Superdiversity in Melbourne

Over the (southern hemisphere) winter I had the great pleasure of hosting two former colleagues from the University of Birmingham here in Melbourne.  Catherine Needham (who I co-convene the 21st century public servant work with) joined us for about five weeks in total and we undertook some research comparing Australia’s National Disability Scheme with the English experience of personalisation and individual budgets and there will be a post coming on this work soon.

My other guest was Professor Jenny Phillimore who is the Director of the University’s of Birmingham’s Institute for Research into Superdiversity (IRiS).  IRiS is the first institute in the UK to focus on superdiversity and one of the first internationally too.  It brings together academics from various different disciplinary backgrounds to answer the globally, nationally and locally important questions that emerge at the nexus of migration, faith, language, ethnicity and culture.

Superdiversity is a bit of a new term in Australia and has been used more widely in Europe to date.  The concept of superdiversity is used to describe more than just a trend where people arrive from more places, but is used to describe the diversification of diversity.  This is the idea that even within ethnic groups people are different and ethnicity or culture may not be the defining feature of individual’s identities, experiences or needs.  Other factors that are important in shaping an individual’s needs, rights and entitlements, ability to access effective public services and social mobility include legal status, and associated rights and entitlements, gender, age, reason for migration, class, socio-economic status and faith.

Migration and diversity are not topics that have featured centrally in my work to date but I am keen to explore these issues in more detail and they fit well with my interests in governance and collaboration.  Just as Birmingham is an ideal base for IRiS and to explore issues of migration and diversity, so too is Melbourne.  Melbourne is among one of the world’s most superdiverse cities and in 2011 more than 1.4 million people (26% of the population) was born overseas.

During her visit Jenny and I met with a number of people from government and community organisations to collect evidence relating to superdiversity in Melbourne.  Some of these examples will appear in future publications from us collectively and Jenny individually.  Once exercise we undertook before she even arrived in the country was to analyse census data relating to issues pertaining to a variety of different measures of superdiversity.  We worked with a great team from the McCaughey VicHealth Community Wellbeing Unit here at the University of Melbourne to do this.  You can find a report which describes both the idea of superdiversity and its application to the Melbourne context through the use of Geographical Information Systems (think databases in maps) from the MSoG website.

Jenny also found time to do a podcast for Up Close – the University of Melbourne’s own audio talk show.  You can listen to her speak about superdiversity and migration in more detail here.


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