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Recent calls for sustained academic inquiry into traditional markets and cultural diversity (Hiebert et al., 2015) speak to the speed, scope and intensification of trans-lingual, multi-ethnic and diasporic interaction across urban spaces in the UK. This project applies two burgeoning areas of academic enquiry – superdiversity and multimodality – to Leeds Kirkgate Market, a traditional urban market with exceptional multi-ethnic encounters and inter- and trans-lingual/cultural exchange.

A contained open-access public space for commercial transactions, Kirkgate Market contrasts with religious and community-led diasporic public spaces and the managed diversity of statutory environments, such as mosques, schools, hospitals and residential neighbourhoods which provide the foci for much existing research into superdiversity.

Superdiversity and Multimodality

Although a contested term, superdiversity (Vertovec, 2007; Blommaert,2014) acknowledges the dynamic, extended interplay of multiple categories of social differentiation, including country of origin, migration histories, legal status, educational, religious and economic backgrounds and temporalities of residence across ethnic minority/migrant populations and majority populations – a process of intensification of diversity originally described by Hollinger (1995) as ‘the diversification of diversity’.

Multimodality refers to the repertoire of communication strategies available, including oral, visual, textual, tactile and spatial resources. As a field of enquiry, multimodality is facilitated by high-quality digital technologies able to capture an expansive range of communicative resources, such as the textual/visual opportunities afforded by mobile technologies and social media platforms.

Research Questions

This project examines the embodied multilingual/cultural accommodations that people of different ethnicities make in their interactions at Kirkgate Market. A key objective is to explore how far different multilingual public spaces generate contextually-dynamic and demotic forms of everyday civility, something rarely highlighted in dominant discourses about cohesion. This will be addressed through four primary research questions:

  1. To what extent can Kirkgate Market be seen as a place of superdiverse forms of accommodation, which includes, but extends beyond a focus on ethnicity, at an historical moment when inter-ethic conflict is discursively situated as the norm?
  2. How is linguistic accommodation to others expressed? How does it transform and create its own forms of civility? How does it work across related languages?
  3. How do non-linguistic forms of cultural accommodation relate to linguistic forms? What is the significance of such strategies for trading?
  4. How are these micro-social behaviours shaped contextually by the more general sort of time-space location that Kirkgate Market represents?


The project maps the linguistic and cultural geography of Kirkgate Market using a series of qualitative and quantitative methodological techniques. We employ qualitative methods to interrogate micro-social interactions and uses of space in Kirkgate Market: ethnography; participant observation and auto-ethnography; qualitative interviews with market traders and customers; and oral history methods to capture migration histories. We are collecting multimodal data on multilingual/cultural accommodation in the form of audio-recordings; and sound, visual and textual landscaping techniques (audio soundscapes, video and photographic imagery of signs/texts).

The second phase of the project employs quantitative methods to collect larger data sets: a structured survey of all stalls in the indoor and outdoor markets; a ‘big data’ approach to the analysis of texts aimed at capturing quantitative data on how linguistic units are used in context and across different communicative situations or languages.


Blommaert, J. (2014) ‘Commentary: Superdiversity, old and new’, Paper 105, Tilburg Papers in Culture Studies. Tilburg University. Retrieved 4 March 2016:

Heibert, D., Rath, J. and Vertovec, S. (2015) ‘Urban markets and diversity: towards a research agenda’, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 38: 1, 5-21.

Hollinger, D.A. (1995) Postethnic America. New York: BasicBooks.

Vertovec, S. (2007) ‘Super-diversity and its implications’, Ethnic and Racial Studies 30: 1024–1054.