Every day, people who do not know one another have convivial encounters in public spaces like parks, playgrounds, street festivals, sidewalks, park benches, ice rinks and public buses. These interactions may be as simple as expressions of gratitude when someone assists with a child’s stroller on the bus, a brief conversation about animal behaviour at a dog park, or small talk about the weather on a park bench. Simultaneously, public spaces seem increasingly conflictual as videos of xenophobia, racism and sexism go viral on social media, and are treated as evidence of the beginning of the end for promises of an egalitarian society.
Lots of research rightly focuses on fraught relations in public, yet we know very little about positive sociable interactions between strangers in cities. Conflict erupts in urban public settings, but conviviality also hums along in the background. Drawing on naturalistic and participant observation, and on interviews in a range of public sites—including parks, ice rinks, sidewalks and public transit—we research the complexity of urban social interactions by taking seriously everyday conviviality and the public settings that facilitate or mitigate against encounters between strangers.
Our research identifies facets of everyday encounters between strangers in public space that urban sociologists, urban planners and the public at large must grapple with, where conflict co-exists with conviviality. Social exclusion is never far from progressive motions towards living together in increasingly diverse societies, but by engaging these entwinements we trace out possibilities for living together in new, different and more equitable ways in the context of a rapidly urbanizing planet. In this spirit, we study conviviality to learn how social inclusion and exclusion may be enacted without violence or explicit coercion, but as a mundane part of everyday urban life.
As our cities grow and become increasingly diverse and increasingly dense, it has never been more important to understand the promises and perils of living together in proximity as strangers.
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The sociable cities project is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Insight Program
The sociable cities research team acknowledges that we live and work on traditional, unceded, and/or treaty lands of First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples. We are hosted on the Dish with One Spoon territory, the treaty land and territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit, and Between the Lakes Purchase (Treaty 3). For thousands of years, this was the land of Attawandaron peoples, and eventually, the Anishnaabe, Haudenosaunee and Métis. Additionally, our team conducts research in the traditional territories of the Chippewa and Huron-Wendat, covered by Treaty 13 and the Williams Treaties. As we strive to strengthen our relationship with Indigenous peoples, we recognize that our work, which is centred on solidarity and place-based connection, has much to learn from Indigenous peoples of past, present and future. We express our deepest gratitude to the Indigenous peoples who share this land with us and from whom we continue to learn.