Rising in the East? the Regeneration of East London

Article excerpt

Rising in the East? The Regeneration of East London Lawrence & Wishart, London. 1996. pp.400. ISBN 0-85315-844-4 (pbk) 14.99

This book reminds us that in the face of globalization and macro structures, the local is crucial and changing, and analysis must capture the driving forces of this process and its impact on local populations. The local, in this case, is East London, more precisely the boroughs of Newham, Barking and Dagenham, Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Redbridge, and Havering. The latter is by far the least investigated and discussed in the collection. The analytical frameworks in the collection are eclectic ranging from conventional functionalism to postmodernism. There are some excellent chapters; but the collection lacks tidiness in focus and cohesiveness in analytical approach.

The book is composed of five sections: ( 1 ) Perspectives on East London; (2) Social Class: Continuity and Change; (3) The New Ethnic Diversity; (4) Culture and Space; and (5) Prospects and Interventions. In section one Rustin highlights the change from a manufacturing economic base dominated by the shipbuilding industries to an increasingly service sector base tied to growing capital investment in the East End. The dislocation caused by the decline of manufacturing has been severe, and the benefits of service industries hardly encouraging. Many of the new jobs are being occupied by outsiders who commute daily to their workplaces in East London. Vikki Rix describes the changes in housing, economic activity, employment patterns and ethnic composition across the boroughs. She concludes that despite growth in finance, banking, government jobs and other service industries, high levels of unemployment persist since manufacturing continues to decline and the service sector cannot absorb the redundant population. Rix also notes the out-migration of the white working class as a result of the flight of manufacturing jobs and the increasing influx of ethnics into the area. Questions of the apparent ethnic exclusion in Barking and Dagenham, and the structures and practices the white working class uses to reproduce itself, were left unexplored.

O'Brien and Jones open section two by focusing on the borough of Barking and Dagenham and comparing their findings with those of Willmott collected 40 years ago. According to their data, the borough has remained fairly static despite the 40 year interval. It is still overwhelmingly white, and manufacturing remains the mainstay of male employment. On the other hand, change is taking place regarding the nature of families, with the growth of one-parent families, and the increasing regularity of dual earning households. The gender division of labour in industry and in the home is not, however, reported. Tim Butler argues that it is the variables of labour market and political views and allegiances that explain gentrification in Hackney, and not capital redevelopment of the inner city or the lifestyle changes associated with the new middle class. It is the desire to be with `people like us' that explains the middle class presence in Hackney. Butler warns that the local ethnic and working class communities may resent middle class values and influences in the local scene In an historical piece focusing on the Labour Party in West Ham prior to World War One and in the inter-war period, John Marriott explains that the Party's stronghold was tied to the manufacturing industries and a strong trade union presence. Neither of these conditions seem prominent in the new economic base of the area which is made more difficult with the increasing casualisation of labour and rising unemployment.

Section three is the most disappointing one given the potential for a new focus on ethnicity in East London. What we get are familiar themes in the ethnic relations literature: religion (Smith), government (Bloch) and music (Blake). Where are the investigations of ethnic agency in the East End? How are different ethnic communities coping with the grim economic reality in the area? …