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Public engagement with multiculturalism: a social representations approach to identity dynamics in London and New York

Gekeler, B.S.; (2011) Public engagement with multiculturalism: a social representations approach to identity dynamics in London and New York. Doctoral thesis, UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

In recent years, the word ‘multiculturalism’ has become a central preoccupation for scholars and the public alike. The term is inconsistently, yet increasingly, used as experts and lay people attempt to make sense of the national, ethnic and religious diversity that surrounds them in everyday life. Multiculturalism movements seek to achieve diversity, allowing different lifestyles, traditions and world-views to be recognized as legitimate. However, assimilation movements oppose such diversification, and foster the emergence of a ‘global village’. It is within this binary context that individuals and groups oscillate between moving closer together and protecting the space of the self. Using Social Representation Theory as the central framework, this thesis aims to investigate the manifest and latent symbolic underpinnings of British and American public engagement with multiculturalism. Furthermore, the interplay between these representations and people’s identity work is examined. Based on a rigorous, cross-cultural, qualitative design including 96 interviews with members of the general public in London and New York, major thematic tropes of public engagement with multiculturalism are extrapolated, and the meanings people attach to multiculturalism are explored. Results from this investigation show that social representations of multiculturalism are built upon the similarity/difference ‘thema’. This ‘thema’ becomes evident in pragmatic manifestations such as food, geographical spaces (e.g. the city/outside the city), or symbolic spaces (e.g. comfort zone/moving outside the comfort zone). Furthermore, pragmatic manifestations are underscored by normative evaluations of multiculturalism, including issues of openmindedness/ narrow-mindedness and familiarity/strangeness. Taken together, pragmatic manifestations and evaluations of multiculturalism are entwined with identity processes. Two systematic ‘othering’ processes are discussed accounting for the projection of unwanted, and the introjection of wanted elements of multiculturalism. People are found to avail themselves of ‘cosmopolitan identity projects’ in London and New York, where multiculturalism allows them to become more knowledgeable, open-minded and global.

Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Title:Public engagement with multiculturalism: a social representations approach to identity dynamics in London and New York
Open access status:An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language:English
UCL classification:UCL > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Psychology and Language Sciences (Division of)

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