The Echo Chamber of the Street: Young Muslims and traversals of time/space as critique

Dr Ajmal Hussain1

1University Of Manchester


This paper offers reflections from on-going fieldwork conducted on a street in Birmingham, UK that has featured in media and security services’ concerns with radicalisation and the subsequent radicalisation of Muslims. The street hosts an extensive Islamic infrastructure, making it an intense site of activity for young Muslims.

Drawing on interviews and observations carried out in informal spaces such as restaurants, cafes and on pavements, I shed light on the ‘street’ as a unique site of encounters and exchanges. In this time/space I witness the  emergence of a deliberative discourse and styles of reasoning through which new practices of citizenship and belonging are uttered.

I suggest that the resultant sociality of the street shapes different modalities of radical thinking and behaviour. In so doing, it highlights the importance of street encounters in helping to engage people who would not otherwise attend formal spaces of religion or political deliberation. This means that there is less rigour in navigating religious and political doctrines, because the street has its own order, authority or ‘code’ around which ideas of virtuous behaviour are concocted. I consider the potentiality of such encounters and spaces in affecting new forms of recognition in a climate of hostility.


Dr Ajmal Hussain is Research Fellow in Sociology at the University of Manchester where he is leading the UK element of ethnographic research within Islamist milieus as part of the H2020 funded project ‘Dialogue about Radicalisation and Equality’. His book in progress, tentatively titled Urban Rituals documents the emergence of Muslim vernacular culture through analysis of the interaction between the material, social, and narrative life of the inner city. It makes use of work in the areas of affect, infrastructure and assemblage to develop a new theoretical framework for understanding the relationship between multiculture and faith in everyday urban life.

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