Analysing London's 'New East End' – How Can Social Science Make A Difference?

by Max Farrar
Leeds Metropolitan University

Sociological Research Online 13(5)7

Received: 16 Jun 2008     Accepted: 15 Sep 2008    Published: 30 Sep 2008


1.1 The essays in this collection of articles, edited by myself and Shamser Sinha, arise from a session on the sociology of the East End of London, at the British Sociological Association (BSA) Conference at the University of East London (UeL) in April 2007. The session was sponsored by the BSA's Race and Ethnicity Study Group, of which Shamser and I are members. The group consists of sociologists who have various theoretical leanings, but who unite around an approach to 'doing sociology', which stresses the political role of the discipline in understanding 'race' and combating racism in its old and new varieties. We felt it important that – as conference delegates travelled to and from UeL's shining new campus on the eerie Docklands Light Railway, while aeroplanes landed on City Airport just over the river discharging cargoes of glistening financiers – we should ponder the extraordinary, long, inter- and intra-national history of this part of London. The BSA Study Group wanted the conference delegates to ask why the East End's racialised politics are still so bitterly contested in Town Halls, in Parliament, and in everyday life.

1.2 Conflict and contestation also characterise the broader historical sociology of the area. While authors vary in the focus of their interest – for example Gidley (2008) and Fishman (1975, 1988) emphasise the Jewish dimensions; Young and Wilmott (1957) and Stedman Jones (1971) examine the white British working class. Now sociological scrutiny turns to the interaction (or lack of it) between the white working class, British Bangladeshis, and the new migrants of the twenty-first century (Dench, Gavron and Young 2006). This last group of academics have stirred up almost as much controversy in national political and sociological life as that which they examine through their fieldwork in the East End. Their book is titled The New East End – Kinship, Race and Conflict. Our conference session brought together established and young researchers of London's East End, and this introductory essay aims to show how their specific analyses demonstrate that sociology can make a progressive contribution to the fevered debate in the UK today about 'race', belonging and citizenship.

1.3 While Londoners specifically and British people in general might know what is being referred to by the notion of 'London's East End' we need briefly to set the geographical parameters for this discussion. As with all areas within a city, its boundaries are contested. The East End, as defined in Dench, Gavron and Young (2006), is the area to the east of the City of London bounded to the south by the River Thames, the east by the River Lea and the north by the area known as Hackney. It is composed of several areas, such as Bethnal Green, Stepney, Bow and the Isle of Dogs – collectively it is known as the Borough of Tower Hamlets. This is the area studied by the researchers listed above, and the 'new' in the title of Dench et al (2006) simply draws attention to the different ethnic and class composition of this area in the early 21st century, compared to its demographics in the mid 20th century when Michael Young initiated the sociological examination of the East End of London. Their decision to draw their 'East End' map in this way has political implications. It inevitably foregrounds the citizens of that area who originated in Bangladesh, because that is where these people are concentrated. They have been the subject of relentless scrutiny by researchers and state agents; the effect of much of this work has been to pathologise this population. The research published in this collection by Nilufar Ahmed and Halima Begum effectively counters the pathologising tendencies in other people's work. It is important to note that there are other versions of where the 'East End' is located. Michael Keith's article in this collection usefully enlarges the analysis of East End by examining the changes in the borough of Tower Hamlets, and their relationship with developments in the adjacent Borough of Barking and Dagenham, further east than Tower Hamlets. Shamser Sinha's East End research (in this collection) took him into the borough of Hackney, to the north of Tower Hamlets. Another 'eastern' borough (Newham) also contains new migrants from all over the globe, particularly from various African countries, to which most researchers pay little or no attention. None of the authors in this collection make any claim to setting out a definitive set of boundaries for the East End. To orient themselves geographically, readers might find it useful to consult this map [external link], which flags Barking between Bethnal Green (on the western boundary of Tower Hamlets) and Dagenham (to the east of Barking).

1.4 This introductory essay has several aims. Most simply, it seeks briefly to show that several social science researchers have recently produced new insights into the history and social, economic and political development of the East End of London. A sub-theme of this (most clearly set out by Michael Keith) is a critique of the 'New East End' analysis put forward by Dench et al (2006) – and we are very grateful to Professor Geoff Dench for attending the BSA study group session at the 2007 conference and responding to some of the points made at that session. A broader aim of this introduction is to situate the long-standing racialised debate about the 'place' of white and non-white ethnic minorities in England, re-kindled by the publication of The New East End, in the context both of the assault on the discourse of 'multiculturalism' and the concurrent government-led drive for 'community cohesion'. In attempting to stem the tide of anti-multiculturalism, and critically support ideas circulated in a policy-oriented report on 'cohesion and integration', this introduction could be seen as straying into the field of public politics. It does so because I believe that sociology can, and should, 'make a difference' in several respects. It should seek to influence public debate on the whole range of social issues. Since public debate is not the prerogative of politicians and pundits, but should be engaged in by all of the nation's population, and since debate is most pointed when it is coalesced within social movements, sociology should actively engage with those politically-charged issues which capture media attention, using language which is widely comprehended. Sociology is at its best when it is of use to progressive social movements. 'Race' is one of the contentious public issues with which these essays engage – although it is significant that this term is hardly used by the contributors to this special section. The essays collected here are good examples of the variety of voices that engaged social scientists can produce and each of their papers is accessible to the informed public. Later, I will briefly quote from the writing of a Labour Member of Parliament for one of the east London constituencies, whose analysis reminds us that sociology is not the prerogative of sociologists. (Interestingly, in her response to the collection, Vron Ware quotes from the same Labour MP's writing.) Similarly, despite the presence of only one sociologist on the Commission of Integration and Cohesion, its report is highly sociological in its analysis, and thus deserves our critical attention. So sociological researchers have a special role to play, and the work in this edited collection should be seen as contributing to what Michael Burawoy (2004) has advocated as 'public sociology'.

Belonging in the UK?

2.1 My essay starts with an examination of the context in which contemporary arguments about 'belonging' are situated; namely: the recent effort to subvert multiculturalism as a politically viable discourse. There is no space here for a proper analysis of the political formation of this discourse, but the recent volte face on multiculturalism by politicians and public figures is highly significant. In public life such reversals can take place even though – or perhaps because – by the mid-1990s for sociologists there was 'no shared notion of what is meant by "multiculturalism" or "multicultural society"' (Solomos and Back 1996: 104). But Tariq Modood has now provided a sophisticated definition of the concept which might well command widespread academic support:
Multiculturalism is where processes of integration are seen both as two-way and as working differently for different groups. In this understanding, each group is distinctive, and thus integration cannot consist of a single template (hence the 'multi'). The 'culturalism' . . . refers to the understanding that the groups in question are likely to not just be marked by newness or phenotype or socio-economic location but by certain forms of group identities. The latter point indeed suggests that a better, though longer, term might be "pluralistic integration". In the perspective of multiculturalism, the social requirement to treat these group identities with respect leads to a redefinition of the concept of equality. Modood (2005)

2.2 Britain's multiculturalist discourse was partly formed by the scholarship of the sociological pioneers (for example, Banton (1955), Rex (1967) and company). How influential this sociology was is a moot point, but it seems likely that it was one element in the thinking behind a succession of cautious, but necessary, laws on race relations (1965 to 2000) that slowly set in place some institutional practices which offered the possibility that migrants could become citizens who – despite recurrences of racism – could develop some sense of belonging in a more-or-less United Kingdom. Those of us influenced by Marxism who engaged theoretically and practically in the field of 'race' have frequently criticised multiculturalism for its lack of explicit focus on the analysis of structural racism. Multiculturalists, in practice, also attempted to marginalise the activities of anti-racist social movements. Furthermore, my own research critiques a city council for its manipulation, and promotion, of multiculturalism as a means of separating off, and securing electoral support from each of the ethnic groups in the city, processes which I describe as neo-colonial and as actively promoting (using Paul Gilroy's term) 'ethnic particularism' (Farrar 2002). But these criticisms from the left were designed to improve our understanding of the operations of racialised thought and practice, rather than to jettison the advances achieved, later, by the emergence of a nearly hegemonic multiculturalist discourse. Thus, Gilroy (2004: 104-5) has been able to argue that 'multiculturalism . . . can usefully be identified with a mature response to diversity, plurality, and differentiation'. This formulation is important because it implies a view of multiculturalism as a dynamic process operating at all levels of society, rather than the view of multiculturalism as a discourse promoted and circulated by liberal elites.

2.3 But significant public commentators have seriously undermined such a view. McLoughlin and Neal (2007) trace the systematic undermining of multiculturalist discourse to the media attack on the Parekh Report in 2000. Neil Ascherson (2004) described multiculturalism as 'literally conservative', reinforcing ethnic identities. Melanie Phillips' (2006) diatribe blamed multiculturalism for the emergence of supporters of al-Qu'eda in the UK. (Vron Ware in this collection provides other indices of the assault on multiculturalism.) Yet, apparently, 'multi-racialism' has not been entirely defeated. Leo McKinstry, a Daily Express columnist who perhaps speaks for conservative 'middle England', claims that Britain's success in the August 2008 Olympics can be attributed to a policy of 'elitism'. This is paradoxical, he claims, because Labour politicians 'sneer at our national heritage [and] prattle about the joys of cultural diversity'. Our police force is no longer 'the finest in the world' because its hiring process has been 'dominated by multi-racialism and anti-sexism'. Fortunately, he says, the Olympic trainers for 'Team GB' have allowed 'excellence' to 'triumph regardless of race, class or gender' (McKinstry 2008). The UK Conservative Party's shadow Home Secretary, Dominic Gieve later joined in, claiming that multiculturalism has had 'terrible' effects: 'We've actually done something terrible to ourselves in Britain . . . In the name of trying to prepare people for some new multicultural society we've told people, particularly long-term inhabitants, "Well, your cultural background isn't really very important, or it's flawed, or you shouldn't be worried about it".' (Guardian, 27.9.2008). An indicative summary of how confused and contradictory is this assault on multiculturalism is provided by the writer Andrew Anthony. Anthony devotes a chapter of his book, subtitled 'How a guilty liberal lost his innocence', to what he calls 'The cult of multiculturalism'. According to Anthony:

Like all faiths, multiculturalism had constructed its own theology of irrational ideas and the stupefying effects of relativism have allowed those ideas to spread without informed debate. The outcome has become the corruption of identity politics . . . the actuality of multiculturalism is that celebrating difference has become a means of enforcing group conformity. (Anthony 2007: 139)

2.4 He reaches this conclusion through highly contentious readings (presented as the correct interpretation, now that his 'guilty liberal' assumptions have been binned) of the controversy around Salman Rushdie's 1988 novel The Satanic Verses, the Parekh Report (2000), the so-called riots in northern English cities in the summer of 2001, and the aftershock of 9/11. Yet Anthony admits that he still subscribes to the view that 'cultural diversity [is] not only beneficial but preferable' (Anthony 2007: 120). His critique is predicated on his belief in 'certain rights, liberties, responsibilities, protections and opportunities' embedded in British culture. Proponents of multiculturalism might well support these values, but, he alleges, they are rejected (even despised) by the 'monoculturalists' (presumably ethnic groups in Britain that he believes are exclusionary) that multiculturalism has promoted. Precisely who these enforcers of group particularism and conformity are is never stated, but it is hard to avoid decoding this chapter as an assault on Muslims.

2.5 Tariq Modood (2005) has documented the public retreat from multiculturalism and effectively advocated 'more, not less' of it (Modood 2007: 14). (There is no space here for a discussion of whether Modood aims to modify the liberal elite model of multiculturalism, or whether he supports multiculturalism as a cross-society dynamic process.) But since media headlines seem to follow Ted Cantle's (2001, 2008) view that Asians and whites in the UK lead 'parallel lives' and Trevor Phillips' argument (while chief of the Commission for Racial Equality) that Britain is 'sleepwalking into segregation' (Casciani 2005), multiculturalist discourse seems unlikely to regain public support for some time. Nor is the forthcoming statistical refutation of Phillips' thesis (Simpson and Finney 2009) – which uses government data to demonstrate high levels of integration of ethnic minorities in all the areas in which they have settled in the UK – likely to restore multiculturalism's fortunes. But Stuart Hall provides an analysis which multiculturalism's critics might note. Responding to Colin McCabe's observation that he finds 'the energy and mixture of London invigorating', Hall said:

Of course, that's dead right. That's why the notion that multiculturalism is dead is just nonsense. It's also why I talk about multicultural drift. That's not the only form of multiculturalism there is, but when the rest goes away – when programmes of equal opportunity end and politicians are talking assimilationism – unstoppable multiculturalism multiplies the cultures and the languages; there are now ninety languages in London's schools. What is that? It just multiplies. That is a kind of hope. (McCabe 2007)

2.6 However, the political space that multiculturalism's conservative critics have aimed to close down might well be re-opened by the 'interculturalist approach' that the Comedia 'Think Tank' has been developing over the past few years. In a series of publications (Wood (2004), Bloomfield and Bianchini (2004), Wood and Landry (2007)) these authors have argued that:

The interculturalist approach goes beyond equal opportunities and respect for existing cultural differences to the pluralist transformation of public space, institutions and civic culture. It does not recognise cultural boundaries as fixed but in a state of flux and remaking. An intercultural approach aims to facilitate dialogue, exchange and reciprocal understanding between people of different backgrounds. (Wood, Landry and Bloomfield (2006: 9), citing Bloomfield and Bianchini (2004))

2.7 Leonie Sandercock, acknowledging the influence of Stuart Hall, pushes the anti-essentialism in this definition even more strongly:

[I]nterculturalism accepts the indispensability of group identity to human life (and therefore to politics), precisely because it is inseparable to belonging. But this acceptance needs to be complicated by an insistence, a vigorous struggle against the idea that one's own group identity has a claim to intrinsic truth . . . Thus we arrive at a lived conception of identity/difference that recognizes itself as historically contingent and inherently relational and a cultivation of a care for difference through strategies of critical detachment from the identities that constitute us. In this intercultural imagination, the twin gods of belonging and freedom can be made to support rather than oppose each other. (Sandercock 2004, pp 19-20)

2.8 While the gap between this approach and Modood's version of multiculturalism is not great, interculturalist practice overcomes the valid point made by multiculturalism's critics from the left (such as Malik (1996) and Ascherson (2004)) that unbounded 'respect for difference' can solidify cultural traits and undermine the hybridising processes in society that anti-racists welcome. But there is an inherent and probably insurmountable difficulty in the multicultural/ intercultural debate. If the multiculturalists can be accused of essentialising difference, the interculturalists might be accused of having it both ways: regarding group identity as 'indispensable' and demanding that it is discarded. This is reminiscent of the problem Spivak (1993) attempted to solve with her proposal for the practice of 'strategic essentialism'. Utilising a strong notion of the group's cultural distinctiveness for specific political ends could be endorsed under certain circumstances, such as political mobilisation in the face of racist persecution, just as an equally strong case can be made for refusing to mobilise that identity in order to facilitate inter-cultural dialogue and collective practice for common goals which transcend the particularities of one ethnicity. A sociologically-informed political practice would spell out why ethnically-based mobilisations are legitimate under some circumstances, and why they should be opposed in other circumstances.

2.9 The 'new definition of integration and cohesion' which is now being elaborated by the Commission on Cohesion and Integration (2007) develops interculturalist thinking (without acknowledging its genealogy). This Commission, set up by the Department of Communities and Local Government and chaired by Darra Singh, Chief Executive of the London Borough of Ealing, had the foresight to include among its members Professor Michael Keith, one of the contributors to this collection of essays. The Commission offers cogent criticisms of Ted Cantle's approach to cohesion, pointing to its inattention to 'local specificity'; its failure to recognise that valuing diversity 'has the potential to divide communities' (a point reminiscent of the critique of multiculturalism); its lack of political sophistication (particularly its silence on the complex issue of the need to create mechanisms for distribution of resources and settlement of disputes which all groups trust); and its failure to acknowledge the issues of mutual hospitality, respect and civility that must operate in a cohesive society (Commission on Cohesion and Integration 2007: 41). Its 'new definition' of an 'integrated and cohesive community' is one where:

There is a clearly defined and widely shared sense of the contribution of different individuals and different communities to a future vision for a neighbourhood, city, region or country.
There is a strong sense of an individual's rights and responsibilities when living in a particular place – people know what everyone expects of them, and what they can expect in turn.
Those from different backgrounds have similar life opportunities, access to services and treatment.
There is a strong sense of trust in institutions locally to act fairly in arbitrating between different interests and for their role and justifications to be subject to public scrutiny.
There is a strong recognition of the contribution of both those who have newly arrived and those who already have deep attachments to a particular place, with a focus on what they have in common.
There are strong and positive relationships between people from different backgrounds in the workplace, in schools and other institutions within neighbourhoods.
(Commission on Cohesion and Integration 2007: 42)

2.10 This integration and cohesion will take place, the Commission argues, in the context of 'a commitment to social justice and tackling inequalities in the long term'. Dealing far more subtly with the anxieties of the white working class (and their non-white supporters) than do Cantle or Dench et al and the critics of multiculturalism, the Commission elaborates: 'This means a sense of equality and fairness for settled communities, just as much as positive action to close the gaps in outcomes for minority ethnic groups' (2007: 98).

2.11 But neither Cantle nor the Commission deal with what might be called 'incommensurable difference'. It is hard to see, for example, how the philosophies of the British National Party (still less the openly Nazi organisations) and political Islamists such as Al-Muhajiroun and al-Ghurabaa (and perhaps Hizb ut-Tahrir) can be accommodated within a progressive, secular, democratic society which is committed to racial, gender and sexual equality. These groups explicitly (and sometimes violently) oppose one or more of these values. And the Commission's report would have been strengthened by a commitment to an anti-essentialist notion of culture, local and national. A public policy statement which spelled out again the reasons why 'Britishness' can no longer be understood in terms of some assumed-to- be essential, fundamental and unique characteristics (as the Parekh Report (2000) demonstrated) would have been most welcome. But the Commission does set out a sociologically credible approach to the question of how society might move towards a state in which all its members feel they belong, because it understands that a 'shared future' is one which is continuously negotiated in a context of mutual respect and actively promoted equality.

The New East End

3.1 How does current scholarship on the East End of London measure up to the big issues posed by the debate in the UK about belonging and cohesion, as outlined above? Dench, Gavron and Young's (2006) The New East End – Kinship, Race and Conflict, which re-visited and updated the most famous sociology of the East End, the Wilmott and Young books of the 1950s, could be seen as another assault on multiculturalism. If the critique of multiculturalism and the clamour for community cohesion and national unity was fuelled by the moral panic that greeted the violent urban protest by British Muslims in the summer of 2001 and the bombing of London by political Islamists in 2005 (Farrar 2006), the idea that the white working class was being disenfranchised by supposedly excessive cultural and material support for Black and Minority Ethnic populations in the UK must be seen as the other driver of public concern for the Nation's identity. In taking up the cause of the white working class, The New East End received much praise in the 'quality' media. Tarquin Hall (Times, 19.01.2006) argued that 'there is a lot of truth' in the authors' view that 'the whites [in the East End] got a raw deal over housing'; Madeleine Bunting endorsed its argument in The Guardian (13.02.2006); while Labour MP Frank Field said that its analysis should be the basis of Labour's campaign to re-connect with the allegedly forgotten white working class (Daily Telegraph 21.04.2006). Trevor Phillips described it as 'one of the most important books I have read in a long time' (Dench et al. 2006, front cover). Its political and sociological inadequacies are critiqued by Jenny Bourne (2006), by Robert Moore (2008) and by Michael Keith's article in this collection. Dench et al's rejection of any economic analysis and their disavowal of sociological theory results in the book's only value lying in its assembly of accounts of white racism, the less often heard stories of Bangladeshi advancement and of the East End professional whites' complacency. But, as Les Back (2007) has pointed out, while sociology should be a 'listener's art', accounts are always incomplete and can never be assumed to speak for themselves. Dench et al's inability to squarely face the political implications of the book's almost unqualified endorsement of white East Enders' hostility to their British Bangladeshi neighbours, and the antagonism (from some Bangladeshis as well as the whites) to new migrants working for even lower wages, sits uncomfortably with the book's genesis in the centre-left Young Foundation. Alternative views on the problems of the East End are readily available. For instance, Jon Cruddas, Labour Member of Parliament for Dagenham, in the east of London, has provided a superior analysis of this part of London and the growth in support for the racist British National Party (BNP), which is particularly apparent in parts of the East End such as Barking and Dagenham:
It is this mixture of class, poverty and race, together with policy issues around housing, public services and the labour market which has created such a rich seam for the BNP in many parts of the UK, especially when we see a national debate around race and immigration that heightens tensions in our community. (Cruddas 2007)

3.2 Cruddas argues that these material issues need to be addressed by the Labour government, which instead emphasises its 'robust' immigration policy. Since Dench et al have no affinity with Marxism, they could not be expected to take a materialist approach. Their unwillingness to enter the debate about community cohesion, however, is surprising, since their analysis appears to provide succour to those whites who reject any notion that all ethnic groups might have a common interest in a 'shared future'. Their publisher, the Young Foundation, is publicly committed to counteracting the appeal of the far right in UK politics (Young Foundation 2008) so greater sensitivity on this point, and some analysis of the implications of their findings for the community cohesion agenda would have been welcome.

3.3 While The New East End has limited merit, articles in this collection go a long way to meet John Cruddas' request for a materialist analysis of this part of London, and they will help to redress the balance in the discussion of 'race' in the UK. They will also make a difference by offering important refinements to the public discussion of integration and cohesion. They provide us with a deeper history of this part of London, in two respects. Georgie Wemyss demonstrates the complicity of this part of London with Britain's role in the slave trade and colonial exploitation of the peoples of the south. Michael Keith provides an economic analysis of some of the recent changes in this area, a missing element in the 'New East End' book. Nilufar Ahmed and Halima Begum provide accounts of British Bangladeshi women's lives in one area in the East End which have hitherto been missed by researchers in these neighbourhoods. Then Shamser Sinha turns our attention to another neglected segment of the East End's population, the young asylum seekers and refugees. Finally, Vron Ware provides a thought-provoking response to our articles which focuses specifically on the issue of white working class 'resentment' of ethnic minorities.

3.4 Elaborating somewhat on these points, firstly, these articles provide a much deeper view of the history of this part of London. Georgie Wemyss' 'White Memories, White Belonging' starts its East End story in 1606. By examining recent events which have attempted to memorialise and celebrate key moments in the long history of the East London Docklands as a place of origin for Britain's trade in people and goods in North America, India, Indonesia and China, Wemyss punctures the nation's 'historical amnesia' and undermines the 'unstable hierarchy of belonging' in which non-whites in the East End have, for centuries, been placed below whites. Wemyss shows both how African voices were silenced in the commemoration of the 200 year anniversary of the West India Docks – celebrated with almost no mention of their foundational role in the slave trade – and how the exploitation of Bengal and Bengalis was passed over in virtual silence in the celebration of the anniversary of the East India docks. Thus Wemyss helps us to understand why white antipathy to strangers, and ignorance of their history, remains almost unchallenged in public culture in the UK. This failure 'contributes to the highly racialised politics of belonging in the East End' – a failure which could be partially rectified by attention to the type of analysis offered by Georgie Wemyss.

3.5 While Wemyss utilises a long historical view, in his essay 'Between Being and Becoming?' Michael Keith provides a history of more recent times in the East End. He reminds us of the Huguenots, the Battle of Cable Street and the murder of Altab Ali, and the new migrants from Eastern Europe. Discussing the 'outer' East End – the result of white flight from the Bangladeshi 'colonisation' of the 'inner East End' – and developing a materialist analysis, Keith unpacks the three layers of competition that underlie the despairing accounts of the white workers whom Dench et al quote so uncritically. Competition over social goods (welfare services), private goods (particularly housing) and within the labour market is not, as some commentators seem to think, coded simply by colour, though there are increasing signs of ethnic segregation taking place as Black and Minority Ethnic populations move in. Keith's conclusion holds no easy answers, suggesting that there might be a fundamental tension between 'communitarian investment' in the local by long-established populations and the new patterns of belonging introduced by the inexorable flows of the globalised economy. Social science can explain how these contradictory elements arise in social processes; it is the job of politics to offer solutions. Michael Keith's sociology helps set the parameters for politicians' efforts to mediate the inevitable tensions that arise as globalised, speeded-up capitalism churns neighbourhoods' populations.

3.6 Secondly, we offer material which contradicts the findings of the New East End study and enormously extends our understanding of the lives of British Bangladeshi women in parts of the East End. Nilufar Ahmed starts from a position which has something in common with that of Dench et al (2006). She points out that 'Tower Hamlets can be described as housing a segregated community'. But where Dench et al suggest that this segregation is somehow willed by the Bangladeshis, Ahmed shows the opposite. Her focus is on 'language and citizenship' and she provides evidence to support the Commission on Integration and Cohesion when it argued that 'commitment to a shared language [is] fundamental to integration and cohesion' (2007: 72). From a random sample, 100 first generation Bangladeshi women were interviewed and 'all of [them] recognised the difficulties and barriers that not speaking English posed'. These barriers included the inability to work (though that was desired by many of the women, once they their domestic responsibilities were discharged), difficulty in supporting their children at school and in engaging fully in civil society. In contrast to Dench et al's picture of deliberate, and sometimes hostile, self-segregation, Ahmed quotes Shuara's statement: 'The English and the Jamaicans in this area are very nice. There is a Jamaican woman downstairs and she adores my grandson, she always stops us to talk to him, I don't have a clue what she is saying!'. Others among her interviewees criticise themselves for not making enough effort to learn English but, as Ahmed points out, there are obstacles to this learning (not least the patriarchal attitudes of some Bengali men) which need to be addressed. The Commission (2007: 73-5) lists several sensible proposals for government action on this matter but Ahmed's sociology, concentrating as it does on the lived experience of Bangladeshi women in their family setting, suggests an unexplored possibility: that the second and third generation Bengalis are formally mobilised as teachers of their mothers to supplement the informal teaching they are already doing.

3.7 Halima Begum deepens the analysis of young Muslim women's modes of being. Noting that multiculturalism's promise of inclusion is far from realised, she shows how young women construct varying identity positions. They signify these positions in their choice of clothing, and they make explicit decisions and about the places they inhabit. The 'geography of exclusion' is her major theme, and the analysis of how space is differently experienced by different groups is important. But her discussion of three positions that these young women construct is perhaps most relevant to this introductory essay's theme of interculturalism and the possibility of a 'shared future' for British citizens. While she refrains from labelling any of these positions, all three appear to represent quite different responses to their 'Muslimness' and their 'Britishness'. One position, signified by wearing high street fashion and cosmetics and consequently feeling uncomfortable under the male gaze in 'Banglatown' (i.e. the Bangladeshi neighbourhoods of Tower Hamlets), would once have been labelled 'Westernised', but just using that term indicates how inapplicable it is today. A second position exerts strident opposition to what it describes as Bangladeshi nationalism, strongly identifying instead with the Islamic ummah, and is signified by wearing traditional Islamic dress and the hijab. Because of their deep and principled opposition to national identities in any form, these young women would presumably reject the label British. The third position is not elaborated but is the foil for these devout young Muslim women. These so-called 'Bengali nationalists' no doubt include some young women with their own modes of expressing their identifications. Issues of integration and a 'shared future' are exposed in all their complexity when competing identity positions within one very small group in the UK (women of Bangladeshi descent) are set out in this way. As Britain struggles to find a language to capture these complex and contested positions in its agonised debate about citizenship in a diverse society, Halima Begum shows us that simple categories such as 'British Muslim' or 'British Bangladeshi' are insufficiently supple.

3.8 Thirdly, Shamser Sinha provides sociological elaboration of the discussion of 'hospitality' usefully broached by the Commission on Integration and Cohesion, and, crucially, he initiates a discussion of political resistance to the racialised processes which are attempting to dehumanise the most recent additions to the East End population: the asylum seekers. (All the authors in this edited collection would argue that East London should be proud of its long history of providing a haven, albeit contested, for asylum seekers over hundreds of years.) The third of the Commission's 'key principles' is 'the need for a renewed emphasis on hospitality and civility within communities, and with that a greater understanding of the importance of the individual to building integration and cohesion' (2007: 78). Sinha provides graphic examples of the opposite to hospitality and civility in the treatment of young asylum seekers. Exposing the contradictions now rife in multicultural society, he shows how aggression is no longer reducible to the language of colour-based racism, since some non-white citizens among the settled populations construct asylum seekers of any colour as 'other', and become complicit with the exclusionary processes imposed by government, trying to force the asylum seekers towards what Agamben memorably categorises as 'bare life'. These stories are deeply moving and disturbing, and remind us that sociology must engage with the emotional structures of social life, recognising the materiality of abjection, if it is to contribute effectively to change. If 'civility is about tolerance, politeness and an ethics of hospitality' (Commission on Cohesion and Integration 2007: 111) it must also be about hope and the politics of everyday life. Shamser Sinha puts radical flesh on the Commission's liberal bones in brief examples, and in a serious discussion of resistance to dehumanisation. His hopeful examples include Beth, a 17 year old from Congo who was thrown out by the man who may have trafficked her to Britain and then got her pregnant. Walking the streets of East London, she goes into labour, and is cared for by a stranger passing by, who takes her to hospital. Lily, a 17 year old Vietnamese is struggling to get her 'A' levels at a local College and dreaming of going to university in the UK. These individual stories are reinforced by individual professionals discovered in Sinha's fieldwork who are breaking the government's rules and, perhaps more significantly, refusing to be conscripted into the regiments which seek to reduce asylum seekers to subhuman status. One youth professional, placing herself in the shoes of the asylum seekers and even adopting their voice, is quoted as saying: 'They do want us to say they're human beings, they just a person. That's why we have a name'. (Amy, a 17 year old from Guinea, is later quoted as saying 'paper is more important than human' for the state officials who are planning to expel her.) Citing the excellent work of Lefebvre and de Certeau, the pioneers of a vision of political practice which is embedded in the seemingly banal routines of everyday life, Sinha explains not only how these professionals create a working environment which manifests their commitment to multicultural hospitality but also contribute to active campaigns to save from deportation the asylum seekers with whom they work. While the Commission extols the virtues of interfaith work for cohesion, Sinha links this to a multicultural and human rights ethos as the basis for opposing the government's regulations.

3.9 Finally, in her reflective response to these articles, Vron Ware provides a much more detailed analysis of the 'white' trope in the multiculturalist discourse than the one I hint at in this introduction. Ware sketches the trajectory from Enoch Powell and the London dockers (and other white workers) who supported him in the late 1960s right up to the recent BBC TV programmes which it called 'The White Season', pointing out that the recent focus on white 'resentment' of ethnic minorities has a long history. In explaining Max Scheler's development of this concept in the early 1900s, Ware notes that, in contrast to the analysis implied in the Commission's report discussed above, Scheler argued that resentment was not so much a consequence of political and other types of inequality as of the promise of equal rights in a society which, structurally, denies real equality to its citizens. Importantly, she focuses on the emotional aspects of the resentment that builds up, an issue which requires much more discussion among sociologists.


4.1 This paper has sought to place the discussion of the complex processes of change in the East End of London in the wider context of national debates in the UK on multiculturalism, belonging and social cohesion. More specifically, it aimed to show the contribution that five social scientists, whose work has concentrated on various aspects of East End society, have made to contradicting the analysis offered by a recent sociology of the 'new' East End offered by researchers inspired by the work of the late Michael Young. Between them, they provide a deeper historical account than we find in Dench, Gavron and Young (2006); a material analysis; an examination of the crucial role that language acquisition plays in achieving social integration; an examination of spacialised and contested identities among the British Bangladeshi women in the East End; and an account of the forces which are creating and resisting the abjection of the newest residents of the East End, the asylum seekers. With Vron Ware's sharp focus on the analysis of white resentment, rather than the mere description offered by Dench et al, this set of articles effectively develops our understanding of racialised material processes (where 'material' includes the emotional dimensions of social life) specifically in London but arguably applicable to all globalised urban settings.

4.2 Underlying this collection of articles is, I think, a deep commitment to the view that social science can make a radical difference, contributing to the work being done by the political movements in society which oppose injustice, inequality and exclusion. At the level of discourse, this introduction has aimed to reposition multiculturalism, or interculturalism, as a resource for hope: the ideal that cultural difference can normally be explored and enjoyed in the passage to a convivial and diverse social life, and, where difference appears incommensurable, that it can be negotiated peacefully and gradually. At the level of policy, this paper has welcomed the report of the Commission for Integration and Cohesion, while attempting to stiffen its political backbone.


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