Essentialising cities and Researching refugees

25 11 2009

In the last post I wrote about a travel writer complaining about aspects of london and delaring that they had ‘fallen out of love’ with London. A few days later on a train journey, I happened across a copy of The Times and read a similar debate about New York – The article disputes the results of a Time Out poll where readers had rated New York as the greatest city in the world.  Reading on, I learned the startling fact that Madrid has more restaurants and bars than the whole of the Netherlands! 

This set me thinking about how we essentialise large cities. Is it acceptable to declare huge cities such as London or New York as ‘cool’ or as having ‘lost their edge’? Some of these mega cities are larger than many countries, would it be considered acceptable to declare that a whole nation had lost its edge or was no longer cool? I don’t recall many instances of it in the press and I suspect that it wouldn’t be considered politically correct – let alone correct in any verifiable sense. Cities such as London and New York, Buenos Aires and Mumbai are so large and diverse, containing so much to delight and to depress, such varieties of wealth, history, poverty, population etc etc… that to describe the whole thing as ‘cool’, ‘squalid’, ‘tasteless’, ‘colourful’  or any of the other adjectives favoured by essentialising and sensationalising travel hacks is a very poor way of lumping together such diversity.

The Information Centre about Asylum and Refugees (ICAR) is holding a FREE seminar, the first in a series which will explore ways of researching refugees and asylum seekers.

‘Gathering Evidence Effectively’ School of Social Sciences, City University, London 8th December 2009, 4-5.30pm

Finding evidence about asylum seekers, refugees or migrants to put into funding proposals, policy papers or research proposals is often afraught process with a lack of time being a major issue. There are anumber of resources which can provide the key evidence needed quicklyassuming that you know where to look. Led by experienced researchers Julie Gibbs and Gabriela Quevedo from the ICAR team, this seminar will show you where to find key information and how to access it. The session will involve a demonstration of a number of key web resources and how to get the best from them these will include ICAR, Home Office, Office for National Statistics and others.

This event is free of charge but places are limited so please book early to avoid disappointment. Please contact ICAR for further information and to book a place:

Information Centre about Asylum and Refugees, Social Sciences Building, City University, Whiskin Street, London, EC1V 0AX. Telephone: 0207 040 4596 E-mail: Web:


Loving London, Hating London and reinterpreting the Black Atlantic

20 11 2009

Jan Morris ‘the Great travel writer’  has fallen out of love with London apparently. The reasons she gives for this disenchantment seem to be almost exactly the same reasons why I love London.  

How moved I used to be by this city, when I first knew it, war-scarred but indomitable from the second world war. I truly loved it then – the proud battered style of it, the blackened and ruined monuments, the posh-and-cockney mixture, the Union Jack flying gamely through the smog upon the Palace of Westminster, the grimy tugs churning up the Thames –”Liquid ‘istory”, as John Burns called the dear old river in one of my favourite civic quotations.

Look at it now! Does the flag still send a tremor down anybody’s spine? Is there anything indomitable about today’s London? Any atavistic pride? Evelyn Waugh said he saw it declining into squalid cosmopolitanism, and it is true that when I step off my train at Euston now I find myself entering a different city altogether from the one that used to thrill me.

But here’s an odd thing. If I certainly love London less nowadays, I actually like it more! I like the glitter and fizz of it, the jumble of manners, the pace and the bitter brilliance and the kaleidoscopic parade of faces. It is no longer England, to my mind, but instead it is a marvellously invigorating sort of Dystopia.

I love the ‘squalid cosmopolitanism’ of London but I’m pleased that it isn’t smoggy, war scarred or blackened by fumes any more. I don’t long for the ‘pea soupers’ of old that my grandmother describes to me, a four day fog in 1952 killed 4000 people! I’m not so bothered about the Union Jack flying atavistically upon the palace of westminster – It sends no shiver down my spine because I’m pleased that London no longer feels like England, or even Britain for that matter, to me if feels like the centre of the world, a world city, a global city.  

Simon Jenkins has written a riposte to Jan Morris’ attack on our fair city. His opening anecdote is revealing, hating cities is apparently fine, but hating the country is not permitted:  

I once sat next to a woman at dinner who asked me where I lived. When I replied, London, she frowned and said, how simply ghastly for me. “It is an awful place, absolute hell. I hate going there, the people, the traffic, the tube, the dirt. You must be dying to escape.”

Stung by hearing my beloved home so abused I asked where she lived. Gloucestershire, she replied. “How ghastly,” I said, “it is an awful place, absolute hell. I hate going there, the people, the horses, the filthy lanes, the boredom. You must be dying to escape.” How extraordinarily rude, she said, and turned away for the rest of the evening.

If you are interested in the global, transnational, interconnected present and future rather than idealising a grimy, ethnically cleansed and nationalistic past have a look at this very interesting sounding seminar taking place soon at SOAS:

Centre for Migration and Diaspora Studies (Department of Anthropology and Sociology and Development Studies) SOAS Seminar Series Autumn 2009, Wednesday November 25th, 5-7 pm, Room G51

Omar El-Khairy (LSE)

The Transnational Flows of the Black Atlantic Post-9/11: hip-hop as the soundtrack to U.S. imperialism

This paper aims to discuss the place of black America in the changing shape of the country’s cultural landscape. It argues that African American popular cultural production today needs to be (re)contextualised in a number of different ways. Not only has the globally reconfigured relations with the cultural marketplace led to the superseding of commodified authenticity with a new racialised subcultural cachet, but the ‘war on terror’ has also brought with it a novel articulation of the relationship between such racial and cultural formations. This paper, therefore, focuses on the global socio-cultural impact of black internationalism, the socio-cultural turn of the post-civil rights generation and the commodification of black resistance today. By focusing on the changes in hip-hop culture and its particular role in the globalisation of the themes of American social doxa, it aims to challenge the ways in which African American styles and ideas are now travelling around the globe.

All welcome. For further information please contact Paru Raman on

Ian Visits and events

19 11 2009

Tidying and updating some of the links that we have on this blog I decided to include a link to the blog Ian Visits and his excellent London events calender which includes many fascinating academic and non-academic events in and around London.

Some that caught my eye are:

Visits to Greenpeace’s boat the Rainbow Warrior this weekend

Tour a nuclear fusion reactor 

A discussion called ‘Digital Natives: A lost tribe?’ at the LSE

A talk on ‘Jihad: The trail of Political Islam’ by professor Gilles Kepel at the LSE


The Lord Mayor’s Show and Rising from the East

13 11 2009

Some interesting London events this weekend.

The Lord Mayor’s show is on Saturday the 14th of November, It begins at 10.53 with a one mile race in which London’s best young runners will represent their boroughs, then at 11 an RAF flypast will mark the start of the Lord Mayor’s procession as Nick Anstee, the 682nd Lord Mayor of London, makes his way to the Royal Courts in the State Coach to pledge allegiance to the Crown.

The Lord Mayor’s procession winds through nearly 800 years of London’s history, marching unscathed through everything from the black death to the blitz. In the 17th century it was inconvenienced by the building site that would later become St Paul’s Cathedral. In the twentieth it was the first event ever to be broadcast live on television.

The loyalty of the Lord Mayor is probably less questionable now than it was in 1215, but the newly elected Mayor must still make his way to the Royal Courts of Justice to pledge allegiance to the Crown, just as Dick Whittington did in 1397 (and again in 1406 and 1419). As you watch the Lord Mayor’s coach go by, remember that someone stood in exactly that spot 450 years ago and marvelled at the sight of a camel on its way to meet Elizabeth I.

The modern procession is over three miles long – 1.3 miles longer than the route it follows – and starts at 11am after an RAF flypast. It travels from Mansion House to the Royal Courts of Justice, where the Lord Mayor takes an oath of allegiance to the sovereign before the Lord Chief Justice and the judges of the Queen’s Bench Division. The procession sets off on the return journey from Victoria Embankment to Mansion House at 1pm and returns to Mansion House at about 2.30, then the day finishes with one of London’s grandest firework displays at 5 o’clock from a barge moored in the Thames between Blackfriars and Waterloo bridges.

At 3pm the City of London’s Guide lecturers offer guided walks around her labyrinth of ancient streets, and then at 5pm the Lord Mayor’s Fireworks display will light up the sky over the Thames.

Rising from the East

Rising from the East is a mixed event of talks, discussions and book signings abut East End history, principally about political activists and activism in the East End, ranging from the East India Company, Cable Street, Anarchists, Feminists, to Bengali activists. 

The event is on Sunday the 15th and Toynbee Hall, organised by the Jewish Socialists Group. You can see a flyer with a programme here.

Events, changes to the blog and Ning

10 11 2009

I have just removed the events page from the FiLo Blog, it will work better on our new Ning Network site, where a dedicated team of on-line divine FiLo Angels will update the events pages. On the FiLo Network Ning site events pages, the events fit into a calender, making them easier to use and see when they are, rather than the old school jumbled list of random events we used to have on the blog.

If you have heard of any interesting London research related events, please send details of them to our Angels.

If you have not become a member of the Ning Network yet but you are doing fieldwork in London, get involved!


15th London Turkish Film Festival

2 11 2009

The 15th London Turkish Film Festival runs from  the 5th-19th of November  2009.15. Programme for shorts and documentaries 1 . Programme for shorts and documentaries 2. Programme for feature films.

On Sunday the 15th of November, at 12:00 in the lovely Rio Cinema in Dalston there will be a short film called Ayna (mirror) presented by IMECE Turkish Speaking Women’s Group based on the real life stories of Turkish immigrant women living in London.