Tag Archives: Charles Booth

Servicing super-diversity

This is my latest COMPAS blog post. You can read the original here. The photos are by me.

In the 1890s, philanthropist Charles Booth and a team of assistants – the pioneers of sociological research in the UK – walked the whole of London, visually noting the wealth of each street’s inhabitants, to construct their Maps Descriptive of London Poverty. The maps coded streets by colour, with scarlet red and gold marking the “well-to-do” and the “wealthy”, dark blue and black representing the “casual poor” in “chronic want” and the
“vicious and semi-criminal” “lowest class”. Southwark, just across the Thames from the City of London, was a mass of dark colours.

A hundred years later, the New Labour government created an Index of Multiple Deprivation to map new forms of poverty, dark blue for most deprived and gold for least. Again, the northern wards of Southwark were swathed in darkness, with the area around Elephant and Castle especially dark blue.

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More recently, the estate agents Savills has produced a different map of London, with dark blue representing areas where house prices were declining, and Booth’s scarlet red now used to mark zones moving “upmarket”. This time, in what the Economist called “the great inversion”, the former dark zones of Southwark had become vivid red property hotspots.

Elephant and Castle, in the heart of this area, exemplifies London’s sharp changes: commercial student housing, warehousing study migrants from the rising powers of Eastern Asia; luxury pied a terres in developments in a rebranded “South Central” quarter; social housing redevelopments that result in the decanting of long-term residents out to London’s far suburbs; a growing hub for Latin American enterprise.

Super-diversity at the local level

Elephant and Castle is also the site of a COMPAS project, Welfare, neighbourhood and new geographies of diversity. This project, along with an ESRC Knowledge Exchange Fellowship, were the source for February’s COMPAS Breakfast Briefing, presented by my COMPAS colleague Mette Louise Berg and me. We asked “How do local authorities deal with the increasing diversity of their clients and residents?” The Powerpoint presentation is online, and podcast and summary are coming soon.

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Mette opened by describing the concept of “super-diversity” at the heart of our project, the intensifying diversity of forms of difference concentrated in one place, as defined by COMPAS founder Stephen Vertovec. Vertovec’s work has opened up a research agenda that I have been pursuing with Nando Sigona, Mette Berg and other colleagues in the last half decade, with a conference in Oxford, a workshop in Birmingham, and an edited collection. It also informed a Home Office study on the varying impacts of migration in local areas (subject of a previous Breakfast Briefing by Jon Simmons), which included “super-diverse London” as one of its geographical clusters.

The Welfare, neighbourhood and new geographies of diversity project, which also involves Caroline Oliver, Hiranthi Jayaweera and Rachel Humphris, as well as photographer Simon Rowe, takes this agenda forward by piloting ethnographic research on how diversity is patterned differently at different stages of the life course, and how this impacts on service provision in a super-diverse space.

Understanding Elephant

figure for BB blogpost

My contribution to the Breakfast Briefing was to present detailed census analysis done as part of the project by Anna Krausova, exploring different patterns of diversity across multiple axes of difference in an area circumscribed by a 1 mile radius from Elephant and Castle. Mette then presented some of the findings from the education and housing case studies of our qualitative research. Continue reading

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Secret Streets

Drawn map of Deptford High Street, London

The Secret History of Our Streets has been a fascinating and brilliantly made BBC documentary series on London and its recentish historical geography. It tracks particular streets mapped by Charles Booth in the 1880s, with streets in Deptford, Camberwell, Bermondsey, Shoreditch, Caledonian Road and Notting Hill. The links in the previous sentence are to illuminating blog posts about these by Laura Vaughan of UCL’s Bartlett School. There’s also an Open University webpage and booklet with the series.

It’s quite strange for me, as I know Deptford High Street so well, and have recently been researching (with my colleague Ole Jensen) both Bermondsey and the very street in Camberwell, Camberwell Grove, the programme looks at.

The programmes have had some flaws, in particular the constant but un-articulated presence of the politics of race and racism, and occasional lapses into the kind of golden age discourse of nostalgia, melancholy and resentment that drives white backlash culture.

Here are some of the key links on the Deptford programme, which was both excellent TV and the most flawed of the series, via BfB: “Ken’s responsethe Brockley Central discussion thread,the Crosswhatfields postthe Deptford Dame’s responseCaroline’s comments… Bill [Ellson]’s post on sexy fish and the Les Back/Dawn Lyons production it links to.” In addition, read Bill’s return to the question of fish;  the definitive account of Deptford, Jess Steele’s Turning the Tide; and  Deptford: Putting the Record Straight, produced by friends and family of Nicholas Taylor.

If you are interested in Booth, read the Occasional paper I wrote about him [.pdf] a decade ago.