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Sociology

Sebastian Juhnke

Thesis title - ‘Locating the Creative Class: Diversity and Urban Change in London and Berlin’.

(Passed 2017)

Abstract

This thesis explores how creative professionals, i.e. designers, artists and media workers, among others, experience and understand the multicultural and gentrifying neighbourhoods they live in. These neighbourhoods are Dalston in London and Reuterkiez in Berlin, two areas that have a significant immigrant population, experience gentrification and are well-known for their creative industries.

Interviews with a total of 48 respondents in both locations, as well as ethnographic observations, reveal that the relationship these creatives have with diversity and gentrification are positive and critical on the surface but often ambivalent and selective underneath.

This thesis argues that diversity and multiculture are understood as inspiring for creative work through material and sensory influences. However, not all forms of difference are valued equally. This thesis furthermore describes how gentrification has become a ubiquitous discourse in which respondents locate themselves between fellow gentrifiers and existing working class and/or minority ethnic residents; between wanting to belong and ‘being part of a problem’.

Lastly, this thesis argues that there are different understandings of multiculturalism in London and Berlin. Whereas multiculturalism in London describes ethnic minorities, in Berlin the term is increasingly used to refer to international, cosmopolitan and mainly white Western Europeans. This is problematic, it is argued, because it renders the defence that participants present of multiculturalism in opposition to its failure less meaningful.

This thesis furthermore argues that because of the value of diversity within discourses of creativity and the lack of interaction with minority ethnic neighbours in private networks, many creative professionals have high expectations towards everyday encounters. They are therefore not ‘indifferent to difference’. When these expectations are not met by minority ethnic shopkeepers, for example, this can lead to disappointing encounters and ascriptions of self-segregation and lacking openness.

These findings are relevant for better understanding how urban multiculture in gentrifying neighbourhoods is experienced by members of the creative class, a demographic that is promoted by urban planning. When neighbourhoods like the two field sites of this study are celebrated for diversity and creativity, the latter is a more powerful discourse and can contribute to the displacement of poorer residents.

Research interests 

Urban studies, ethnic diversity and multiculturalism

Biography 

From 2008 to 2011 Sebastian worked as a Research Assistant at the Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB). He was involved in the research projects “Living together with Separate Budgets: The Limits of Individualization in Couple Relationships” and “National Educational Panel Study: Vocational Training and Lifelong Learning”.

Education 

  • BA Social Sciences, Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany
  • MA Social Sciences, Humoldt University of Berlin, Germany

Teaching 

New Media

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