The new geographies of ethnicity and the changing formations of multiculture in England
It is has often felt like a winter of argument, contestation and crisis around migration and multiculture. Recent terrorist events in France and in Australia and the electoral successes and high opinion poll rating for Ukip in the UK have each contributed to discourses of cultural apartness, crisis and conflict. These last few months have seen an intense anti-migrant hostility back in ascendency in the public domain in the UK and a number of other EU countries such as Germany and Greece.
In this context it is hard to tell counter narratives about migration and settlement and multiculture but also increasingly important. These narratives, informed by empirical data, attract less focus but do exist and offer powerful interruptions to the cultural difference-social crisis story. As Rob Ford (University of Manchester) argues in his analysis of the 2013 British Social Attitudes Survey 1983-213 it is possible to track a decline in racial prejudice particularly when analyzed over time and through generation - he reminds us that now one in five relationships is between partners from different ethnic groups (The decline of racial prejudice in Britain is available now at http://blog.policy.manchester.ac.uk/category/ethnicity/).
A recent example of a counter migration narratives, and one which did find some traction - albeit limited - in the public domain were the findings from a University of Bristol study (Simon Burgess, 2014 Centre for Market and Public Organization Understanding the Success of London’s schools Working Paper 14/333) which suggested that the success of London schools in terms of GCSE achievement was explained by migrant settlement and the drive and aspiration of migrant communities to make education work and pay dividends (see also Rachel Salmon’s Reaping the Rewards of Diversity policy briefing for the think tank, Local Government Information Unit (LGiU), which is posted on this website).
Our own findings and research experiences on the Living Multiculture project pick up on the idea of multiculture that is, we suggest, broadly successful.
What ‘successful’ means is of course contentious. At it’s most basic and stripped back we could use the notion as the relative absence of social conflict and disorder in relation to ethnic diversity but more usefully, and used in a more careful and developed way, successful multiculture can be applied to those everyday urban environments in which cultural difference is the norm and cultural difference has to be – and is - accommodated and navigated by ethnically diverse populations in social life.
The Living Multiculture project finished as a live research project at the end of October 2014 but writing and analysis from the project continues. At the successful and productive End of Project event at which we were delighted to have a excellent set of key contributors and the Summary of Findings Report both testify to the way in which cultural difference and multiculture in very different places are routinely managed.
This is not to naively overlook tensions or anxieties nor to over-claim that very diverse populations living proximately and encountering each other are transformed by this experience but more to focus on the ways in which local populations (migrant, once migrant, never migrant) inhabit shared spaces and share social resources – there is strain, avoidance and conflict but there is also accommodation, some celebration, some exchange and lots of ‘not really noticing’ – multiculture as just an ‘is’! We found this in all three of the very different geographies that we worked in and in the areas of social life - parks, 6th forms, social-leisure groups and brand cafes - that we researched.
This is important because the areas we worked in each had very different histories and experiences of multiculture and corresponding levels of ‘expertise’ and ‘learning’ around difference. We would then like to draw attention to the need to first, have a more nuanced approach to multiculture and place which is able to take on board that multiculture itself is very different – with different diversities in different places and two, to have a focus on a broader narrative which highlights the ways in which cultural difference and interaction are managed without social worlds falling apart.
It is in this context that we are delighted to be able to post the report written by Rachel Salmon (LGiU briefings are usually only available to the Unit’s members) and our own Summary of Findings report.