Superdiversity (also written as super-diversity) refers to two major changes occurring across the world after the end of the Cold War: (a) new patterns of migration causing demographc changes, and (b) the emerging internet and its generalized spread, influencing all aspects of social, cultural, political and economic life.  

What is superdiversity?

The concept was pioneered by anthropologist Steven Vertovec in a 2007 paper called "Super-diversity and its implications". In that paper, Vertovec drew attention to the tremendous demographic changes that had occurred in a city such as London since the early to mid-1990s, and the effects it had on research and policy. While "diversity" was commonly something perceived in terms of relatively stable, organized, resident and clearly identifiable ethnoreligious groups (e.g. "Jamaicans" or "Pakistani Muslims"), the post-Cold War patterns of migration showed far less clear characteristics, leading to a considerable "diversification of diversity" in Vertovec's terms. The migrant populations had become far more complex and layered, and the process was ongoing: "diversity" actually means "diversification". The layered nature of migrant populations also has legal and political effects: there are migrants who are fully entitled and empowered (e.g. through citizenship and/or residence permits) living alongside migrants holding very different legal statuses (think of people holding refugee status, people seeking asylum, and informal labor migrants).

The early 1990s

This diversification of diversity was triggered by several momentous events in the early 1990s. The first one is the end of the Cold War. The half-century following World War 2 had established a polarization in the world between a bloc attached to the US (the "Free West") and another one attached to the USSR (the socialist regimes). After the wave of decolonization in the late 1950s and 1960s, a third bloc emerged, the "non-aligned countries"). This global polarization involved, among many other things, a worldwide " zoning" in which human mobility predominantly occurred within the "zone" of geostrategic alliances. People from the socialist bloc usually moved within that bloc, while people from the Free West bloc also moved within their own zone. Crossing into other zones was complex and administratively difficult (and impossible for many).

When the socialist bloc imploded in 1989-1991, these old patterns of " zoning" ended as well, as restrictions on mobility were lifted or made less stringent. The end of the Cold War also precipitated other developments affecting patterns of migration. One very prominent such development was the intensification of the European integration process via the Maastricht Treaty, creating a large space of free movement of people and goods in Europe - gradually expanding to include former socialist bloc countries in the decades following the end of the Cold War.

At precisely the same time, another major development had been set in motion, unconnected to the geopolitical developments mentioned here. In the early to mid-1990s, new information and communication technologies - the Internet and mobile communication systems - became mass commodities, and the digital world as presently known began to take shape.

Thus, the early to mid-1990s were a watershed in which human mobility patterns were dramatically changed, not only in physical terms, but now complemented by an infrastructure for online mobility. Demographically, societies changed in the sense indicated by Vertovec. But in addition, social, cultural, political and economic life changed due to web and mobile technologies enabling new dimensions of globalization, even at the smallest scale level, affecting physical migration patterns in substantial ways, but also the lives of "resident" people.

Superdiversity phenomena, thus, must be set at the intersection of the two major forces released in the early to mid-1990s: (a) new patterns of post-Cold War migration and (b) the effects of online and mobile technologies.

Implications of superdiversity

The implications of superdiversity are paradigmatic, in the sense that an awareness of superdiversity as a new form of sociocultural diversity triggered adjustments in policy and research. In the field of research, superdiversity has had important effects on how we perceive contemporary identities and social formations, now also including important micro-populations. It also led to an active field of new sociolinguistic research focused on complex practices of "language making" called languaging and to fundamental reflections on the nature of "speech communities"

At the same time, it is clear that the diversification of diversity has been met with widespread waves of popular and political rejections of diversity: new forms of nationalism, the rejection of what is called "globalism" and a re-emphasis on national ethnolinguistic homogeneity and "purity". In fact, migration is a key topic in contemporary global New Right politics.