chapter  7
9 Pages


How can we learn from a multicultural society if we don’t know how to recognise it? The contemporary city is more than ever a space for the intense convergence of diverse individuals who shift in and out of its urban terrains in daily, weekly and annual rhythms. As a variegated and fluctuating territory, the city foregrounds experiences of belonging, which in many ways are more to do with everyday experiences and pragmatic resolutions than to do with ideology. The city street is perhaps the most prosaic of the city’s public parts, allowing us a view of the very ordinary practices of life and livelihoods, within which participations and allegiances emerge. In unpacking the imaginaries that shaped our modern notions of ‘nation’, Benedict Anderson (1983) asked what bound diverse groups in a common commitment to a territorial entity that was worth fighting and dying for. The question of creed or cohesive faith so essential to the idea of nation is not, I have argued, central to the contemporary reality of ‘city’. In this way, London is not England, and its array of individuals, their aspirations and constraints are inadequately bundled up into a measurable and programmable ‘ism’ that ‘fails’ or ‘succeeds’ on the basis of individual, national or global temperaments. ‘Multiculturalism’ is a poor substitute for attempting to gauge the dynamic realities of living together in dense, intense and uneven urban landscapes.