The Choreography of Everyday Multiculture: Bowling together?

What does the relationship between a mixed public space of leisure and the people who use it reveal about social dynamics in the contemporary city? European leaders such as David Cameron and Angela Merkel have proclaimed multiculturalism dead. However, this does little to account for either the everyday ways that people 'rub along' (Watson, 2009) in diverse spaces, or the historical, economic and migration contexts that continue to create spaces of 'super-diversity' (Vertovec, 2007). 

This research starts with a seemingly ordinary place, a bowling alley, used by a diverse population in terms of age, class and ethnicity and standing on a busy crossroads in a fast changing neighbourhood at the intersection of three London boroughs. While the current interior design borrows the chrome and neon of Americana, the diverse collection of bowlers who use it reflect contemporary London. Through an in-depth examination of who uses the space and how, the research seeks to find out: What kinds of interactions, tensions, strategies of avoidance and of negotiation, does the space engender? What are the limits to the sharing of space and how do divisions outside the bowling alley play out within (forms of territoriality among young people, for example)? 

As well as examining space sharing and exchanges in the bowling alley, the research also seeks to examine the relationship between social relations inside the bowling alley and the wider and complex world of the local area. Firstly, the research will uncover how the changing uses of this site reflect the social historical processes (including economic processes and migration histories) that have shaped the area; the bowling alley is only the most recent incarnation of this building which has been a tram depot, a roller rink that never opened, a cinema (notorious during the First World War for 'gambling, prostitution and "amorous soldiers liaising with loose women" Harper, 2011), a dance hall and a bingo hall. Secondly, the neighbourhood is set to undergo major redevelopment and so the bowling alley and the time period of this research will provide a prime location for investigating these processes of change and debates about what constitutes valuable urban space, what stays and what goes; how processes of change are co-opted, resisted or celebrated by both customers at the bowling alley and by other local stakeholders. Furthermore, the research will explore how this space of diversity enacts how the neighbourhood is connected to the wider world through patterns and histories of migration. 

In order to answer these questions, the project uses a variety of methods including interviews with bowlers and local stakeholders, participant observation and the use of photography and video. Research participants will be asked to share photos and video taken of their activities within the bowling alley. In addition, new documentary footage will be shot, using everyday technologies (iphone) to mirror that used by the participants. The project will produce not only written reports and academic journal articles but also a short documentary and an interactive website that will be accessible, and actively promoted, to the general public.

Overall, this research seeks to analyse how a diverse population co-exist and interact through the study of one site and the transnational, socioeconomic forces that connect in it through the practices of people.


Planned Impact

Who will benefit and how?

Policy Makers, councils, think tanks, visual practitioners, the business community, academic researchers, civil society organisations and the general public including, but not limited to:

1. Hackney, Haringey and Islington Councils: The councils that represent Finsbury Park have acknowledged that the area has suffered due to its position at this intersection (2013), and have collaborated on the development plan for Finsbury Park Town Centre. Given this renewed focus on the area and its improvement, it is anticipated that the councils will be interested in this study on the social fabric and spatial relations of this location. The research also has specific benefits for each council:
a. This research will complement the Hackney Cohesion Review (2010b) by providing a different angle on social relations and social mix. The research relates to one of the equality objectives set for 2012-2016 'Foster good relations by building a strong sense of community, neighbourliness and pride.' This objective stresses the importance of sports and cultural events. The bowling alley as a space of leisure and mixing will be of interest. I have been liaising with an Assistant Chief Executive at Hackney Council in order to ensure that the research produced is useful.
b. Haringey Council's Cohesion Strategy 2010-2013 emphasises the need to promote 'a sense of common belonging' and sets 'encouraging interaction between different groups' as a main outcome. By assessing current interaction between groups this research will be of benefit.
c. The bowling alley is a listed 'CitySafe Haven', one of 13 places in Islington where young people can ask for help if they are in a difficult situation. It is anticipated that findings on young people and their relationship to the bowling alley, additional findings on young people and territoriality in the local area will be of interest.

2. Runnymede Trust have been contacted in the planning stages of this project. Through involvement and dialogue in their Emerging Scholars Forum and Runnymede 360 (a network 'for leaders in race equality including non-academics), I hope to ensure that the project delivers outputs that will inform policy debates. This research will complement Runnymede's research, particularly on young people, community studies and equality and cohesion. In addition, Runnymede Trust will facilitate the dissemination of the research among a wide national policy audience (see Pathways to Impact).

3. General public, local residents and participants can engage with the project during the research period via the project blog - contributing images and memories, or participating within the bowling alley. The project will thus provide a platform for dialogue about community relations and the changing social and physical environment of the area.

4. Neighbourhood civil society organisations and online community forums: A wide variety of community associations including Friends of Finsbury Park, Haringey online forum, Finsbury Park Community Hub, Stroud Green WI engage in activities from community events to online discussion boards. I will seek to involve these groups during the research period through sending information and links to the blog. These groups will be interested in the findings relating the bowling alley to the history and redevelopment of the neighbourhood.

5. The focus on the social workings of a commercial space within the context of the redevelopment of the neighbourhood will be of interest to the Finsbury Park Business Forum.

6. Visual artists and filmmakers ranging from community arts organisations, such as Platform (arts venue for young people in Finsbury Park) to documentary makers and those using visual methods in social research (members of International Visual Sociology Association) will be interested in the participatory methodological approach and the resultant documentary and interactive website.

7. Academic researchers see 'academic beneficiaries'