Land of Strangers – Ash Amin (Polity Books, 2012)
Ash Amin’s book focuses on how we live as strangers in modern society: the stranger who resides in hybrid modern Western societies “with their heterogeneous populations and cultures, they exist as gatherings of strangers – home grown and migrant”. He is fascinated by the gaps between the singularity and plurality, how social beings are subject to processes and practices of inclusion or exclusion, how society can be regarded as hybrid or otherwise, and how “the stranger is not afforded air to breathe”. Amin argues that we need to develop a discussion around the existence of the society of strangers to understand the nature of modern multicultural society, as well as its potential.
Amin aims to expand a discussion on this very fascinating type of belonging to a society of strangers, as well as the fate of the stranger in modern Western cosmopolitan society, for he believes that studying the land of strangers would help us to understand modern multicultural globalised society, instead of narrowly focusing on the discourses about social integration and social cohesion. Amin concentrates upon the different ways that the stranger is defined and labelled as an outsider, as not belonging, and as the racialised Other by referring to “an intricate and often interwoven set of biopolitical, behavioural and affective forces that are simultaneously ingrained and unstable”.
Negative commentary on multicultural society places strangers and minorities in precarious positions, and calls for assimilation and promotes exclusion. The book highlights how calls for reviving nationalism is “regressive for its veiled xenophobia and exclusionary nostalgia, and unrealistic for its denial of the plural constituency of modern being and belonging”. In Europe, we observe the rise of “aggressive political demagoguery, targeting minorities, immigrants and democracy itself” which is worryingly no longer the sole domain of far right extremists but it is witnessed in “mainstream political forces trying to appease national majorities that have been destabilized by growing economic and welfare insecurity, cultural and ethnic mixity, and future uncertainty”.
The book also explores the meeting of strangers in workplaces, the concepts of social ties and situated practice in the work place, where learning and creativity can be priorities. Trust, loyalty and mutuality in workplace settings point towards virtues of social encounters and community. Furthermore, we learn about “urban technologies, infrastructures and aesthetics” relate to how strangers belong to modern society”. A “flourishing and dissenting public sphere” is argued to be a legitimate place to encourage shared encounters, participation and engagement.
The imaginary notion that British society exists as a homeland “with its own people, known and loyal to itself (and distinct from strangers from another land) remains vice-like”. And thus Amin questions this vice-like grip of imaginary territorial belonging by exploring whether modern multicultural societies are actually cohesive because of “plural publics and as the result of active work by collective institutions, integrating technologies, and constructed narratives and feelings of togetherness, rather than around givens of historic community?” We cannot simply rely on these notions of historical territorial belonging when we consider how there are a vast range of belongings: local, national, virtual, postcolonial and transnational.