Changing dynamics of urban diversity I

Time: 10:15 - 11:45, Wednesday October 27
Room: PA329, P46 OsloMet

Questions of diversity, difference and divides are central to urban studies. Cities are celebrated as places and spaces where diversity – cultural, social, political – can flourish. At the same time, cities are sites where diversities and differences are sources of contestation and tension, where urban encounters may (re)construct and destabilise boundaries of inclusion and exclusion (Ye 2019).

Research agendas on urban diversity and difference include questions of migration, work and social inclusion, social differentiations and their intersections, indigenous urbanisation, as well as the management and governance of increasing urban diversity and difference (Raco and Tasan-Kok 2019).

The current pandemic has further alerted us to the complex dynamics of urban diversity, both by exposing socio-spatial inequalities, changing patterns of mobility and migration, and by revealing how representations of differently positioned citizens – socially, culturally, ethnically – play out in media and policy debates.  


Inspired by Ye’s (2019) question about how we ‘live with difference in shared spaces’, we aim to discuss multiple dynamics of urban diversity and explore the productive encounters and frictions that shape inclusion and exclusion in multiple spaces and places of the city.

To structure our session, each participant will have 10 minutes to present their paper and respond to questions. We will conclude with a plenary discussion with all participants.

Paper 1: Diversity in the city: Conceptualizing the role of time and place, professor Erika Gubrium, Dep. of Social Work, Oslo Metropolitan University

 “Diversity is experienced in various spaces and places of the city.” The proposed presentation flips this logic, with focus on the diverse meanings that adult immigrants to Norway (and Oslo) make of their lives, arguing that they actively make meaning of time, space and place, and that these meanings are actively constituted by their biographical experiences, before and since their move to Oslo. 

The COVID-19 epidemic revealed, for instance, that individuals have made widely varied meaning of spaces/places – one’s home, one’s neighborhood, one’s workplace(s), the institutions one encounters, and the means of transport between these – actively drawing on personal and biographical histories and hopes for the future.

Diversity has been rendered visible, not just across experience, but in terms of how time, space and place have been understood. This presentation uses this diversity as a starting point, suggesting a novel strategy for conceptualizing the relationship between time, space/place and experience, using immigrant integration (to Oslo) as an illustrative case. More specifically, the presentation proposes a strategy to explore how immigrants actively and variably (diversely) construct subjective understandings of the temporality, spatiality and identity work relevant to their integration. The presentation will propose a detailed methodological and analytical strategy for enabling such a focus.  

Paper 2: Urban diversity studies: Russian Approaches, Igor Mikheev, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow
Aadne Aasland, NIBR, OsloMet

Migration and a growing diversity of urban populations have brought about a growing interest in and new approaches to diversity studies, both in terms of theoretical conceptualizations and empirical research. Most of this growing literature is centred around aspects of urban diversity in the anglo-saxon world and in western Europe.

Russia, regardless of being one of the world’s top three immigration countries, and with many cities characterized by what could be labelled superdiversity (Vertovec 2007) or even hyperdiversity (Tasan Kok et al 2014) in terms of their ethnocultural, sociodemographic and lifestyle population mix, is vastly underrepresented in the international academic urban diversity studies literature. And, as Müller (2018) has pointed out, while ‘the East’ has often simply been an object of area studies, it should be a subject in its own right.

In this paper we examine how urban diversity is currently being conceptualized and analysed in Russian-language academic literature. Via systematic searches in academic data bases we identify key scholarly works on the theme and address three major questions:

  1. To what extent and how do Russian scholars relate to major European trends and concepts used in the urban diversity literature?
  2. Which social characteristics and contexts do Russian scholars consider when writing about urban diversity?
  3. What do Russian scholars write about diversity management and policies aimed at addressing barriers as well as exploiting the potential benefits of the diverse population mix in Russian cities?

Based on our findings we discuss how Russian urban diversity studies could potentially enrich international scholarly theoretical and empirical debates on the topic.

Paper 3: Why don’t they mobilize? Exploring class consciousness, neighborliness, and resistance in a diverse slum in New Delhi, Anne Waldrop, Professor of Development Studies, OsloMet

India is a diverse country in terms of religion and ethnic groups, and known for its hierarchical caste system and huge class differences. From independence in 1947 until the onset of economic liberation around 1990, urban areas were characterized by physical proximity and social distance between people from different castes and classes.

Despite huge differences in income and living conditions, there was hardly any polarization and overall a low degree of class consciousness and mobilization among the urban poor. With economic liberalization, class differences have been further enlarged, and in cities like New Delhi, gated communities, exclusive, guarded shopping-malls, and an amalgam of private schools have emerged, while at the same time, the slum-areas that previously were interspersed between expensive housing estates centrally located in the city, have been bulldozed away and moved to the city fringes.

The city is now best characterized by both physical and social distance between rich and poor. During this same period, a process of politization of caste with mobilization based on low-caste identity has resulted in caste taking on a more class-like form, while Muslims have been increasingly marginalized with the growth of Hindu-nationalism. Notwithstanding these changes, there is very low degree of polarization, conflict, or collective mobilization based on class among the urban poor.  

Based on longitudinal ethnographic fieldwork in a 40-years old slum in New Delhi, this paper will explore this further. In principle, conditions in this slum ought to be perfect for collective mobilization: The area is quite homogeneous in terms of class; as slum-residents they share a common marginalization with poor municipal services; although diverse in terms of religion with approximately 30 percent Muslims, there is overall a good sense of neighborliness and amiability with alleys between houses functioning as commons; and they live with uncertainty of the area’s future.  

Paper 4: Planning and designing the Danish ‘ghetto-laws’: Aesthetic dimensions in changing cultural encounters, Iben Holck, Phd student, Roskilde university

My research turn the gaze to professionals managing urban diversity as they translate the Danish so-called “ghettolaw” into architecture and urban space design. This law is structured around five political citizen categories primarily based on ethnicity and class markers, and the goal of the law is to change the resident composition according to this categorization system in selected public housing areas.

The main tool to this is privatization of large parts of the public housing. I understand the processes of translating the law into material form as important spaces where intersections of representation, aesthetic relations and the political economy of housing takes place. To unfold this, I engage with how professionals interpret, negotiate and embed the political citizen categories in their work and relate this to their own position. Kjældgaards (2020) idea of the Danish welfare state as an aesthetic laboratory in which politics and art evolve and shape each other is useful to explore the translations as cultural representations.

Simultaneously I argue for a need to grasp the material and structural conditions of the representations on urban life as I turn to Rajarams (2006) postcolonial notion aesthetic landscapes of order as the states dominant and desired representation of space as known, predictable and thereby governable. This is sustained by identifying dystopic space and naming the bodies that do not fit.

Also Tolia-Kellys (2006) work reminds us that aesthetic dimensions are not neutral but processes of universalisation of dominant subjects’ experiences. By attending to the (re)making of Danish public housing areas into public-private areas, I ask how we can understand the very notion of aesthetics in urban plans and architecture designed to enhance specific encounters and elude others?


The session is organised by members of the Diversity Studies Centre Oslo (DISCO)’s working group on urban space and diversity, Oslo Metropolitan University

  • Marianne Millstein, NIBR, Oslo Metropolitan University

We plan hybrid panels to accommodate international participants unable to travel to Oslo.

Note: This session is one of three sessions under the theme «Changing dynamics of urban diversity’»