Collective life: parents, playground encounters and the multicultural city

Helen Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


For parents, the school playground is a site of daily intermingling-an important and yet often overlooked site of sociality. Yet whilst it is a space where common needs and experiences are shared, and where friendships and subtle gestures of familiarity are formed, it is also a site of 'panoptic force', where on-going conflicts over class, religion, race and competing interpretations of morality are played out and reinforced. This paper focuses on an ethnographic account of an urban multicultural primary school in Birmingham, UK, to argue that the playground, as a prosaic space of urban encounter, can open up a new set of discussions around segregation and the everyday (dis)assemblies of collective life. Attending to both the routines of daily school life and the work of a voluntary Parents Group that aims to address the challenges of living with difference, the paper details the fragile associations, friendships and mechanisms for social learning that develop within the prosaic spaces of the playground. As such, the paper (re)positions the playground as a site of productive sociality, ongoing negotiation and incremental change, which can work to counter anxieties around cultural diversity and challenge wider concerns about the state of contemporary multiculturalism. © 2013 Taylor and Francis Group, LLC.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)625-648
Number of pages23
JournalSocial and Cultural Geography
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2013


  • Birmingham
  • encounter
  • multiculturalism
  • parents
  • playground
  • school


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