space, people mostly treat everybody the same without acknowledging differences, while in semi-public spaces such as associations and local institutions, here conceptualized as ‘parochial space’ (Hunter 1985), people’s different backgrounds are acknowledged and sometimes talked about. The paper discusses how people negotiate their differences in these two different kinds of spaces. It shows how civility towards diversity is used as a strategy to both engage with difference as well as avoid deeper contact. Civility thus facilitates the negotiation of both positive relations and possible tensions.