Working Paper

Backlash Against Diversity? Identity and Cultural Politics in European Cities

Published 1 January 2005 / By Ralph Grillo

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Introduction

The paper discusses four 'visions' of the contemporary ethnically plural city under conditions of globalisation and transnationalism. These 'visions', which in various ways are found in academic writing, political and social policy debates, and in contemporary literature and film, might be described as models, ideal types, scenarios, trajectories, or options which envision how such cities, whose populations are ethnically, linguistically and culturally diverse, are or might be, should or should not be. Three of these visions (of the city as the site, respectively, of 'assimilation', 'integration', or 'multiculturalism', and 'separatism') have in varying degrees been found wanting, but contemporary criticism of 'multiculturalism' in Europe and North America suggests there is now a 'backlash' against diversity and difference and a desire to return to older 'assimilative' models of the city. Yet the reality, in a globalised and transnational world, is that the city is a site of a fourth vision, of 'mixity', one that many people find deeply disturbing. The paper ends by asking what might be said about the governance of the plural, ethnically heterogeneous, city under conditions of globalisation and mass transnational migration, in the light of these cultural transformations.

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