A conference of the UCD Humanities Institute, University College Dublin in collaboration with the Institute of Modern Languages Research, School of Advanced Study, University of London, and supported by OWRI Cross-Language Dynamics: Reshaping Community – Translingual Strand.
Global mass migration on an unprecedented scale; dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean by refugees fleeing persecution and warfare; the loss of family and friends; the loss of home; the challenge of integrating the arrivants / arrivantes; and conflicting notions of identity and belonging – these are some of the transcultural predicaments of the globalisation processes of the 21st century coming to a head in the local encounters of urban (and rural) neighbourhoods. Whereas Singapore’s Holland Village, London’s Brixton and Berlin’s Kreuzberg have grown into trendy multi- and transcultural neighbourhoods coined by creativity and a newly affluent cosmopolitan class, others seem troubled by disenfranchisement, discord, and/or feelings of social dislocation, with Molenbeek in Brussels and the Clichy-sous-Bois banlieue in Paris being perhaps the most notorious examples. While Clichy-sous-Bois gained notoriety during the highly mediatised 2005 street riots, Molenbeek was labelled a breeding ground for Islamist terrorism after the bombings in Paris and Brussels in 2015 and 2016.
Transnational neighbourhoods are frequently depicted as the ‘other’ and – as Gillian Jein notes – a ‘deviant terrain’. However, voices from within often emphasise different perceptions and have the potential to challenge and counter discourses emerging in the context of the rapid rise of populist right-wing parties across Europe that aim to reinstate or “protect” ethnic nationalism, Christianity as the dominant religion, a national language and organic culture, ancestry and lineage, and membership of a dominant ethnic or racial group as the bases for national membership.The current political debate is highly polarised, binary and often dominated by quantitative arguments concerning the number of refugees, and the social, economic and political impact of their integration.
Against this backdrop, our conference seeks to shift focus by exploring transcultural encounters in the urban neighbourhood. We posit that the urban neighbourhood is a social microcosm that allows for a more nuanced discussion of transculturality as lived practice. The urban neighbourhood is local but not provincial; it is a fluid space in which various temporal and spatial axes intersect; it is the locus where diverse trans/cultural practices can engender togetherness as well as differences and conflict. It is the contact zone where disparate cultures meet in often highly asymmetrical relations, fostering processes of hybridisation, creolisation and neoculturation. The neighbourhood is open to the type of multi-scalar perspective that, according to Ann Rigney, avoids entrapment in a binary discourse.
The French street- and community artist JR’s work provides an example of how artistic reflections can highlight these positive dynamics, intervene in political discourse and help shape perceptions of transnational neighbourhoods. His 150m2 fresco Chroniques de Clichy-Montfermeil (2017), for instance, not only charts the 2005 riots and encompasses 750 portraits of the neighbourhood’s ethnically diverse population, but also interweaves it with France’s revolutionary past by quoting Jacques-Louis David’s Oath of the Horatii (1786) and Tennis Court Oath (1794) as well as Eugène Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People (1830), thereby transgressing conventional concepts of identity and belonging.
The urban neighbourhood lends itself to a broad multi-perspectival and interdisciplinary exploration of transcultural practices. We invite papers from a broad range of disciplines and fields, including urban geography, urban planning, architecture, memory studies, film studies, visual and performance arts, contemporary literary studies, cultural studies, sociology, practice-based research and linguistics.