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UK: Birmingham Academic Reveals The Future Of Diversity

21 August 2013   www.voice-online.co.uk

University expert says that multiculturalism is on the brink of a new era

Written by Poppy Brady

HUB: Handsworth’s Soho Road, one of the UK’s most culturally diverse areas

MOVE OVER multiculturalism – “superdiversity” is the new reality. At least in Birmingham, according to academic Dr Jenny Phillimore.

For Phillimore heads the newly launched IRiS – or Institute for Research in Superdiversity – at the University of Birmingham. It’s the first institute in the UK and one of the first in the world to focus on superdiversity.

Phillimore’s research indicates that Birmingham is home to 187 nationalities. The city seems the perfect place to base study into who makes up today’s population in the UK.

But what exactly is “superdiversity”?

The term was first coined by Steven Vertovec at Oxford University. He defined it as “immigration at a level and complexity surpassing anything that this country has previously experienced.”

Phillimore adds: “Whether people like it or not, curbing immigration is an irrelevance because it has already happened. Change is the norm.

“Superdiversity is the new reality and it has taken over from multiculturalism which was the phrase created to describe the two main immigrant groups of African Caribbeans and south Asians who arrived in the UK between the 1950s and 1970s.”

She says: “I want to bring some reason to the debate on migration and immigration. We reached a tipping point between five and 10 years ago – in that time 2.9 million people have come to Britain, some from countries I hadn’t even heard of.”

Cheaper air fares, globalisation, social mobility and more flexible labour markets have all contributed to the change. One in eight people in Britain now were born overseas.

As Vertovec explained one of the key features of superdiversity is the varying statuses within groups of the same ethnic origin. For example, among Somalis in the UK there are British citizens, refugees, asylum seekers, persons granted exceptional leave to remain and undocumented migrants.

At the moment, Birmingham’s African Caribbean population stands at 4.51 per cent, with Africans at 2.95 per cent. But this figure is rising fast, particularly among Somalians. About half of the African communities are new migrants who have arrived in the past 10 years.

Many still see Handsworth as “a transition zone” – where you come to when you first arrive in the UK, get on your feet and then move on.

One of IRiS’s main aims is to bring the University of Birmingham closer to the community in which it exists. More than 60 academics from 15 different schools are involved with the institute.

“Birmingham is probably the best place in Europe to look at superdiversity on this scale,” says Phillimore, who is anxious that IRiS will look at making the most of this superdiversity.

It is hoped that schools, health services and local authorities will be just some of the organisations that will benefit from the fruits of this research, enabling them to provide better services for the ever-changing population.

“We all talk about chicken tikka masala being the national dish but there is more to it than curry,” she says. “The media is often too keen to highlight the problems of superdiversity rather than its merits.

“People who come to this city have networks all over the world, so this can bring fantastic economic opportunities.”

However, Phillimore, who is organising the world’s first conference on superdiversity next June, said that up to a third of those interviewed for IRiS said they had been the victim of racist attacks, with only a tiny proportion reporting these.

“I think new arrivals need to be taught that just because they are new doesn’t mean they have to accept this kind of racial harassment.”

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