Located lives: an ethnographic representation of people and place on a British council estate

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


    This thesis is the product of ethnographic research conducted over a period of eighteen months on a council estate, located on the outskirts of a city in Britain. The research explores how the everyday lives of people on The Estate are shaped by their being there. It also examines the material and social conditions, which produce and legitimate knowledges of these people and this place.
    A central concern of the research is the exploration of classed identity formations. Conducted in ‘austerity Britain’ it traces the material and social constitution of the council estate at a moment of heightened interest (popular, political and academic) as ‘other’. The thesis aims to develop a theorisation of being placed on the council estate, which maintains sensitivity to the objectifying processes of claiming to know: specifically, a political commitment to representations of ideas of difference and dissensus (Rancière, 1998; 2006).

    This work is produced in conversation with class theory; inspired by Bourdieu’s linking of objective structures to subjective experience (Bourdieu, 1977; 1980; 1983) and feminist reflexive writings of the affective in classed beings (Hey, 2006; Walkerdine, 2010; Lucey, 2010). However, crucially, it does not produce a new categorisation of class. Rather I begin from a premise that ‘identity categories are never merely descriptive, but always normative, and as such, exclusionary’ (Butler, 1992: 15-16). In this thesis, I work through a deconstruction of the concepts of class in order to ‘continue to use them, repeat them, to repeat them subversively, and to displace them from the contexts in which they have been deployed as instruments of oppressive power’ (1992: 17).

    This work is located within academic debates around identity. Thinking with post-structural conceptualisations of gender (Butler, 1990) and race (Nayak, 1977), I develop these as a way to think class. I build upon conceptualisations of habitus (Bourdieu, 2005) as a starting point for exploring subjectivities. Drawing upon work foregrounding the affective consequences of shifts in circumstances resulting in a habitus ‘out of place’ (Reay, 2007); I explore the moments of negotiation that occur when one is ‘in place’.

    Furthering a theorisation of class as a social placing, I bring in conceptual developments within social geography to explore the social constitution of classed places (Massey, 2005; Featherstone, 2013). Through my conceptualisation of ‘being place(d)’ I posit identity formation and place making as intertwined processes. Consequently, identity formation through processes of being place(d) on The Estate is not a simple process of socialisation where one learns to be through being of a particular place; rather it is the positioning in place through being in moments of difference.

    Through my analysis, I theorise identity as moments of identification (Hall, 1996), within which aspects of self are formed in proximity and/or distanced with others. This conceptualisation of relational identity construction is heavily influenced by Bourdieu’s thinking, yet moves beyond habitus as ‘forgotten history’ (Bourdieu, 1990: 56) to habitus as ‘foregrounded history’.

    Finally, I bring my range of theoretical resources together in my analysis of a Community Centre as a ‘contact zone’ - a social space where ‘cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power’ (Pratt, 1991: 34). These momentary exposures do not occur in isolation and are entangled within histories and processes of domination that reach far beyond the moment of contact. Consequently, analysis of this interaction requires bifocality - at once interested in the moment of construction, whilst exploring the contexts within which this moment is located and thus interpreted. In so doing, I highlight the importance of power in the maintenance of structures, whilst allowing the possibility of subversion and resistance within moments of contact.
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Sussex
    Thesis sponsors
    Publication statusPublished - 28 Oct 2016


    Dive into the research topics of 'Located lives: an ethnographic representation of people and place on a British council estate'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this