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'They Eat Potatoes, I Eat Rice': Symbolic Boundary Making and Space in Neighbour Relations

By Gwen van Eijk


This article examines 'neighbouring' as the setting in which cross-category relations develop and symbolic boundaries are constructed. The study is based on thirty in-depth interviews with residents living in a multi-ethnic and a mono-ethnic neighbourhood in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The findings challenge the hoped-for outcomes of social mixing in neighbourhoods, as well as the view that boundary making is something inherent to multi-ethnic neighbourhoods only. Neighbour relations are often setting-specific (relations are interchangeable, scripted and bounded, and passively maintained), which is relevant for understanding the spatiality of neighbouring and the limited exchange of personal information between neighbours. Because neighbouring involves the balancing of personal privacy and close spatial proximity, the exchange of personal information is limited, while spatial proximity ensures easy access to observable (through seeing, hearing and smelling) categorical markers that signify class, ethnicity, lifestyle, etc. In this way, neighbour interaction reconstructs symbolic boundaries rather than breaking them down.Boundary Making, Intergroup Contact, Multi-Ethnic Neighbourhoods, Neighbouring, Setting, Space, Symbolic Boundaries

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