(Super) Diversity

The rate of migration to European cities has led to varying levels of diversification and transformed the ways in which demographic, social and cultural patterns in European urban settings occur. In particular, more recent immigration waves from numerous countries of origin, with socio-economically differentiated populations, various migrations reasons and channels as well as the wider set of social and economic relations within the places where they reside led to new and complex forms of diversity. Following these observations, Vertovec (2007) claimed that diversity should no longer be seen merely in terms of ethnicity (i.e. ethnic diversity, ethnic residential segregation) but instead consider other significant variables which affect the conditions of people as well as where, how and with whom people live. Such variables “include differential immigration statuses and their concomitant entitlements and restrictions of rights, divergent labour market experiences, discrete gender and age profiles, patterns of spatial distribution, and mixed local area responses by service providers and residents” (Vertovec 2007: 1025).

Although these variables as well as their correlations have been highlighted by others before, it is “the emergence of their scale, historical and policy-produced multiple configuration and mutual conditioning that now calls for conceptual distinction” (Vertovec 2007: 1026). Examining the interplay of these relevant diversity variables helps to move beyond ethnic and immigrant classifications alone when discussing diversification in cities. The interplay among multiple dimensions of diversity characterises the experience of ‘super-diversity’ in cities and local urban settings. Table 1 provides a detailed list of relevant variables whose interplay could be considered (Vertovec 2007: 1025; 1049).

Table 1: Relevant variables in the ‘super-diversity’ concept according to Vertovec



Country of origin

Ethnicity, language[s], religious tradition, regional and local identities, cultural values and practices

Migration channel

Gendered flows and specific social networks

Legal status

Entitlement to various rights

Human capital

Educational background

Access to employment


Material conditions; presence and extent of other immigrant and ethnic minority groups


Migrants’ lives with significant reference to places and peoples elsewhere
Responses by local authorities, services providers and local residents

In addition to Vertovec (2007), a number of current studies continue to emphasize the increasing diversification of the urban local population within European cities along demographic, social and cultural dimensions (although without explicitly labelling it “super-diversity”). Among them, Dukes and Musterd (2012) describe diversity within European urban spaces as a multidimensional concept concerning all aspects based on which people differ from each other, visibly or less visibly. They distinguish three “groups of (overlapping) classifications, based on characteristics of diversity that are primary or secondary, constant or variable and observable or unobservable” (Dukes and Musterd 2012: 1983).

Overall, Vertovec’s concept of super-diversity and other multidimensional definitions of diversity potentially open up all kinds of possibilities and intersections of diversifications. Dukes and Musterd (2012) refer to a Dutch study by Janssens and Steyaert (2001) who distinguish between a narrow definition of diversity that concentrates on specific aspects, such as ethnicity and gender, and a wider definition that relates to all possible aspects: demographic aspects, psychological differences, organizational differences and so forth. In particular the former definition of diversity might be useful for the ICEC project in order to limit the amount of diversity characteristics for a manageable and applicable concept. More precisely, we suggest concentrating on a selected number of primary and predominately observable characteristics of diversity. Among them, we opt for including gender and age as socio-demographic characteristics and socioeconomic status (education or occupation) as socioeconomic component of diversity. We further propose to complement the definition by adding characteristics of ethnic heterogeneity (the amount of ethnic origin groups within local places) to our concept of (super) diversity. By selecting these characteristics of (super) diversity we do not aim at judging particular characteristics of diversity as more desirable but believe that the selected ones are of particular relevance for our study. More precisely, we use these characteristics to describe the diversity in a location and apply them within the neighbourhood selection process. In other words, the diversity concept is not used as an analytical tool to explore processes of neighbourhood attachment and identity, but rather as a selection framework to choose our ‘ study cases’ since we are interested in exploring what are the mechanisms for the development of neighbourhood identity or attachment are in diverse settings.



List of references:

Dukes, T.and S. Musterd. 2012. “Towards social cohesion: bridging national integration rhetoric and local practice: the case of the Netherlands.” Urban Studies 49(9):1981-1997.

Vertovec, S. 2007. “Super-diversity and its implications.” Ethnic and racial studies 30(6):1024-1054.