November’s feature post is written by one of our talented early career researchers, Dr. Demelza Jones. Here, Demelza shares her recent experiences as a visiting academic at a German Research Institute.
At the end of October I spent a week as a visiting academic at the Max Planck Institute for Religious and Ethnic Diversity in Göttingen, Germany. In its own words, the Institute is dedicated to the ‘study of diversity in historical and contemporary societies, particularly concerning ethnic and religious forms and dynamics’, and is the academic home of researchers of many nationalities and various disciplinary backgrounds across the social sciences. I was based within the Institute’s Department of Socio-Cultural Diversity, headed by Professor Steve Vertovec who has pioneered the concept of super-diversity. The department is currently undertaking a range of empirical projects, including ‘GlobaldiverCities’ which explores ‘similarities and differences in social and spatial patterns that arise under conditions of diversification, when new diversity-meets-old diversity’ in three varied urban contexts: New York City, Johannesburg and Singapore. I was especially interested to learn more about the project’s methods and the innovative visualisation techniques being used to present findings, and will be thinking about how I can apply this learning to projects I am hoping to develop around (super)diversity in small cities in the UK, and encounter and exchange across difference in public spaces in Birmingham.
During my visit I was invited to give a short talk to academic staff and postgraduates in the Department around some of the issues raised in a 2013 special issue of Ethnicities on ‘migration, everyday life and the ethnicity bias’ which I co-edited with Dr Jon E. Fox. A key issue raised in the ensuing discussion was the challenge of taking an ascribed ethnic group as a starting point of empirical research without then unduly privileging ethnicity in data collection and analysis at the expense of other modalities of identification and difference. I was also able to attend two interesting talks by other visitors to the Institute: Dr Mirjam Künkler (Princeton/ZIF Bielefeld) on the (de)confessionalization of law in India and Indonesia, and Dr Stefan Lindemann (Frankfurt) on qualitative comparative analysis of ethno-political conflict. The remainder of my time at the Institute was spent making use of the extensive library resources and talking with international colleagues about potential collaborations and our experiences of research and teaching (including some interesting comparisons of our respective governments’ approach to higher education funding, given that the German government have recently re-abolished tuition fees). Göttingen itself is a busy university town with pretty timber-framed buildings, and on my last evening I was lucky enough to see the local tradition of parading new PhD graduates in homemade ‘chariots’ to the town square, where they climb up and plant a kiss on the Gänseliesel [Goose Girl] statue.
The Institute welcomes visits from international scholars, and I have returned to Aston with new inspiration and ideas which will feed into the development of my own research in the burgeoning field of super-diversity.