Challenging urban decline narratives

Enhancing community resilience

The public debate following the Brexit vote largely coalesced around why so-called ‘left behind’ parts of the country voted to leave. These regions, so the story went, had ostensibly been less resilient to the decline of industrial production in Britain and were places where wages had been stagnant and where unemployment had been consistently high. However, this story of resilience (or the lack of resilience) often overlooked how people in these communities understood their own towns and cities whilst also failing to note the pockets of poverty in supposedly more resilient parts of the country.

This project seeks to address some of these gaps in our understanding of these communities by developing an innovative synthesis of both political economy approaches to the economic geography of Britain and narrative approaches to community coherence and identity. We have selected 4 case study sites: a coastal town (Margate) and a post-industrial urban area (Oldham) with high rates of poverty; a materially deprived part of a so-called ‘successful city’ (Oxford) and relatively affluent commuter town for London (Tonbridge Wells).  The project will adopt a multi-method approach which will bring these case studies into dialogue with broader econometric analyses of both these specific towns and cities and the UK more broadly. Through blending these approaches, we want to explore how these areas have responded and adapted to their respective economic challenges and whether their relations with larger urban centres (Oxford, London, and Manchester) enhance or undermine their communities (economic and socially). The core questions will be:

1. How and why these towns responded differently to broader economic and social changes?

2. How have local communities to these changes and what challenges do they face?

3. What are the political barriers and opportunities to fostering new narratives regarding these four case study areas?

4. What kind of narrative strategies can be used by local populations to develop alternative stories?

5. How have political and economic relations between these towns and proximate urban centres enhanced or undermined their communities (economic and socially)?

Key outputs will include a seminar series, 5 academic papers, and an edited collection.


David Soskice 2

Professor David Soskice

David Soskice has been School Professor of Political Science and Economics at the LSE since 2012. He is also Research Director, and co-Director of the Leverhulme Doctoral Programme, at the LSE International Inequalities Institute. He taught macroeconomics at Oxford (Mynors Fellow emeritus, University College) from 1967 to 1990, was then research director/professor at the Wissenschaftzentrum Berlin (1990-2005), and subsequently Research Professor of Comparative Political Economy at Oxford and senior research fellow at Nuffield College, and Research Professor of Political Science at Duke. He has been visiting professor in the economics department at Berkeley, the government department at Harvard, the Industrial Relations School at Cornell, and the Scuola Superiore St Anna, Pisa, and held the Mars Visiting professorship at Yale and the Semans Distinguished Visiting professorship at Duke. He is currently working with Wendy Carlin (UCL) on tractable macroeconomic models; with Nicola Lacey on the comparative political economy of crime and punishment; with Torben Iversen on advanced capitalist democracies; and he gave the 2013 Federico Caffѐ lectures in Rome on Knowledge Economies: Winners and Losers. He was President of the European Political Science Association from 2011 to 2013; he is a Fellow of the British Academy (Politics and Economics groups); and he is an Honorary Fellow of Trinity College, Oxford.

Mike Savage

Professor Mike Savage

Mike is Martin White Professor of Sociology at LSE and co-Director of the International Inequalities Institute, where he is initial Academic Director of the Atlantic Fellows programme. He is an expert on inequality in the UK, especially its cultural and social aspects, and in urban inequality across the world. Mike was founding Director of the ESRC Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change at the University of Manchester from 2004 to 2010 where he led research showing how cultural differences in Europe are embedded strongly in class divisions. He has an outstanding record of inter-disciplinary research, having co-authored papers in leading journals with anthropologists, historians, geographers, business researchers, political economists, statisticians, and cultural studies researchers. His work has extensive impact in the public realm, notably through the Great British Class Survey where 9 million people have responded its findings online. His Social Class in the 21st Century was published in November 2015 to much public acclaim.

Aaron Reeves 2

Dr Aaron Reeves

Aaron Reeves is Associate Professorial Research Fellow in Poverty and Inequality in the LSE International Inequalities Institute. His research is focused on understanding the causes and consequences of social, economic, and cultural inequality across countries. He is a sociologist with interests in public health, culture, and political economy; examining inequality through a number of different lenses and using a variety of methods. To date, his work has broadly been in three areas: 1) the political economy of health, 2) the political and cultural consequences of the mass media, and 3) the cultural politics of class.

His research on the political economy of health has used natural experiments to understand whether poverty reduction policies affect health and alter health inequalities. Relatedly, he has published on the influence of the Great Recession and austerity policies on health in Europe and North America. His research on the media has begun tracing the economic, social, and political factors linked with attitudes toward people in poverty and the welfare state, with a specific focus on how the media shapes these narratives. Finally, Aaron has used interview data, small-scale experiments, and large-scale surveys, to explore the cultural politics of class, examining how social inequalities are linked with economic inequalities.

Prior to joining the LSE III, Aaron was Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Sociology at Oxford University – where he was also a research fellow at Nuffield college – and has worked briefly at the University of Cambridge. He completed his PhD (2013) in Applied Social & Economic Research with the Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of Essex.

Luna Glucksberg

Dr Luna Glucksberg

Luna Glucksberg, Researcher in the LSE International Inequalities Institute, is an urban anthropologist looking at socio-economic stratification in contemporary British society. Her current work focuses on the reproduction of wealth amongst elites in the UK, considering the roles of two key and so far under-researched actors: family offices and women.

Luna’s work attempts to understand how wealth is passed down the generations: the relationships and tensions between family values and financial viability, and issues around inheritance. She looks at the roles of the wealth sector, asset managers, private banks and fund managers but also at the family offices that specifically look after family dynamics as well as financial affairs. Within this context the role of elite women – highly educated, competent and driven – in producing and reproducing their families is a key concern in her work.

Prior to joining the LSE III, Luna gained her degree from UCL and PhD from Goldsmiths, University of London. She then joined the Centre for Urban and Community Research (CUCR) as a Research Associate at Goldsmiths, where she maintains a Fellowship. She sits on the Advisory Board for Transparency International (TI) UK and has contributed to both blogs and national newspaper articles on issues related to the elites.


Dr Neil Lee

Neil Lee is Associate Professor in Economic Geography, and Director of the MSc in Local Economic Development and the BSc in Geography with Economics, in the Department of Geography and Environment at LSE. He joined the Department in 2013, having previously been Head of Socio-Economic Research at The Work Foundation. Neil holds a PhD in Economic Geography from the LSE and was a visiting scholar at TCLab, Columbia University. Neil is also an affiliate of LSE London, the Spatial Economics Research Centre (SERC) and the Centre for the Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE). 
Neil’s research focuses on cities, economic change and the social dimensions of innovation. His recent work has included studies on the impact of high-tech industries on living standards for the Resolution Foundation, work on Demand Side Strategies for Inclusive Growth for the JRF and research on financial instruments for economic development for the OECD. 

Tom Kemeny

Dr Tom Kemeny

Tom Kemeny is a Visiting Fellow at the LSE III and Lecturer in Human Geography within Geography and Environment at the University of Southampton. 

Tom studies comparative economic development in cities. Current projects explore such topics as the economic implications of living and working in immigrant-diverse cities; the role of local social networks in generating economic dynamism; and how international trade is reshaping work. Cutting across these topics, he is interested in policy efforts to stimulate development. In 2015, his book, The Rise and Fall of Urban Economies: Lessons from San Francisco and Los Angeles,was published by Stanford University Press. His work on local social networks won the 2016 Urban Land Institute Prize for the best paper published in the Journal of Economic Geography.

Beyond his academic research, Tom has advised governments and NGOs on issues of regional and international development, including the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the U.S. Economic Development Administration and the World Bank.

Tom joined the University of Southampton as a Lecturer in Human Geography in 2014. He is also a Special Sworn Status Researcher at the United States Census Bureau’s Center for Economic Studies. Prior to his appointment at Southampton, he was a Senior Fellow in Economic Geography at the London School of Economics, as well as a Research Assistant Professor in Public Policy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He received his PhD in Urban Planning from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

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Billie Elmqvist Thuren

Billie Elmqvist Thuren is the Institute Assistant in the III, where she provides organizational and research support and coordinates the communications work of the Institute. She holds a BSc in International Relations and an MSc in Development Management from LSE. Her MSc dissertation investigated the determinants of social upgrading in global value chains, using the apparel industries of Bangladesh and Vietnam as case studies. Prior to joining the III, she had carried out an external consultancy project for Transparency International, Berlin, investigating the potential of income and asset disclosure of high-level politicians as an anti-corruption strategy in low-income countries. She had also worked for a London-based strategy consultancy that incubates social movements, and conducted a research project into the efficacy of Tata Chemicals’ CSR projects in the Okhamandal district of Gujarat, India.