Keeping the conversation going

Wow, what a day! Once we get our breath back I am sure Emma and I will write a short reflection on the wonderful conference we had yesterday. Thank you to everyone who
participated and who made it such an engaging, thought-provoking and fun day.

In the meantime, do check out a 2-day conference organised by our good friends Malcolm James (one of our plenary speakers) and Naaz Rashid at the University of Sussex, called New Racisms II: Neoliberalism and its Others. It has a truly amazing line-up of speakers and will develop many of the themes and issues discussed yesterday.

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Crossing borders, moving on

The study of cultural production in its urban contexts – and particularly music production – is very revealing about the politics of contemporary multiculture, and is an important theme that runs throughout the conference, and not least on the Music and Urban Identities panel.

The Grime music scene in particular, which has a strong presence in east and south London, provides a ripe site to explore the dynamics of urban multiculture. Grime is commonly seen as an expression of disavowed and marginalised urban and racialised youth, known for the intensity of its lyrics and sound, coming together to form what  Dan Hancox describes as an ‘incendiary energy’. It’s also a highly demonised genre, whether it is vilification in the press, crackdowns on pirate radio or the shutting down of grime club nights (and even the banning of specific songs being played in a venue).

In her paper ‘Crossing borders, moving on: the urban music economy as a transformative realm’ Joy White considers the radical potential of the ‘urban’ music scene in the context of everyday practices. This was a truly immersive project that spanned over five years and encompassed interviews with over 40 people involved the urban music economy. Joy’s research also entailed participant observation of where this creative practice was carried out, for example, backstage at music video shoots and on location at pirate radio station broadcasts.

As Joy, explains the urban music economy acts as a transformative realm for young people – which, drawing from Les Back’s work, she describes as a ‘cultural intermezzo where young people of Caribbean, African and English heritage work together; crossing borders and drawing on global and local influences to create music that has an international reach’.

To give a flavour of her paper, below are two clips from her research. The first video clip is from a visit to a pirate radio station in 2009 (the rules are clearly displayed on the wall). The DJ is an ‘old hand’ that came up through the sound systems, playing UK Funky on his morning show. The second is from a 2010, a ‘behind the scenes’ look from a video shoot for a Grime MC.

As Joy continues in the abstract to her paper, ‘an exploration of the cultural dynamics of the Grime music scene provides a partial view of the cultural dynamics of everyday life in a contemporary urban environment’.

Joy White presents ‘Crossing borders, moving on: the urban music economy as a transformative realm’ in Panel 1 ‘Music and Urban Identities’, PSH302, 10:30-11:45.


Sounding New Cross

For many people participating in the New Urban Multicultures conference, this will be their first time in New Cross. Located in inner south east London, New Cross has a rich history, particularly in relation to race and racism that is troubling but also signals the potential and possibilities of urban multiculture.

What better introduction to New Cross than this unique “Audio walk’ delivered by Les Back, whose work is very much shaped by south east London’s past and present.

Postcards from the Edge

In some ways the title of this conference is slightly imprecise, since some of the papers tackle how race and multiculture is experienced in non-urban settings. One such paper is from Daniel Burdsey, a Reader at the University of Brighton, whose new book, Race, Place and the Seasidecg5-nk6wmaayp4d, tackles lived multiculture on the English coast. These are places that are strongly white, both in terms of demographics and cultural associations; after all what is more quintessentially English than the English seaside? So what makes this a suitable case for the study of living with racial and ethnic difference? Combining his interests in place and space, and popular culture and leisure, Dan’s research into coastal towns sheds light on how environments are racialised. For instance, Dan analyses seasides amusements and discovers strong underlying discourses around race, often involving Orientalist representations of the Other and gameplay based around exploring and conquering exotic far-away regions. As Dan says in an interview with Laurie Taylor on BBC Radio 4’s Thinking Allowed, ‘what appear as innocent traditions can have racialised and excluding connotations for other groups’.

Moreover, while seaside towns are seen as stable white spaces, these places are changing in terms of demographic composition, with new migrants arriving and older migrants retiring to these towns, alongside an increasing number of youthful minority ethnic people born in the seaside. As such, coastal regions represent a unique and important space to examine the dynamics of contemporary multiculture. As Rajinder Dudrah argues in his study of ‘diasporicity’ in Portsmouth, research into less diverse non-metropolitan cities and towns nonetheless provides useful insights to think about the local lived experiences of race and multiculture and how this relates to the broader national context. In the spirit of the conference, Dan’s focus on the innocuous and the hidden is incredibly revealing about the stark realities of race.

‘Race, Place and the Seaside: Postcards from the Edge’ by Daniel Burdsey is published by Palgrave MacMillian and is out in July, 2016.

Daniel Burdsey presents ‘New (and not-so-new) seaside multicultures: postcards from the edge’ in the Living with difference session (Panel 9), 15:30-16:45 in room PSH326


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

‘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 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