Re-making urban space : writing social realities in the British city
In this thesis I investigate the narrative rendering of urban experiences and the place of agency within these renderings, looking in particular at the personal stories of urban dwellers. Grounded in anthropological fieldwork in Britain - in the town of Romford (Essex) to the east of London - but also relying on written sources on British social realities, this thesis challenges the idea and practice of a traditional place-based ethnography, calling in turn for an anthropological appreciation of the individual writing of human experience. This I define as the considered ordering of the forms in terms of which individuals experience their lives. I recognise that such ‘writing’, conceived as a cognitive pursuit, is possible within speech and not, as some may have it, the exclusive preserve of literary culture. In allowing that individuals may exercise authorship over their lives in this way, I find it is possible, as well as potentially illuminating, to compare individuals’ writings, their personal accounts of their lives, with other genres for writing the reality of urban and peri-urban milieux in Britain. I hear significant correspondences between each story-genre, especially as regards the impacts of town planning on urban space for the populations that inhabit it, and discuss the possible theoretical implications of this correspondence. I focus extensively on two such genres in addition to personal stories: the sociological - examining Michael Young and Peter Willmott’s sociological classic text ‘Family and Kinship in East London’ - and the literary - a reading of the work of English poet and journalist John Betjeman. Running through the thesis is also an appreciation of the figure of the amateur, both as a real actor and as a metaphor for the postmodernist approach to culture to which I also subscribe.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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