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Community Through Digital Connectivity? Communication Infrastructure in Multicultural London

Principle investigator: Dr Myria Georgiou|
Co-investigator: Prof. Sonia Livingstone|
   Researcher: Dr Wallis Motta-Guarneros|

 In collaboration with Metamorphosis|, University of Southern California

This project, supported by an LSE Seed grant, examines the role that communication plays in promoting and hindering community among London’s diverse populations. While symbolic and structural resources such as education, local institutions and property have been systematically studied as community-building resources, communication infrastructures are little studied and their potential as a community asset largely unrecognised. Yet with over half of the world population now inhabiting cities (UN 2010), how people communicate across or withdraw from difference in urban societies matters greatly.

For London, the most culturally diverse city in the world and one of the most connected (Massey 2005), these questions are pressing. How does London’s rich communication infrastructure enable Londoners to communicate with each other? Does this in turn contribute to social capital and building community? Or does it segregate people across cultural and generational lines? By focusing on a highly culturally diverse part of London – Harringay, North London – this study examines the role of communication infrastructure in bridging, bonding and separating the different groups occupying the same locale. It focuses on communication assets – the resources that enhance urban dwellers’ social capital, sense of belonging and mutual understanding.

Its main research question is: In what ways does communication infrastructure mobilise Haringey’s diverse population in building social capital and community?

Conceptually, we juxtapose the original theory of communication infrastructure developed by Ball-Rokeach and her research team under the Metamorphosis project with Bourdieu’s social capital. The communication infrastructure theory takes an ecological approach to understanding the role of communication of all kinds in promoting or undermining belonging, civic engagement and collective efficacy (Ball-Rokeach, Kim and Matei, 2001; Kim and Ball-Rokeach, 2006). We explore this theory alongside and vis-à-vis Bourdieu’s (1985, 1992) conception of social capital as the sum of resources that accrue to the possession of durable networks of sustained (institutionalised) relations and recognition. These approaches provide interesting parallels in how practices of communication and sociability support groups’ efforts to gain access to resources that will advance their symbolic and material power. Our particular focus is on how different local groups mobilise knowledge and information resources for work, education, health and leisure.

The project adopts a multi-method approach, which includes creative and participatory tools for data collection, locale mapping and community sharing alongside established methods in social sciences.

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