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Approaching urban diversity: between transgression and integration

Stijn Oosterlynck, Nicolas Van Puymbroeck, and Mike Raco

Immigrant integration has been one of the most intractable problems confronting cities in the global North in the last five decades. The London bombings in July 2005, the violent riots in the French banlieues in November 2005, the Ferguson unrests in 2014, the Baltimore protests in 2015 and the killings which took place in Paris this year have all been portrayed as direct attacks on dominant models of integration of migrants and ethnic minority groups in Global North cities. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel openly declared in October 2010 that attempts to build multicultural societies in Europe had ‘utterly failed’. The recent so-called ‘crisis’ of mass-migration from Syria into the EU or from Latin America into the US has further fueled a rising tide of resentment towards open migration policies with many countries adopting more aggressive integrationist policies. Especially since the aftermath of 9/11, political elites across the Global North have commonly distanced themselves from multiculturalism as an approach to address increasing ethnic and cultural heterogeneity. Amongst other reasons, multicultural policies were blamed for institutionalizing parallel societies and for legitimating the cultural oppression of women and LGBT within (Muslim) minority groups. In the wake of these wider trends, academic and policy writings have drawn on a variety of categories, such as ‘neo-assimilationism’, ‘post-multiculturalism’, ‘superdiversity’, ‘interculturalism’ and ‘diversity management’, to describe the core characteristics of integration policies arising during the last decade, including ‘citizenization’ programs, social mix strategies and neighborhood cohesion projects. Each of these categories implies a certain understanding of diversity and treats urban diversity and the societal dynamics it triggers either as a phenomenon to be domesticated, disciplined and governed or as a transgressive force challenging urban governing mechanisms and harboring the potential of urban transformation.

This session invites empirical and theoretical proposals which examine the wide variety of contemporary approaches to urban ethnic and cultural diversity in cities, particularly from the perspective of how these approaches deal with the transgressive potential of ethnic and cultural diversity in cities. Although the call for this session is formulated from the perspective of Global North cities, we also welcome proposals analyzing approaches of diversity in cities in the Global South. We look for contributions that critically interrogate how ethnic and cultural diversity is named, signified and approached, how these names and labels function as ‘acts as technologies of social description' (to use Ahmed’ terms) and whose interests are being served by approaching diversity in this way. The following list of themes indicates some more detailed possible questions:

  • How is ethnic and cultural diversity named, signified and approached in specific cities? How did these names and approaches enter into integration politics and who has mobilized them?
  • What can count as a characteristic of diversity (race, ethnicity, religion, sexual preference, education, class) and why? What types of diversity are found in public policies and who decides how diversity is defined and with what ends?
  • Which actors position themselves as transgressive forces in the field of diversity politics? How do they do so and with what effect?
  • To what extent is ethnic and cultural diversity politicized or depoliticized in specific cities?
  • Which discourses on diversity are mobilized to that end? And with what effects?