Urban encounters with difference: the contact hypothesis and immigrant integration projects in eastern Berlin

Tatiana Matejskova, Helga Leitner

Publikation: Bidrag til tidsskriftTidsskriftartikelForskningpeer review


Recent urban scholarship celebrates the increased cultural and ethnic diversity of contemporary cities as promoting conviviality and intercultural sensibilities. The contact hypothesis and immigrant integration policies drawing on it similarly stress the importance of increased face-to-face contact for reducing inter-group prejudice and conflict. Drawing on ethnographic research in eastern Berlin, this paper examines spaces of encounters between local residents and recent immigrants and their potential for decreasing negative stereotypes, prejudice, and conflict. We find that contact between Russian Aussiedler and local German residents in public and quasi-public spaces remains fleeting, often reinforcing pre-existing stereotypes. Local immigrant integration projects, despite their intentions of increasing contact between migrant and non-migrant residents, often fail to provide opportunities for deeper contact. On the other hand, sustained and close encounters are enabled in spaces of neighborhood community centers, where immigrants and native residents work side-by-side on common projects. These sustained encounters engender more empathy and positive attitudes toward individual immigrants but these are not scaled up to the group, contradicting claims of recent contact theorists. We suggest that scholars and integration practitioners be cautious of overoptimistic assumptions about how encounters across difference can contribute to decreasing resentment and interethnic conflict, as these are underwritten by much broader processes of marginalization and deeply entrenched unequal power relations.
TidsskriftSocial & Cultural Geography
Udgave nummer7
Sider (fra-til)717-741
StatusUdgivet - 2011
Udgivet eksterntJa

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