Between Being and Becoming? Rights, Responsibilities and the Politics of Multiculture in the New East End Michael Keith


In this article I draw on two pieces of work that analyse how we consider the relationship between place and belonging in the rapidly changing city. The interplay between rhetorics of community and languages of civil rights appeal to different senses of the good society. When inflected by notions of solidarity that are mediated by place and by race we can see at times a confused sense of how we understand both what it means to think about la droit à la ville (the right to the city) and how we might want to think differently. This is important in a city such as London where the frequently contested arenas of local politics take place in settings where demographic change is extremely rapid. The stranger in the midst of dynamic London settings can be the refugee, the Chinese DVD seller, the asylum seeker, the A8 migrant from the old Eastern Europe, the gentrifier, or the affluent businessman from the Gulf, New York or Shanghai. How do we think the settlement of these new articulations of multicultural urbanism should arbitrate between alternative claims on the welfare state, the public realm or the labour markets that structure employment opportunities? And when London bases its Olympian claims on the interplay of regeneration and multicultural diversity of the East End, whilst simultaneously the British National Party in the 2006 local elections make their largest gains in the city in the borough of Barking and Dagenham just to the east of the Olympics site, then perhaps the time has come to unpick the way we think about city form and social justice in the setting of today’s globalised urbanisms. To pursue these questions this article draws on the author’s longstanding engagement with research and politics in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets and on a piece of research conducted in Barking and Dagenham in 2006-2007 to think about the simultaneous realisation of processes of ‘multicultural being’ and patterns of ‘city becoming’ in today’s London.

Keith, M. (2008) ‘Between Being and Becoming? Rights, Responsibilities and the Politics of Multiculture in the New East End’, Sociology Research Online Volume, 13(5)