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«January 2020»

Conviviality or politics of urban coexistence? A study on exclusion and solidarity at a site of diversity in the East-European city

A number of concepts – ‘everyday multiculturalism’, ‘conviviality’, ‘commonplace diversity’ – are much explored recently as potential epistemological tools for understanding how ‘living together’ works on the ground in contexts of intensive cultural diversity. Against more structurally-orientated explanations of social order, these ‘conviviality studies’ look for the significant in the nature of the interactions themselves, taken as everyday practices. Thus, ethnographic work is an important part of this research program. I will engage in this lively debate by raising a number of critical points: the residual normativity of the notions which leads them to undervalue the productive politics of difference; the artificial boundary between convivial and exclusionary interactions, which in the social reality can easily interweave; the threat of a methodological dissociation of the inter-personal encounter from its complex larger determinants, esp. the loss of perspective on power relations. I am proposing the conceptual tool ’politics of urban coexistence’ as a way to overcome these issues. It is grounded in the integration of Laclau’s post-foundational discourse theory, Mouffe’s agonistic politics and Bourdieu’s theory of practice. Enpirically, I use my long-standing ethnographic fieldwork at the Women’s Market in Sofia, an urban place of both conviviality and intense conflict. This brings in the debate the East-European city, interesting with the instances of bottom-up convivial practice able to grow and persist in a strong „anti-diversity hegemony”.

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