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Manchester Urban Institute

Challenging urban decline narratives: enhancing community resilience

15 February 2018

Led by Professors Mike Savage and David Soskice, the LSE project 'Challenging urban decline narratives: enhancing community resilience', synthesizes both narrative and political economy approaches to examine how towns and smaller cities are more or less able to respond and adapt to economic challenges.

University of Manchester sociologists Professor Andrew Miles and Dr Jill Ebrey are collaborating with the International Inequalities Institute at the LSE on a project that challenges dominant conceptions of urban success and failure.  Led by Professors. Mike Savage and David Soskice, the LSE project 'Challenging urban decline narratives: enhancing community resilience', synthesizes both narrative and political economy approaches to examine how towns and smaller cities are more or less able to respond and adapt to economic challenges. This work, focusing on smaller urban centres with larger cities nearby, helps redress an imbalance in urban inequality research, which historically has concentrated on large prosperous conurbations.

This multi-method research will analyse and compare the challenges and opportunities faced by the towns of Margate, Oldham, Tunbridge Wells, and the city of Oxford, and will make a critical analysis of their individual narratives of decline and success, assessing how their peripheral proximity to large urban centres has been a factor (or not) in their levels of both inequality and resilience. Drawing on their work for the AHRC Understanding Everyday Participation project (UEP), and working primarily on the Oldham case study, Miles and Ebrey will consider the political economy of the Greater Manchester region, in particular the relationship between core and periphery and the ways in which this might affect the everyday lives of those living in Oldham. These dynamics will be examined in the context of Oldham’s social, political and industrial history, assessing the ways in which this has produced particular narratives of the town. The industrial strategy of Greater Manchester will be considered, including an appraisal of current national education and training initiatives, examining whether they are properly fit for local employment purposes and how they might contribute to inequalities. Through qualitative methods such as focus groups, interviews and ethnography, the various narratives that comprise particular Oldham ‘structures of feeling’ will be examined to assess how, when, why and where these were produced and the role that such narratives can play in reinforcing or undermining ‘resilience’.

The concerns of ongoing UEP research undertaken by Miles and Ebrey with a community on the peri-urban fringe of Aberdeen has important resonances with the LSE inequality and resilience project. UEP’s work looks at cultural value and inequalities, challenging the traditional boundaries of ‘culture’ and the role such a dividing line plays in perpetuating economic, social and geographic inequalities. Recent ESRC-IAA funded research undertaken by UEP near Aberdeen aims to sustain and support local cultural democracy through developing citizen research and a local cultural action plan, recognizing forms of everyday participation as vital factors in the sustainability of village life. This collaboration therefore, marks an exciting new partnership between research projects in the Sociology departments of the University of Manchester and the London School of Economics.

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