Constructing Difference and Sameness: The Politics of Assimilation in London’s Arab Communities

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Contemporary migration has spurred reconsideration of the theoretical concepts used to explain immigrant-host society relationships. Traditional conceptions of assimilation have been an important topic of debate. Some urban sociologists question whether timeworn assimilation models 'fit' contemporary circumstances. Others challenge assimilation theories on a more fundamental level, abandoning notions of'group adaptation' and focusing instead on social difference and cultural identity. Thus far, there has been very little dialogue between different theoretical perspectives. I attempt to bridge this gap by conceptualizing assimilation as observable, material processes of accommodation of and conformity to dominant norms. Assimilation, in this respect, is profoundly political rather than ecological or 'natural', and is relevant across geographical and historical contexts. Drawing on interviews with Arab immigrants in London, I shall illustrate the ways in which the construction of sameness (as well as difference) is central to immigrant experiences.

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