Adviser on the Edge

careers in island communities: research, theory and practice


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Place and identity

I have just returned from a tour of the South of England – travelling to Cornwall, Brighton and central London visiting family and friends. As I travelled I was struck by the differences between these places, socially and culturally, and how my family and friends had made choices to move to, and live in, these places.

This got me thinking about the way we might identify with places, as being ‘for us’ or ‘not for us’. So, for instance one of my gay friends once said that they only wanted to live in London, Manchester or Brighton where he would find ‘his people’: reflecting the vibrant gay scenes in these cities. In much migration literature, the economic view is dominant – this is the idea that where we move to will be predominantly stimulated by economic choices (such as the availability of work). In perspectives on migration that focus on economic values the importance of place in relation to identity may be overshadowed.

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Back in 1992, Fielding argued that ‘migration tends to expose one’s personality, it expresses one’s loyalties and reveals one’s values and attachments (often previously hidden). It is a statement of an individual’s world-view, and is, therefore, an extremely cultural event’ (Fielding, 1992: 201). Speaking to other friends in London, I was struck by the way they casually discussed what ‘type’ of person would be found in Brixton or Hoxton and how far different places were associated with clothing styles, values, and other aspects of identity. In London, where good public transport means that you don’t have to live and work in the same community, the choice of where to live for these friends was absolutely a question of identity rather than anything else (as long as they were in reasonable walking distance of a tube station!).

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