Divercities: Understanding super-diversity in deprived and mixed neighbourhoods

Divercities: Understanding super-diversity in deprived and mixed neighbourhoods


Reviewed by Verónica Hendel

First Published:

27 Jan 2023, 9:28 am


Divercities: Understanding super-diversity in deprived and mixed neighbourhoods

Stijn Oosterlynck, Gert Verschraegen, and Ronald van Kempen (eds), Divercities: Understanding super-diversity in deprived and mixed neighbourhoods, Bristol: Policy Press, 2020; 256 pp.: ISBN 978-1447338178, £79.99 (hbk), ISBN 978-1447338185, £26.99 (pbk).


Cities and diversity have long been a matter of concern for Urban Studies. However, over the past decades, different researchers have shown that cities have become even more diverse. Terms such as ‘super-diversity’ (Vertovec, 2007), ‘conviviality’ (Wessendorf, 2014) or ‘diversification of diversity’ (Erel, 2011) aim to depict the increasing presence of migration that cities have experienced recently, especially as regards to countries of origin, ethnic groups, languages, religions, gender, age profiles and labour market experiences, and the multiplication of immigration legal statuses. Divercities: Understanding super-diversity in deprived and mixed neighbourhoods focuses on how urbanities from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, occupying diverse socio-economic positions, speaking different languages and with different legal statuses, can make life together in their city or neighbourhood.

One of the main ideas of this compilation regards the fact that although the diversity approach is well equipped to bring attention to and explain the variety of differences along distinctive single categorisations, it is not that powerful in replacing concepts such as inequality and intersectionality that are more appropriate to explain how differences become inequalities. Divercities enriches the debate on living with social diversity by re-politicising it as it incorporates inequality and asymmetries in power relations.

This edited collection provides a comparative international perspective on super-diversity in cities. The chapters in this book can be organised around two themes: the active and creative ways in which people regulate, live and deal with diversity on a micro scale, and the relationship between ethno-cultural diversity and social inequality. Its most relevant contribution, however, is the analysis of how the daily lives of residents in diversified and disadvantaged urban neighbourhoods can give clues to new area-based policies that are attentive to both cultural and socio-economic differences.

This volume aims to contribute to the literature on super-diverse urban neighbourhoods in two main ways: first, by focusing on the myriad ways in which citizens actively and creatively regulate, live and deal with super-diversity in the concrete neighbourhoods in which their life unfolds; and second by showing how ethno-cultural differences matter for social inequality, and vice versa, by explicitly focusing on the intricate relationship between ethno-cultural diversity and social inequality.

Another interesting aspect of this compilation is the debate over the notion of ‘conviviality’ it presents. Following Nowicka and Vertovec’s (2014) thought, Oosterlynck and Verschraegen consider that this approach offers a new vocabulary to speak about a collective without referring to fixed categories of ethnicity. Several authors in this book adopt (not always explicitly) this new vocabulary. In Chapter 3, Jamie Kesten and Tatiana Moreira de Souza seek to understand the dynamics of living together in the super-diverse London Borough of Haringey. They analyse how diversity itself may generate place attachment in neighbourhoods where no single ethnic group dominates. Almost all respondents consider diversity positively, which shows that ‘migrant’ place-making is not necessarily based on fixed ethnic identities. Ayda Eraydin makes a similar analysis in an in-depth case study of how the residents of the diversified Istanbul neighbourhood Beyoğlu perceive and define each other (Chapter 4). Most interviewed residents regard living with diverse others as positive because of the possibility it offers to get to know different people and learn about their cultures. Without adopting the super-diversity and conviviality new vocabulary, Maxime Felder (Chapter 2) analyses how urbanites learn about their neighbours while still maintaining their strangeness. His work gives a good insight into how conviviality can be created.

Conviviality seems to be a feature of urban public space. According to Oosterlynck and Verschraegen, in the private sphere residents tend to prefer to spend time and be in places with others who have similar characteristics. Social class differences seem to play an important role here. This finding should be taken into account not to overestimate the potential of conviviality to create cohesive societies.

Other articles in this book take an interesting intervention perspective. This is the case in Chapters 5 and 6. Anika Depraetere, Bart van Bouchaute, Stijn Oosterlynck and Joke Vandenabeele focus on how diverse social networks do (or do not) come into existence by analysing the impact of the introduction of a local currency by a social work organisation supported by, among others, the city council, on social interactions in Rabot-Blaisantvest, a super-diverse and poor neighbourhood in Ghent. They find that the local currency stimulates new joint activities and promotes the participation of a diverse group of inhabitants (Chapter 5). They adopt the discourse on solidarity rather than conviviality. In Chapter 6, Eduardo Barberis concludes that, in Italy, interculturalism can be understood as a form of assimilationism that works through an implicit subordination of immigrant rights and life opportunities to the goal of social cohesion. This conclusion is drawn from an analysis of two local measures in Milan that target migrants, which suggests that visibility of diversity is seen as disturbing.

Another central focus in several contributions of this volume is the issue of social mix (Chapters 7, 8 and 9), probably the most commonly analysed interaction between diversity and social inequality nowadays. Anouk Tersteeg and Ympkje Albeda (Chapter 9) analyse social networks in Antwerp and Rotterdam without finding much evidence of their existence, although they observe quite diverse but weak ties with neighbours and acquaintances. Dimitris Balampanidis and Panagiotis Bourlessas (Chapter 8) arrive at conclusions about the existence of conviviality in mixed urban neighbourhoods in their case study on Athens, where they observe a great deal of social distance, lack of contact and xenophobic attitudes, as well as practices of solidarity, tolerance and friendship. Finally, Javier Ruiz-Tagle (Chapter 7) finds that intergroup relationships in mixed and disadvantaged neighbourhoods in Chicago and Santiago are marked by negative emotions such as distrust and fear. This often leads inhabitants to avoid one another, reminding us of the importance of not focusing excessively on the spatial causes of social problems, as well as the relevance of placing power relations at the centre of empirical analysis of how citizens live together in super-diverse neighbourhoods.

Divercities contributes to a growing body of scholarship that powerfully recentres the relationship between economic growth and racial inequality in the post-war years, particularly in the development of affordable housing, urban infrastructure and penal policies. Although public discourses on urban diversity are often negative, this book focuses on how residents actively and creatively come and live together through micro-level interactions. By deliberately taking an international perspective on the daily lives of residents, the book uncovers the ways in which national and local contexts shape living in diversity.



Erel U (2011) Complex belongings: Racialization and migration in a small English city. Ethnic and Racial Studies 34(12): 2048–2068. CrossrefGoogle Scholar

Nowicka M, Vertovec S (2014) Comparing convivialities: Dreams and realities of living-with-difference. European Journal of Cultural Studies 17(4): 341–356. CrossrefISIGoogle Scholar

Vertovec S (2007) Super-diversity and its implications. Ethnic and Racial Studies 30(6): 1024–1054. CrossrefISIGoogle Scholar

Wessendorf S (2014) ‘Being open but sometimes closed’. Conviviality in a super-diverse London neighbourhood. European Journal of Cultural Studies 17(4): 392–405. CrossrefISIGoogle Scholar


Related articles

If you enjoyed this review, the following articles published in Urban Studies might also be of interest:

Migrant place-making in super-diverse neighbourhoods: Moving beyond ethno-national approaches by Simon Pemberton and Jenny Phillimore

This paper makes an original contribution by identifying the factors that shape migrants’ affinity with, or alienation from, super-diverse neighbourhoods.


Intergroup relations in a super-diverse neighbourhood: The dynamics of population composition, context and community by Claire Bynner

The findings highlight the different ways in which people respond to super-diversity, and the importance of the neighbourhood context and the material conditions for intergroup relations.