«Population, Space, Place Special Issue. Title ‘Good relations’ among neighbours and workmates? The everyday encounters of Accession 8 migrants ...»
There is much literature around the politics and practices of living together in diverse multicultural cities and speculation abounds as to how encounters can enhance understanding of difference, promote harmonious juxtaposed lives and generally be constitutive of ‘good relations’ (Keith, 2005; Simonsen, 2008b; Amin, 2002, 2004, 2006; Valentine, 2008). Neighbourhood and workplaces have been explored in this paper as potential sites of intercultural exchange between A8 migrants and established community members. Such social interactions are framed within the literature on everydayness and mundane geographies (Ley, 1977; De Certeau, 1984; Lefebvre, 1990; Harrison, 2000; Seigworth and Gardiner, 2004; Binnie et al 2007) to explore whether banal everyday mixing and ‘prosaic negotiations’ (Amin, 2002:969) can enhance meaningful encounters and eventually contribute to positive integration experiences. The conclusions are somewhat mixed and nuanced, reflecting the complex character of mundane social life.
Neighbourhoods and workplaces clearly have the potential to foster meaningful ‘everyday encounters’ and have been reported to do so by some of our participants at particular times and in particular places. Certain experiences are evocative of Amin’s (2006:1013) hopeful ‘culture of care and regard’ for otherness where people learn to ‘live with, perhaps even value difference’. Both A8 migrants and established community members in this study discussed notable encounters with ‘others’ that were on occasions at the very least civil (Fyfe et al, 2006; Boyd, 2006) and lubricating of proximate living; and at best were generative of deeper interaction and meaningful engagement with ‘strangers’. Such ‘strange encounters’ (Ahmed, 2000) have been reported to occur in the ‘grey’ or interstitial areas of everyday life such as on the factory floor, in shops, on the street and in the school playground. The arguable banality of these ‘everyday encounters’ (Laurier and Philo, 2006) does not mean that they do not matter; in fact the way that a minority of participants in our study spoke of such encounters perhaps begins to chime with Giddens’ (1991) suggestion that banality allows us to ‘hold things together’ and give us ontological security.
However, the majority of participants in this study outlined a quite different set of encounters that emerged from their experiences of living side by side. Such encounters, or more specifically the evident lack of meaningful engagement between established communities and A8 migrants, generally failed to produce constructive or generative interactions. These findings support Valentine’s suggestion that, “proximity does not relate to meaningful contact” (2008:334) and may cultivate little beyond superficial tolerance. Diverse groups of people can share the same space but, as she argues, it is a mistake to make the, “naïve assumption that contact with ‘others’ necessarily translates into respect for difference” (2008:325). We found that the common spaces of neighbourhood and work shared by many A8 migrants and established community members facilitated everyday encounters that routinely ranged from negative experiences and structurally enforced ‘absences’ of interaction through to more active strategies of withdrawal from mixing with members of ‘other’ communities. Such a depiction leads us to conclude that for some people these everyday places create encounters that allow different groups to merely ‘tolerate’ each other (with, as Wemyss (2006) notes, associated expressions of power). Indeed, sometimes this inability or unwillingness to engage with ‘others’, this lack of encounters, emerge as more pernicious manifestations of mutual mistrust and resentment. For many of our A8 participants therefore; neighbourhood and workplace experiences did not open up spaces for ‘meaningful engagement’ with established community members that were capable of breaking down stereotypes and barriers to integration.
In order to avoid ending this paper on such a negative note, we offer a final more optimistic point about ‘change’ and the non-fixity of people’s perspectives when
encountering others that emerged from our fieldwork:
Respondent 1: We tolerate them [A8 migrants].
Interviewer: It’s an interesting word tolerate. Do you just think, they are here.
Is it just tolerate or is it, they are welcome, or what? There is a difference isn’t there?
Respondent 1: I have two split personalities on this. I was brought up by my family to believe the quotation that goes, ‘when in Rome do as the Romans do’. So when somebody comes to this country half of me thinks, well they should behave like we do. But there’s another half of me that goes, this country is a bastardised nation by the Saxons, the Normans, the Romans, the French. Our language is bastardised like two language mixed together, French and Anglo Saxon mixed together. So basically we are a mixture of lots of different cultures which has made our culture. So this is an ongoing process. So the more cultures we add to it the more diverse we become. We will change because we’ve always changed.
Respondent 2: It’s going to get to a point one day where all governments agree that it’s not a case of America, England France, all the rest of it. It’s going to have to come to a point, because no country in this world is just one set [of people]. Sorry, but we created boats and planes, we skipped over [to different places] and we’ve got into everybody else. To me it’s not different countries. That doesn’t exist any more. We are a planet. (FG8 established white community) The above quote is indicative of the, at times, contradictory reaction of established communities to the A8 migrants that had recently arrived to live and work alongside them. It is illustrative of recognition that successive waves of migration have led to changes in the way that we define ourselves and perhaps hints that more positive everyday encounters that can and may emerge from the era of enhanced global mobility that is part and parcel of the fabric of contemporary society.
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