Incorporating ethno-cultural diversity in local civil society in superdiverse urban neighbourhoods. The case of Borgerhout in Antwerp.

Authors: Stijn Oosterlynck*, University of Antwerp, Thomas Swerts, Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam
Topics: Urban Geography, Migration, Political Geography
Keywords: superdiversity; cities; civil society; participation
Session Type: Paper
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This paper is concerned with the challenge of incorporating increasing ethno-cultural diversity in local civil society organizations in superdiverse neighbourhoods in Western cities, more particularly the Flemish region in Belgium. It starts from a survey amongst local civil society organisations in Flanders, carried out in the context of a large-scale collaborative research project on civil society innovation, which showed that both membership and leadership of local civil society organizations is pre-dominantly white and does not reflect well the existing ethno-cultural diversity in society. We also observed that while local civil society organizations tend to value ‘community building’ more than other civil society roles, building community with citizens with a different social background is valued significantly less. This suggests a civil society context which discourages ethno-culturally mixed civil society organizations, although this is less the case in urban environments. Against this background, we explore through an in-depth qualitative case study socially innovative practices that work to incorporate ethno-cultural diversity in local civil society in what is the prime example of Flemish urban multiculture, the neighbourhood Borgerhout in Antwerp. We find that, despite the hostile environment created by the electoral rise of the extreme-right in the 1980s and 1990s and more recently the trend towards neo-assimilationalist urban diversity policies, a more ethnically mixed local civil society is emerging in the neighbourhood, which is amongst others related to the growth of an immigrant middle class, the supportive role played by social work organisations and bottom-up dynamics in youth and sport clubs.

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