Soda Bread and Herrings: Are Intercultural Events Truly Intercultural? Sensing Divisions Conference, Queen's University, Belfast

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Intercultural events intend to attract local communities with sensory promises of exotic visual displays and gustatory delights from foreign nations. My paper recognises the goal of intercultural events is to create positive affective inter-community relations. However, there is the potential for intercultural events to perpetuate unrelatedness between migrant and local actors through performances of stereotypical material culture. Is henna painting a reliable representation of India? Do diasporic Chinese practice calligraphy to maintain their translocal heritage? And what do herrings and chrzan (horseradish sauce) convey to local populations about the heterogeneous nations of Poland or Lithuania? Individual material ‘things’ provide an instance of a nation, no more indicative of a country than soda bread represents Northern Ireland.
Participant observation at several ‘intercultural events’ illustrates that displays of materiality, dancing, singing or story-telling, and the offer to physically consume a culture’s food and drink perpetuates affective relatedness as a process of continued Othering of migrant out-groups.The use of materiality to represent a migrant community, while novel or entertaining, reinforces difference. Material intercultural spaces entice attendance with bouncy castles and local DJs alongside ‘cultural performances’, bypassing the event’s rationale. Alternatively, intercultural events occur in marbled buildings, attended by converted, middle-class, middle-aged locals. Intercultural events ignore the reality of migrant lives. The prospect of problematising persistent divisions or attempting to understand the Other’s sense of self in a translocal setting is often absent. Migrant groups remain Othered even though they are, for a few hours, the focus of integration. I propose that engaging critically with intercultural events encourages us to rethink how we can realise actual intercommunity inclusion and understanding.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 22 May 2020


  • Intercultural
  • Migrants
  • Social space
  • Belfast


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