Becoming ‘East Asian’

Race, Ethnicity and the Politics of Belonging in Britain

I am Principal Investigator of the British Academy/Leverhulme funded project, ‘Becoming East Asian: Race, Ethnicity and the Politics of Belonging in Britain’ with Tamsin Barber at Oxford Brookes University. This research grew out of a project which examined the experiences of young people racialized as East Asian as consumers and producers in the night-time economy, the challenges they face and how they draw on transnational and global youth cultures to create a sense of belonging.

The project examines emerging East Asian youth identities and social spaces in urban Britain to investigate the changing significance of race and ethnicity in so-called ‘superdiverse’ contexts. Due to migration, East Asians in Britain are now one of the fastest growing ‘ethnic’ groupings (ONS 2011), with the highest percentage of international students (HESA 2014), yet they remain invisible in both academic and policy debates on citizenship, ‘integration’ and multiculturalism. This project investigates how and why young people in British urban cities are engaging in ‘East and Southeast Asian’ racial and pan-ethnic group-making when recent social surveys suggest that race is losing its significance as a dominant identity (Aspinall and Song 2013).

The concept of superdiversity has become widely adopted to describe and analyse the ordinary multiculture of everyday urban life in the context of new migrations (Meissner and Vertovec 2015), but it has been criticised for neglecting issues of power, inequality, exclusion and racism (Anthias, 2012; Back 2015). This project addresses these absences by examining the significance of race and racism for invisible minorities. It will add new knowledge on these minorities, exploring affiliations and divisions among them and their place in wider society. It will contribute to debates on how political mobilization and belonging are changing and lead to a research agenda on emerging East Asian youth politics in Britain.