Belonging with Strangers?
Institute for Public Knowledge (20 Cooper Square, 5th Fl., Manhattan)
Living in the city means living with strangers. These strangers are others who we are not familiar with personally, but often also socially. In our everyday lives we move from our neighborhood to workplaces and leisure activities, spend time in public and semi-public spaces, such as streets, public transportation, parks, cafes, bars, gyms, and day-care centers, and eventually go back to our homes again. We spend time with people we know intimately; families and friends; and somewhat intimately, workmates, acquaintances and colleagues. We tend to identify with others who are like us in some significant ways. But we encounter or share space with many more who are of other ethnicity, race, class, gender, sexual orientation or religion to mention a few. We mingle with strangers. Sometimes and in some places we seek for this diversity.
But how does this impact our sense of belonging? We feel intimate belonging in our personal communities and if we don’t, it is an issue. We might feel at home with others who share our kind of life. We may actively take part in the public life of the city or more passively just hang out. How does this mingling with strangers shape our sense of belonging? Under what circumstances may feeling at home in public space with strangers affect deeper sense of belonging? How might this make boundaries of belonging more permeable? Is the path to belonging with diverse people getting more familiar or extending the boundaries of belonging? Or does tolerance of strangers stay in islands of civility, not affecting deeper dynamics of belonging.