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Diaspora and diversity: an ethnography of Sierra Leoneans living in South London

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posted on 2023-06-08, 17:33 authored by David Rubyan-Ling
My thesis is an ethnographic study of Sierra Leonean living in London. I examine the interrelationships between diasporic orientations and the specific locality in which people are living. As such, my research is at the intersection between literatures on African diasporas, and research on new immigration and diversity, two fields which I argue deal with the same ‘problem’ – that of the incorporation of migrants into some form of nation-state identification. In my empirical chapters I explore Sierra Leoneans encounters with diversity in a range of places within London, and engage with Brah’s (1996) conception of diaspora space, as well as recent work on the topic of super-diversity (Vertovec 2007) as a way to elucidate such these interactions. I focus on key sites within Sierra Leonean London – a popular street market, the religious spaces of a church and a mosque, and the temporary spaces used for the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of Sierra Leonean independence. I explore how individuals manage the twin pressures of incorporation from both the UK and Sierra Leonean states, and how these pressures reconcile in efforts to create lives in the interstices of two cultural systems. I look at how a specific cultural heritage shapes their engagements with each other and with outsiders, and how encounters with others and the experience of life in London affect their relationship with their country of origin. The thesis argues that Sierra Leoneans living in London manage these pressures using a cultural imaginary rooted in postcoloniality – i.e. shaped by the enduring effects of colonialism and its aftermath. This legacy has resulted in a profound ambivalence towards both London and Sierra Leone, as poles of this relationship, with many Sierra Leoneans coming to see the diaspora as “home”: a productive ‘”third space” with resources and opportunities beyond that of their home country. The dependence of these diasporic spaces on the contributions of diverse ‘others’provides broader affiliations, that result in a less tightly-held national identity, with Pan-West-African and African identification, becoming increasingly salient.


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