Writing The British Asian City


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Writing The British Asian City

  1. 1. Representing others through text and performance: British Bangladeshis in London’s ‘East End’ John Eade CRONEM Roehampton and Surrey, UK
  2. 2. Urban Sociology and the Global City <ul><li>Opportunity to combine the political economy tradition within British and American urban sociology with the ‘cultural turn’ </li></ul><ul><li>Sassen’s The Global City (1991) and subsequent work has encouraged an economistic perspective </li></ul><ul><li>Zukin’s analysis of city cultures, commodification and globalisation </li></ul>
  3. 3. Urban Sociology and the Global City <ul><li>Analysis of how the global city has been represented textually has been less developed </li></ul><ul><li>Few attempts to link the two perspectives in a non-deterministic way </li></ul><ul><li>Global city model has emphasised the ways in which global flows of capital, people, goods and information have created a sharply polarised world dominated by the service sector </li></ul><ul><li>Limitations of this approach – the anthropological contribution and culturalism </li></ul>
  4. 4. <ul><li>The transformation of the East End with the decline of the industrial order and the expansion of the service sector, 1960 onwards </li></ul><ul><li>The south of Tower Hamlets – the derelict docks transformed into Docklands (Canary Wharf etc) with white middle class settlement </li></ul><ul><li>The north of Tower Hamlets – classic East End territory with a strong poor immigrant tradition based in industry and the low end of the service sector but the ‘city fringe’ being gentrified and drawn into ‘cool’ fashion edge of the service sector </li></ul>The Global City and the ‘East End’
  5. 5. Textual Representation of the Metropolis <ul><li>vast suburban hinterland has been largely ignored in most textual representation – (see Hanif Qureshi’s flight from boring Beckenham to ‘happening’ inner London and the West End in The Buddha of Suburbia </li></ul><ul><li>The celebration of ‘West End’ by the tourist industry </li></ul><ul><li>the ‘East End’ explored in much greater detail by an array of writers (novelists, playwriters, poets, academics, missionaries, social reformers, community representatives, politicians, organisations and urban planners). </li></ul>
  6. 6. Contradictory Representation of London’s Other <ul><li>The East End has until recently been represented as a place where the west London middle class were careful to tread </li></ul><ul><li>Interconnected negative tropes from Dickens onwards (poverty, criminality, </li></ul><ul><li>immigration etc) </li></ul><ul><li>Yet co-existing with positive tropes of strong community, family and kinship ties (from Young and Willmott 1947 </li></ul><ul><li>onwards) </li></ul>
  7. 7. Gaps and Silences <ul><li>This wealth of textual representation would seem to exhaust the possibility of gaps and silences </li></ul><ul><li>Yet many gaps and silences remain and this will be as much a focus in my analysis of a particular representational process as the utterances and performances </li></ul>
  8. 8. Analysing a Performative Event – Our Meeting at the Kobi Nazrul Centre <ul><li>The exchange between the baul singer, the Centre’s Director and the three journalists involved a performance in front of ‘insiders’ (Bengalis) and ‘outsiders’ (the rest of us) where certain themes were established. </li></ul>
  9. 9. Authentic Representatives of a ‘Community’ and Performativity <ul><li>The exchange between the singer and the director could be interpreted as engaging implicitly with the issue of authenticity and who had the right to represent the 'community‘ </li></ul><ul><li>It could also be seen as a performance shaped by the intersection of gender, sexuality, generation and class as well as ethnicity </li></ul>
  10. 10. Two Performative Traditions and Journalism <ul><li>Also an exchange within two different performative traditions - the hybrid tradition of baul singing in the Bengal cultural region and a more recent hybridised mode of using Bengali music to speak about racism and anti-racism in Britain </li></ul><ul><li>Younger generation’s appropriation of baul music through new musical idioms (bhangra etc) </li></ul><ul><li>The media representatives gave another performance which revolved around what they could and could not do in terms of journalistic writing and the community constraints on them </li></ul>
  11. 11. Communication between Performer and Audience <ul><li>The mutual engagement of performer and the audience in the event </li></ul><ul><li>Performers’ adaptation to the audience’s reactions across the insider/outsider boundary </li></ul><ul><li>Through language (English, standard Bengali and Sylheti) performer and audience communicate with each other and signal the boundary between ‘us’ and ‘them’ </li></ul><ul><li>The power of language and the status of English as the dominant mode of discourse </li></ul>
  12. 12. Absence and Boundaries <ul><li>Absent from this encounter was the significance of Islam as another dominant discourse </li></ul><ul><li>Also absence of director of Brick Lane film and a young Bengali woman singer </li></ul><ul><li>Selecting boundaries around an event - my selection of contributors – secular Bangladeshi Muslims </li></ul><ul><li>Islamist critiques of the baul tradition and secular anti-racist politics reflecting the glocal process of Islamisation </li></ul>
  13. 13. Historical Context <ul><li>1960s/1970s first generation, village politics and the independence struggle </li></ul><ul><li>Anti-racist struggles of the late 1970s and the 1980s and secular second generation activists </li></ul><ul><li>Islamisation from the late 1980s onwards, which has engaged the second and third generations </li></ul>
  14. 14. Textual Representation – Some Academic Analyses <ul><li>Tracing a history (Visram, Kershen) </li></ul><ul><li>Identity politics, the nation-state and transnationalism (Eade et al, Glynn) </li></ul><ul><li>Islamisation – changing physical space, bodies and thinking through purification (Eade, Gardner, Begum) </li></ul><ul><li>Generation, gender and sexuality (Gardner, Alexander, Ahmed) </li></ul>
  15. 15. Novels and Autobiographies <ul><li>Brick Lane </li></ul><ul><li>Mapmakers of Spitalfields </li></ul><ul><li>The Islamist </li></ul>
  16. 16. Oral Histories <ul><li>Across Seven Seas and Thirteen Rivers </li></ul><ul><li>Tales of Three Generations of Bengalis in Britain </li></ul>
  17. 17. Bengali Cultural Production <ul><li>Changing face of Bengali music and lyrics </li></ul><ul><li>Changing character of Bengali-language newspapers </li></ul><ul><li>Bengali-run media outlets </li></ul>
  18. 18. Conclusion <ul><li>How to link these three types of textual representation and the broader context of political economy and cultural turn perspectives? </li></ul><ul><li>How to link with multi-locality, diaspora, global city and glocalisation? </li></ul>