Docklands: Cultures in Conflict, Worlds in Collision

Docklands: Cultures in Conflict, Worlds in Collision

Docklands: Cultures in Conflict, Worlds in Collision

Docklands: Cultures in Conflict, Worlds in Collision

Synopsis

This study examines the rapid transformation of the derelict docklands to a post-modern city landscape. It explores the cost of the development on the local community as well as the benefits for the developers.

Excerpt

I first became interested in the Isle of Dogs when I was working on two difficult to let council estates in the East End of London in the late 1980s. During this research I became friendly with a woman whose flat had panoramic views of the locality. Every time I visited, the view changed. I watched in amazement as a postmodern landscape rapidly took shape and I became increasingly curious about how Docklands residents felt about the development, which was massive in scale and dramatically altering the nature of the place where they lived. From these initial thoughts an ethnographic study grew when in 19901 was awarded the T.H. Marshall Fellowship at the London School of Economics to look at a community in transition on the Isle of Dogs.

I read the available literature on the development (most of which was critical) and found that local people's perceptions were rarely documented in any depth, although their dissatisfaction made newsworthy stories for the media. Furthermore, in one of the most extensively researched and dramatic examples of urban regeneration, the views of those responsible for implementing change had not been documented either. It seemed to me that in order to understand the nature of change on the Isle of Dogs, where the heart of commercial development was located, it was necessary to investigate the different and competing perspectives of all those actors involved, both powerless and powerful.

Recognizing the need to understand the development from a variety of different perspectives was not without its problems. Until I embarked on this research I had no experience of interviewing powerful people. Given my sociological background and our well established predisposition for siding with the “under-dog” (see Becker 1965:244), I began, not surprisingly, with an in-built sympathy for those whose lives had been turned upside-down by the development with, I suspected, little benefit to them (Foster 1996:151). I assumed that business people and affluent residents would be a rather homogenous group broadly pro-development and anti-community. I discovered, however, that they frequently presented arguments that not only conflicted with my expectations but, even when they reinforced them, were often understandable from their perspective. in fact all of the different, sometimes deeply conflicting, accounts of the local people, councillors, Development Corporation executives, Board members and employees, affluent residents, business people and developers I interviewed had legitimacy if they were considered within the frame of reference of the individual's experience or the interest group from which they originated.

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