Book Review: New Geographies of Race and Racism

new geographiesRecently I have been reading up on contemporary social and cultural geography’s take on race and racism, and I have come across a very interesting and useful edited collection by Claire Dwyer and Caroline Bressey (from the Department of Geography at University College London). New Geographies of Race and Racism is principally based upon conference proceedings in 2005 where leading academics and researchers discussed issues of race and racism in the UK and Ireland. The book focuses on contemporary academic discourses of difference, inclusion, exclusion and religious discrimination in a post 9/11 and post 7/7 world, and explores how these discourses are related to issues of race and racism, particularly in contemporary Britain where geographical imaginaries are central to political discourses of race and ethnicity.

The book contains detailed case studies from the UK and Ireland which illustrate the richly complex and interconnecting areas of race, nation and place. The chapters in this edited volume revolve around three key themes of racial and ethnic identity: the complexity of contemporary categories of race and ethnicity, micro-geographies of every day ethnicities, and the theoretical aspects of race and ethnicity. According to the editors the shifting demographic, political and policy framing of ethnicity and race is apparent in urban geography writings, and thus they have included chapters which respond to current debates. The edited collection also places great emphasis on historical significances, reminding us of how the past informs the present: Alastair Bonnett’s chapter on “Whiteness and the West” focuses on the historical and geographical elements of transition that impact upon the changing trajectories of whiteness.

As well as providing illuminating case studies, the book engages with philosophical and epistemological aspects to the question of race, and thus helps us to understand methodological implications of studying race and ethnicity, particularly as some say we are living in a post-race world, whilst others argue that racism is ever present in contemporary societies. Moreover, the book moves away from solely concentrating on England by including case studies from Scotland, Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland. We learn about identity politics through reading about constructions of whiteness in the context of Europe, Arab activists in Britain, Bengalis in the East End of London, and Scottish Muslims amongst others.

The chapter “One Scotland, Many Cultures” by Jan Penrose and David Howard draws on the interconnections between race and place in Scotland by looking at how attitudes towards race and racism have changed over time, and examining the anti-racism campaign conducted by the Scottish Executive. Penrose and Howard explore the language of multiculturalism and anti-racism as presented through discourse on Scottishness. John Clayton’s chapter “Everyday Geographies of Marginality and Encounter in the Multicultural City” concern race relations in the city of Leicester, often seen as harmonious multicultural success story, from the perspective of the white working-class youth and their everyday experiences. Una Crowley, Mary Gilmartin and Ron Kitchin reflect on the experience of the Republic of Ireland where emigration was once the norm, but now increasing immigration is having an impact upon ideas of race, place and identity, and thus there is a political discourse that attempts to define and place the new immigrants.

Like Anoop Nayak’s Race, Place and Globalization: Youth Cultures in a Changing World, Dwyer and Bressey’s edited collection is excellent in making contemporary arguments about race and ethnicity accessible for students and researchers from all backgrounds. In fact, New Geographies of Race and Racism contains a chapter by Nayak on racism and anti-racism in northeast England, illustrating how white youth articulate issues of race and racism in a mainly white post-industrial place. Even though these texts are grounded in the field of social geography, they can be utilised by sociologists and educational researchers, as well students of politics, interested in learning more about race and ethnicity in modern times. The book reinforces the importance of examining how race and place are inextricable in modern times (and past times), and thus challenges theories that promote the idea that globalisation has led to a sense of placelessness, whilst providing readers will fascinating case studies about the lived realities of race and racism in the UK and Ireland.

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