Sensory Methods

One of the most interesting – and perhaps underrated – aspects of research into urban multiculture is its methodological innovation (as an example see Emma’s profile of Yasmin Gunaratnam). The value of ethnography in sociological research is a key aspect of Les Back’s New Ethnicities and Urban Cultures, and the theme of methods informed much of the programming for the conference.

One paper that tackles the issue of methods head-on is by Ruth Webber, a doctoral student based at the University of Leicester. Ruth is conducting research into refugee, asylum seeker and migrant women in Glasgow. In her paper on notions of ‘home’, heritage and identity as felt and experienced by these women, Ruth will present her own unique form of ethnographic practice that utilises ‘sensory methods such as photo-elicitation and collage making ’ that will enable her to access the non-linguistic ways in which women refugee and asylum seekers navigate and make sense of their new homes.

You can get a taster of Ruth’s research in her beautiful blog and this post in particular which outlines her project.

Ruth is in fact a former student of Goldsmiths, and told us how much she is looking forward to returning and seeing the college’s famous tiled floors. So here’s a little taster for Ruth from the college’s instagram feed.

Ruth Webber presents ‘Everyday Multiculturalism’; using sensory methods to explore ‘home’, heritage and identity in the everyday lives of migrant women in Glasgow’ in the Living with difference session (Panel 9), 15:30-16:45 in room PSH326

Introducing the plenary speakers: Dr Yasmin Gunaratnam

When you picture ‘new urban multiculture’ what kinds of spaces do you envision? What can we learn about a city from its spaces of dying? Next in our line up of plenary speakers is Dr Yasmin Gunaratnam, a Reader in Sociology at Goldsmiths. In her outstanding book Death and the Migrant, Yasmin writes about the coming together of migration histories and end of life care in experiences of transnational dying. Her work examines the pain of racism and the possibilities of care in moments of interaction and negotiation at the borders of bodies, and of life and death. Yasmin’s work and her focus on these intimate moments serve as a reminder that encounters between and across difference do not only happen in the street but on the ward and in the bedroom. And that what happens in spaces of care can resonate with other forms of social pain. She writes:


‘[S]ome of the ways in which the felt injustices of diagnostic care can resonate with the injuries of class and racism, producing a layered distress. Mita’s story is about an Indian Hindu patient with terminal cancer. The man’s cancer had been repeatedly misdiagnosed leaving him feeling angry and distressed. The patient had been a teacher in India and on settlement in the UK could not get a teaching job, and so had worked in factories and as a bus driver. Here is Mita’s story:

I think it (his feelings of being discriminated against (in employment) had an impact on how he dealt with his condition, because unfortunately his diagnosis had been quite delayed.  For a year he’d been going backwards and forwards to the GP, telling him all the classic symptoms of what he’d got… he still had this idea and he said “I know I’m educated and I know I’m completely in the wrong box. I think they haven’t treated me properly because I am who I am, because saying I was only good enough for bus driving, not for teaching and for the same reason they didn’t think I was important enough to be diagnosed early enough to be treated in the right way.” And I found that very hard.’

 In order to convey these embodied stories of care and of pain, Yasmin uses many different ways of telling, including drawing on her skills as a poet. You can hear a reading of one of these ‘The Prince and the Pea’ here.

Yasmin does not only experiment with different ways of telling but also different ways of doing ethnography. For example, the Every minute of every day project examined the relationship between the Richard House hospice and Newham through the use of a live sensory team ethnography.

Yasmin will be speaking on the ‘Researching urban multicultures‘ panel. You can read more about her work here.

‘England made me a criminal, not Jamaica, so why should I be sent back there?’

One of the papers in the Racism and Resistance session (10:30am – PSH314) is by Luke De Noronha on ‘Deported Black Britons’. Luke is a DPhil student in Anthropology (COMPAS) in the University of Oxford, and is conducting research into the lives and experiences of the ex-offenders who are being deported from the UK back to Jamaica, a place that many of them hardly know. Luke’s research involves gathering the personal accounts of those being deported, as well as their friends and families, which immediately humanises individuals who are often stripped of their identity, history and indeed, humanity, whether in news reporting or public discourse more generally.

In an article for Lacuna, Luke presents an interview with Chris, an ex-offender who has been deported back to Jamaica, conducted over Whatsapp, a mobile messaging application. Interspersed within Chris’ story, Luke provides contextual detail regarding policy and procedure, as well as other material taken from his research, acting as an additional layer of narrative. It is a powerful device that helps demonstrate how these deeply personal tales are shaped by powerful social and political forces.

As Luke says,
It is important to tell the stories of people sent back. While it is usually argued that ‘foreign criminals’ have endangered the British public and should therefore be sent ‘home’, many of these ‘foreign criminals’ are being exiled from all that they know. They don’t appear all that foreign nor do they define themselves as migrants; they are not sent home but banished from it. There are people all around the world who sound, act, and feel British, whatever that means, and yet who have been deported to countries they barely remember.

Luke De Noronha presents ‘Deporting Black Britons’ in the Race and Resistance session (Panel 3), 10:30-11:45 in room PSH314

Introducing the plenary speakers: Dr Christy Kulz

When putting together our plenary panel session on ‘Researching New Urban Multicultures’ we were keen to assemble a group of people at different career stages, conducting methodologically innovative and cutting edge ethnographic research. Christy Kulz’s ethnography of a contemporary urban English academy immediately sprang to mind.

This piece of work, which examines neoliberal governance within schools and how class, race and gender are formulated within this setting, also addresses tricky methodological questions about the ethics of carrying out research with young people and working with institutional settings.

Christy’s work serves as a provide a nuanced and powerful critique of the academy as a means for ‘dealing with urban children’. Her arguments have an added urgency, given the government’s recent proposals for forced academisation. She writes:

‘Beaumont’s [school] ethos is steeped in pathological representations of Redwood as home to a raced, classed deficit culture in need of transformation through a return to law and order. Unstructured unhappiness becomes synonymous with the ‘urban child’, as several teachers use this shorthand to describe ‘Redwood [the neighbourhood] kids’. This urban child is contrasted with the ideal student – the suburban middle-class, predominantly white child.’ (Kulz, 2014)

Christy%20This research was the basis for Christy’s PhD thesis,  completed at Goldsmiths, and which won the British Educational Research Association (BERA) Doctoral Dissertation Award, in 2014.  It will be published as a monograph ‘Factories for Learning’ by Manchester University Press next year.

Christy recently started an Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellowship at the University of Cambridge’s Faculty of Education where she is carrying out her new project ‘Governing schools, governing subjects: academies, mobility dreams and inequality’.

You can read more about Christy’s research here.

Introducing the plenary speakers: Dr William ‘Lez’ Henry

With less than a month to go until the conference, we want to use this space to start introducing the work of some of the people participating in the day. (And if you want to feature in this blog please do contact us.)

In the middle of the conference we have, what we are calling ‘parallel plenaries’ (a slight oxymoron but work with us here…). Rather than paper presentations, the invited speakers will speak for about 10 minutes on the plenary theme, as a way of framing what has been discussed so far, and opening up conversations further.dr_lez_henry

One of the speakers on the ‘Politics of Urban Multiculture’ plenary is Dr William ‘Lez’ Henry. In some ways, Lez fully embodies the conference: an artist, academic, and activist all rolled into one, as well as a native south Londoner (and former student and teacher at Goldsmiths). Lez was heavily involved in the south London sound system scene, and wrote a book on the subject entitled What the Deejay Said: A Critique from the Street! (incidentally, the preface was written by Paul Gilroy, one of our keynote speakers). In the book, Lez explores the cultural politics of the 1970s and 1980s sound system scene, and the way in which it drew strongly from Jamaican culture but created something that was distinctly British. This is a story about racism in the UK, but also about  the possibilities of black cultural production, creating what Lez describes as ‘alternative public spaces’, a site of new articulations of both blackness and Britishness. Again, this for us embodies the themes of the conference.

You can read more about Lez’s work in this great interview. (Check out the amazing recording of a sound clash from 1984)


Welcome to the official website for the New Urban Multicultures Conference, being held at Goldsmiths, University of London on May 17th, 2016.

Please do browse our programme and paper abstracts. We will be updating the site with any relevant material as we get closer to the conference.

Many thanks

Anamik and Emma