Iron cage of ethnicity: Ethnic Urban Enclaves and the challenge of urban design

Aharaon Meirav

This article describes and analyzes the social construction of the urban space of an immigrant city, with a special focus on ethnic enclaves, by bringing together the languages of urban design and urban-social research. The case of Ashdod has brought me to question the existing theoretical toolbox of social research, with its discourse of segregation–integration and multicultural theory. Following the career of the ethnic category at the junction between city planning and urban history and the way people consume the city’s structure, it is argued that the purpose of the narratives spoken in the center of a modern Israeli city is to pave a way into the heart of the imagined community. Having failed in their efforts to belong as equals, Israel’s immigrants have adopted a strategy termed here ‘distinct participation’. Analyzing their conduct and actions, it is concluded that in order to belong to the national community, they must first become different, and that nothing says ‘different’ better than ethnicity. This is the iron cage of ethnicity: ethnicity is not only distinctive and compartmentalizing; it is also a laissez-passer. These insights shed new light on the ongoing research into ethnic enclaves in immigrant cities and challenge the role of