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In the contact zone: Engineering meaningful encounters across difference through an interfaith project

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Lucy Mayblin, Gill Valentine, Johan Andersson

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)213-222
Number of pages10
Issue number2
Early online date3 Feb 2015
Accepted/In press14 Oct 2014
E-pub ahead of print3 Feb 2015
PublishedJun 2016

King's Authors


Increasing scholarly attention is being paid to urban encounters with 'difference'. Much of this work to-date has focused on incidental encounters in various spatial settings from the market to the café. Here, a number of commentators have observed that fleeting, unintended encounters, where diverse people rub along together as a consequence of accidental proximity, do not necessarily produce 'meaningful contact'. That is contact which breaks down prejudices and translates beyond the moment to produce a more general respect for others. This paper contributes to these debates by focusing instead on purposeful organised activities ('The Project') to bring two different groups together intentionally who would not normally have the opportunity for sustained engagement through a case study of an interfaith (Muslim and Jewish) youth cricket project in a large UK city. Here, we use the concept of the 'contact zone' to evaluate the effectiveness of this project. The findings highlight three critical processes which contribute to generating meaningful contact. First, it is important to establish space where participants from different groups can safely explore their differences together. Second, it is necessary to create space to establish shared interests: here through the game of cricket. Both are factors which require significant resourcing, in particular to enable a professional facilitator to manage what can be, or become, conflictual encounters and the expression of potentially negative emotions. Third, banal sociality also matters. It was time spent 'hanging out' alongside, instead of in, the purposeful activities when the participants identified their own natural affinities and found particular shared identity positions which contributed to destabilising the significance of differences beyond those The Project sought to address. These findings have clear relevance for future policy initiatives to develop interfaith relations.

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