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OpenSpace Research Centre

The Open University's Centre for Geographical and Environmental Research

Living Multiculture

May 2012 - October 2014

The research project Living Multiculture: the new geographies of ethnicity and the changing formations of multiculture in England examines the current and emergent spatial and social formations of multiculture in England and asks two key questions. First, how do people live complex cultural difference and manage increasing cultural diversity in their everyday lives and second, what role does place and locality play in this.

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funded two-year project (ES/J007676/1) begins in May 2012. Dr Sarah Neal (University of Surrey, and Honorary Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Open University) as Principal Investigator will work with Prof Allan Cochrane (Open University), Prof Giles Mohan (Open University) and Dr Katy Bennett (University of Leicester).

Evidence of increasingly dispersed and diverse multicultural populations and current policy concerns with community and locality mean that this is a decisive moment for such research. Socio- economic mobility among some black and minority ethnic (BME) populations has become more established and migration patterns from inside and outside Europe have continued. The combined impact of this has meant that in the 21st century once monocultural places have become more multicultural and greater levels of ethnic diversity are changing places once associated with particular BME groups. Demands for labour across public and private sectors, changing migration policies, and aspirations and ambitions of BME groups have driven these new geographies and complex compositions of multiculture.

Despite these social and geographic changes and complexities the terms 'ethnic relations' and 'multiculture' are more often associated with 'segregation', 'crisis' and 'division'. This is not surprising given high profile public debates, media reporting and a cohesion orientated policy context based largely on the experiences of declining, post-industrial urban areas and events in London in 2007. Yet there is also growing interest in both policy circles and academic research as to the ways in which ethnically diverse populations live and interact in convivial or amicable 'rubbing along together' ways. Exploring and explaining the dynamics and limits of this 'competency' - and its relationship to places that have long and short histories of cultural diversity - is at the heart of the research. It is in a context of dispersing, intensifying multiculture that this spatial requirement is emphasised given less research has been done on suburbs, large towns and small cities with little or no histories of multiculture and/or ethnic tension.

The project's core aims are to contribute both to new social and spatial understandings of multiculture and to inform appropriate policy responses. It employs an innovative qualitative methodology in three comparative case study areas chosen for the different windows they offer onto the new geographies of multiculture in England.

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