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Living with Difference in Europe - Making Communities out of Strangers in an era of super-mobility and super-diversity

Final Report Summary - LIVEDIFFERENCE (Living with Difference in Europe - Making Communities out of Strangers in an era of super-mobility and super-diversity)

We are witnessing unprecedented levels of mobility within and beyond the European Union (EU) and rapid demographic change. This is a product of the twin forces of the global economy and global conflicts which have accelerated patterns of migration both into, and within, the EU. Other forms of rapid population change are evident too resulting in the more open public expression of a diverse range of social identities and ways of living. As populations and cultures have become more heterogeneous living with 'difference' has emerged as a key challenge for all European societies, although the extent to which national communities are currently characterised by supermobility and superdiversity varies.

The LIVEDIFFERENCE Research Programme has generated a new body of information and understanding about the extent and nature of everyday encounters with ‘difference’ through five inter-linked projects, each collecting original empirical data in two contrasting European countries: one a former colonial power in Western Europe - the UK, the other a post-socialist state in Eastern Europe - Poland. Both of whom are inextricably linked by a shared framework of European legislation and by migration and the associated transnational relationships such flows produce.

Struggles over the 'rights' of different social groups have led to the gradual development of progressive legislative frameworks and the apparent 'normalisation' of diversity in public space. However, our research found that inter-linkages between the UK and Poland within the context of the EU are producing - and circulating through the international currency of 'political correctness' - a common critique of equality legislation and a belief that popular concerns about the way national contexts are perceived to be changing as a consequence of supermobility and super diversity are being silenced. Specifically, people claim to alter how they to relate to others in public because of an expectation that they may be prosecuted or morally judged, rather than because they accept cosmopolitan social normativities. Prejudice is thus in effect being privatised. As such, everyday encounters with difference can only be read as evidence that equality has become embedded in routine ways of thinking and talking in public life, rather than as necessary proof of a progressive cosmopolitan public culture. Thus in the context of European austerity and associated levels of socio-economic insecurity, negative attitudes and conservative values may begin to re-emerge as popular normative standards which transcend national contexts to justify harsher political responses towards minorities. As such, prejudice reduction strategies need to receive greater priority in national and European contexts.

The research has produced new insights into specific forms of prejudice. The vehemence of class prejudice in this study demonstrates the extent to which poverty is now popularly understood as a personal failing rather than a product of the workings of capitalism. While the development of equality legislation has contained the public expression of the most blatant forms of gender prejudice, sexism persists and is manifest in subtle ways. As a consequence, it can be difficult to name and challenge. Rather, sexism appears only to be 'seen' when it affords the instantiation of other forms of prejudice, such as Islamophobia. Through such analysis we have identified a complex (re)alignment of associations between different social groups (including working class people, disabled people, asylum seekers) in processes of 'othering' and identified the intersectional nature of prejudice.

The opportunities for and quality of contact with difference in a range of sites was systematically investigated to identify what kinds of encounter produce 'meaningful contact'. By this we mean contact that actually changes values to produce a positive respect for, rather than merely tolerance of, others. By examining multiple sites where difference is experienced we conclude that the workplace is the site which is most effective at creating 'meaningful contact'. Intra-familial diversity does produce positive attitudes in public life towards the specific social group that an individual family member is perceived to represent but such positive attitudes are not translated beyond this specific 'difference' to challenge wider prejudices towards other groups. We then used insights from case study research in an institutional space (a workplace); a social space (a gym) and several community projects to identify the types of activity and characteristics of particular spaces where meaningful contact can be produced or facilitated. This evidence was used to inform the design of a series of ‘spatial experiments’ to create meaningful contact which resulted in the production of a self-assembly spatial kit known as a diversity den. A proof of concept study is planned to evaluate whether it is possible to translate this technique into a commercial training/education tool.

Taken together the LIVEDIFFERENCE Research Programme has opened up new directions in the interdisciplinary study of cosmopolitanism; it has developed new horizons in methodological practice through the development of biographical timelines, and audio diaries to capture qualitative longitudinal data; Big Brother style video-elicitation; and radical spatial experiments to create meaningful contact. The findings have been disseminated through academic publications, two international conferences, a public exhibition, and a series of dissemination workshops. The findings provide an integrated evidence base about everyday understandings of difference and spatial practices of encounter to inform European policies and strategies for living with difference.