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Contemporary urban theory has started to question the elevation of diversity as a panacea for enduring urban problems – segregation, prejudice and intergroup hostility. This critique coincides with an opposite tendency within classic contact theory and research. The latter tradition has developed an increasing enthusiasm for face-to-face interaction. The contact hypothesis, which presupposes established contact, has received conclusive support independent of target groups and contact settings. Research on ‘lived diversity’, which includes both contact and lack of contact, offers two supplementary insights. It shows, on the one hand, that boundaries are inscribed in social spaces. Physical proximity between ethnic and social groups tends to have a minor effect on interaction. Interaction, on the other hand, is not essential to attitude formation. Both subfields within contact research have confirmed that urban space may act as a catalyst for tolerant attitudes. This observation corresponds with increasing recognition of affective states, such as empathy, anxiety and group threat. Contact research has therefore, in summary, transcended the scope of the contact hypothesis. It has expanded into the realm of urban theory, which foreshadows future collaboration between the two traditions. Some key points for such exchange are suggested at the end of the article. Future research should combine an open-ended approach to casual contact with a diversified conception of diversity and a richer conception of urban space. A move in this direction would leave substantial space for geographical research.

Keywords: contact hypothesis; diversity; intergroup contact; prejudice; tolerance; urban space

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Sociology and Human Geography, University of Oslo, P.O. Box 1096 Blindern, N-0317 Oslo, Norway., Email:

Publication date: March 1, 2009

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