BOOK REVIEW OF EVERYDAY EQUALITIES: MAKING MULTICULTURES IN SETTLER COLONIAL CITIES


Fincher, R., Iveson, K., Leitner, H., & Preston, V. (2019). Everyday Equalities: Making Multicultures in Settler Colonial Cities. U of Minnesota Press.

264 Pages ISBN: 978-0-8166-9464-8 $27 (Paperback)

The Study of Interactions in a Place

Everyday Equalities is an exploration of how people come together in cities, and of how power dynamics and other social forces influence the types of casual exchanges that occur. The central concept of the book, coming together in difference as equals, is examined throughout, including through four specific case studies in postcolonial cities. Each example illustrates how marginalized people navigate the complicated realm of public space, with particular attention given to factors that lead to or take away from the establishment of trust among individuals. In some cases the coming together is about people with similar experiences finding ways to form community with each other, while in other examples the coming together is fleeting and between individuals who will ultimately remain strangers to one another. In each example, the presence of difference between the individuals is negotiated. At times this negotiation builds social cohesion, while at other times it establishes or reestablishes separation. Since the need for equality is most relevant to those who suffer from its lack, Everyday Equalities is about the places where disempowered communities come together and, through empowerment, form a society as equals.

As denoted in the book’s subtitle, the examples provided of strangers ‘coming together in difference as equals’ are of immigrant communities in settler colonial cities. Through the exploration of encounters, both instances of recognition as well as of prejudice are examined. In this approach individual encounters are considered with their real world weightiness for forming and defining the culture of the city. The authors state in the introduction “We consider encounters with difference as a centerpiece of urban ontology. The mix of city life, with all its ceaseless social interactions, is central . . . we deploy the concept of encounters with difference as an epistemology, our way of building knowledge about everyday urbanism.” In effect, reality is constructed through everyday encounters and studying those encounters creates knowledge about that which is real. Of course encounters in the city are constantly occurring and culture is forever shifting, so a framework is needed for studying moments in time. Everyday Equalities thus theorizes enactments of equality across four spheres- making a home, making a living, getting around, and making publics. These four spheres capture and balance the interplay between public and private and of the congealing of attitudes toward difference which takes place in all of them.

Making A Home

While home is often the safest place to enact difference together as equals within the confines of private domestic life, the securing of a place in which to make home is dictated by the rules of the dominant culture. Inclusive in the limitations is the availability of housing for new immigrants, including housing accessible to amenities and opportunities for community, as well as employment. Additionally socio-economic forces dictate opportunities for public housing and private financing for a home. The case study for this chapter is Melbourne, Australia, which highly values home-ownership, leaving new immigrants to a housing market of inequality, and where the suburbs have become the new landing pad. Three very different case studies are provided.

The first case study takes place in the suburb of Dandenong, where residents report taking care of each other no matter where the other is from. Local practices have been established of welcoming newcomers with an attitude of everyone being in it together. Coming together was not done by choice or by design, but the result is positive coexistence. A different example demonstrates how design can be a barrier to social interaction. A mixed-income development was designed with views of a garden throughout the complex, however, only private owners were able to access the garden, demonstrating that while design may intend to increase social cohesion among income groups, access to resources still demonstrates the inequality that exists outside of the complex.

A third example is of international student housing that failed to provide public space; a void that was overcome by students congregating at the food court of a nearby mall. Although no space was designed for them to interact as a community, they managed to find a way.

In the first and third examples the encounters that take place in these localities are “sustained encounters…repeated, often intentional, not due to chance alone. They are encounters that take place in the context of persistent institutional priorities.” (p.91) The second example, on the other hand, is of a lack of opportunity for encounters being enforced by spatial design, and perpetuating separation.

Making a Living

Workplaces are usually hierarchically structured, which makes encounters in these spaces immediately unequal. A politics of equality can be enacted by hearing and acting upon the needs of racialized minorities. This applies to interactions between workers and employers, customers, and the general public, and among workers. Toronto, Canada provides the location for exploring how encounters among workers are constrained and enabled by institutional and societal structures. Toronto is a multicultural setting and the city prides itself on its diversity, yet racism is experienced on a daily basis by minorities, especially in the workplace. As the authors explain “critics have accused the state of tolerating if not promoting democratic racism, an ideology that allows people to hold simultaneously egalitarian values that society is not racist and non-egalitarian values that favor whites and other dominant groups” (p. 105).

In this chapter, the first example is of hotels hiring recent immigrants as room attendants after deeming them unsuitable for other positions. Room attendants then have little opportunity to interact with other hotel staff or each other; nonetheless they found a way to come together with a union choir which provided a platform to meet regularly and engage as equals.

The second example is of cashiers where the owners specifically hire young women expecting them to work on their feet for long periods and to not stay in the job long enough to ask for anything. Here, isolated at separate registers, clerks do not find a way to be together, which the authors partly attribute to the transitional nature of the job - the lack of investment to the workplace resulted in the cashiers lack of investment in each other. The last example is of live-in caregivers who are not treated as equals in their workplaces and found a way to be together by renting an apartment as a group to be used on days off. These examples all impart the importance of solidarity with each other as workers as a way to overcome disenfranchisement in workplace institutions; here being together is part of worker empowerment. As exemplified by the second example, where workers did not come together, forming a society requires investment in doing so, it requires workers viewing each other as being in it together.

Getting Around

The streets and transportation systems are where the thrown-togetherness of urban life is most intense. This milieu offers both heightened opportunities for the making of everyday equalities, as well as for the perpetuation of racism. One factor that comes to the forefront when considering interaction in public space is policing: law enforcement could either protect racial minorities or cause harm through violence and unwelcoming control of space. Usually interaction between very different people on public transit is unremarkable and perhaps indicative of a high level of acceptance of difference. However, acceptance of the other when not required to enter into a relationship together does not necessarily indicate tolerance. Furthermore the regular passive avoidance of people which takes place on transit, such as the choice not to sit next to certain people, subtly reinforces hierarchies. The spatial inequality of access to transit is also of extreme relevance and is the subject of part of this chapter.

The examples of these types of encounters explored by the authors take place in Sydney, Australia. In the first case study, the authors explore subway ad campaigns that implore riders to adhere to Australian social norms for courteousness, such as not eating on the train. However, these ads did not speak to the arguably more important and structural issues that affect the comfort of transit users, such as the promotion of tolerance.

The second example is of travelers utilizing phones to document and share instances of racism as a way of calling it out and standing in solidarity with the victim. Here coming together is about politics more than the one-on-one relationship building, it is a great example of a proactive interaction. The last example is of people coming together to build coalitions that support reducing the fare of ridership for asylum-seekers, and includes a dimension of planned contact of people across difference. The second and third examples are of strangers coming together for fleeting moments to create a culture of tolerance and respect for difference, while the first example points out a failure to build social cohesion through targeted communication. The public realm is where culture is most visible and holds deep meaning to its participants, Everyday Equalities provides examples of how individuals can enact equality through everyday interactions.

Making Publics

The last sphere is unique in that it is about coming together with intention rather than through the happenstance of everyday life. Here coming together across difference occurs through organization and social movement around common cause. Though choosing to come together, the individuals in this case study are quite divergent.The setting is cross-cultural immigrant organizing in Los Angeles, where first, second and third generation immigrants from around the world can relate over their shared struggle and gain from hearing each other’s experience. The making of publics is contextualized on page 173 “especially within capitalist immigrant societies, there exists a multiplicity of (counter) publics that emerge as overt alternatives to the hegemonic public sphere”. And these counter publics enact a “method of equality” (p.174), which is still not an occurrence in a private sphere because anyone can come to the “spaces of refuge”.

The first example is of the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride which specifically sought to build a coalition between Hispanic and African American communities, and in which riders shared their stories and built trust and intimacy in a road trip to D.C. The second example is of worker centers, which have a commitment to antiracist action. These centers practice consensus decision making which is an immersive form of being together in difference as equals. Women at the worker centers further the goal of unification by providing care taking to all members with food and organized celebrations; care is the backbone of community.

The last example is of building campaigns like the $15 minimum wage, which brought together all the immigrant-led worker groups of Los Angeles. In this chapter, the examples seem to indicate that specific causes create a focal point for people to come together, and to work together to overcome similar challenges.

Take-Aways

Everyday Equalities provides an interesting theoretical framework for understanding the underlying values of a city. It is timely to explore the experience of immigrants in some of the world’s largest colonial cities. The book would have been bolstered and benefited by more substantive theorizing on the similarities between these cities as places of colonial domination, as well as by explicating how immigrants fit into the colonial paradigm.

Clearly there were reasons for observing the specific experience of immigrants in colonial cities, but the reasons are not stated nor obvious. Regardless, it was a compelling research choice and is delivered in a straightforward and digestible manner. The case studies were worthwhile and conveyed the complexities of relationships between different people; each example provided was relevant, and offered insight into structures and dynamics. The examples that showed successful coming together, most notably of the freedom ride and the workers chorus, were hopeful and appreciated, however many of the positive examples were about people connecting with others like them rather than across wider difference. Offering more examples of people connecting across divides would have fleshed out the concept of “coming together in difference as equals” as the title suggests.This book offers succinct insight into how the structure of racism is both expressed and perpetuated in even the smallest moments in cities. Coming away the reader is trained to pay closer attention to power dynamics between people across all spheres. This provides a strong impetus to dismantle oppression in every moment, as well as by ungirding system structures. The reader is instilled with belief and optimism that social organizing around common needs holds great potential for changing the fabric of society one relationship at a time. This book is a solid contribution to the field of urban studies, and the knowledge it contributes is important to the perspective of practitioners of urban policy planning.

Maya Amichai is a planner with a background in community organizing and critical theory. They have a Master’s in Urban Planning from McGill University and are currently working as a Planning Technician for the City of Vacaville and living in the Bay Area with their partner.

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