May Blog: Glass Ceilings

Glass Ceilings and other scenes from the life of a pioneering urbanist (Note:this text was written for an event organised by the Urban Lab at UCL  celebrating the life and work of Ruth Glass) Introduction I should begin by saying  that I never was a student or colleague of Ruth Glass, although I did come to meet her under circumstances  I will describe later. So all I can offer is an outsider’s view. I came across Ruth’s Glass’s work many years  before I met her in person. I was teaching urban studies at the Architectural Association in the mid 1960’s. It was the time of Archigram and plug in, throwaway, or as we would now say, pop up buildings.  Utopias were all the rage. I had one student who was designing an updated version of Atlantis on the assumption that we would all soon be returning to an amphibian ancestral [Read More…]


Threnodies for  S.H. 1. Yesternow Stuart Hall is dead. The world,  especially that part of it he directly  inhabited with his ideas and his presence, is a much less interesting and hopeful place  for his passing. He had become a cultural icon of  the Left and a man for  all seasons.  Something  a contemporary  wrote about   Thomas More, the original bearer  of that  sobriquet,  might well  be reiterated by those who mourn S.H.  today  : ‘a man of an angel’s wit and singular learning. I know not his fellow. For where is the man of that gentleness, lowliness and affability? And, as time requireth, a man of marvelous mirth and pastimes, and sometime of as sad gravity’[i]. For many  of us  on  the Left, his work was  an intellectual  compass by which  to get our bearings  in the face of  the many twists and turns  of  contemporary capitalism. Even for [Read More…]

February Blog :There goes the neighbourhood

FEBRUARY BLOG :THERE GOES THE NEIGHBOURHOOD – AN URBAN TRIPTYCH ‘The neighbourhood is that part of town you have no need to go to because you are already there’ -George Perec 1)  Chic by Growl I recently moved into a new neighbourhood in Islington. My flat is  in  a large Peabody Estate, off the Essex Road, quite close to the area which Ruth Glass  made the object of her famous study on ‘gentrification’. I am living in one of the earliest ‘ model dwellings’  built in the 1860’s for the ‘industrious working classes’ by  the great Canadian philanthropist and which  became  an inspiration for the  development of social housing in Britain. Today the estate’s inhabitants are a cross section of all those  who cannot  afford to buy or rent in the private housing market, and increasingly this is including middle class professional people  like myself. A recent study of local [Read More…]


In praise of  clutching at straws or reasons to be cheerful in 2014 New Year is traditionally the time to take stock, and to look forward to the future. It is a time to search for new principles   of hope,  or renew old ones, and to strengthen our commitment to make the world, or at least that little bit of it we have some influence over, a better place. In a period of rapidly falling expectations, when young people  expect to be less well off in almost every respect (except longevity) than their parents, this  can be a daunting prospect.   Time then to put on the famous Ian  Dury track and listen to his reasons to be cheerful: Summer, Buddy Holly, the working folly Good golly Miss Molly and boats Hammersmith Palais, the Bolshoi Ballet Jump back in the alley and nanny goats A bit of grin and bear it, [Read More…]


Santa with Claws , or Socialism is not just for Christmas  : some seasonal reflections on the im/moral economy The dominant image of Christmas, the one that mesmerises and haunts so many people, is of a family reunited  around the tree  joyfully exchanging  presents. One, perhaps unintended, result is that   those   for whom the family has become a locus of loss or lack,   find the knife  being  twisted in the wound ; we are  offered   a major walk-on part in the Christmas story as the object of  public compassion by the very narrative  that is compounding  our misery. Selling Christmas, whether as consumerfest  or   religious mega-event   depends on the  complicated web of associations   which  this image evokes.  It pulls powerfully upon  childhood memories of Christmas and a more or less sentimentalised version of   family life in which doting parents are rewarded by the respect and admiration of their offspring. [Read More…]

Bad Journeys ? On Bloomsbury and Bohemia

Bad Journeys ? Some notes on Bloomsbury, Bohemia  and reading subcultures Talk given to the Bloomsbury Festival October 16th  in conversation with Iain Sinclair Bad journeys are made possible  when and wherever  we recognise that the map is not the territory. They are  about exploring  the gap or tension between  our  mental  constructs of the world and the embodied space we inhabit as we find our way through it. And in that  gap  all kinds of possible worlds  can take shape. For most people a  so called good journey  happens  when there is   a perfect  fit between map and territory, we  traverse the city on autopilot,  the sat nav  works and  nothing  untoward happens. On a good journey, there is nothing to report.  We  follow what planners  call, without irony, a line of desire, which means going purposefully and often compulsively, from A to B in the quickest most efficient  [Read More…]

October Blog

PASSAGES OF TIME : SOME REFLECTIONS ON THE PERSONAL POLITICS OF LIFE STORY TELLING How do we tell the story of a life that  began and ended badly? Is there more to autobiography than a do-it-yourself obituary? What are the limits and  conditions of public commemoration as a regime of truth?  How does the space/time compression of everyday life in the digital age  impact on our capacity to sustain coherent life histories and other  narratives of long duration? I have been wrestling  with  these  issues of  memory politics,  life story telling and imagined communities of belonging  for a long time. They   were give focus  by the experience of writing a memoir, which includes an extended essay on contemporary book cultures and the library as a memoryscape . But they  were  raised with  particular and painful urgency  by  recently losing my adopted son and having to construct a tribute for  his  [Read More…]

A Tribute in Words and Pictures to Ste Thomson

We would like to thank  everyone  who attended the funeral and who sent messages of condolence and tribute   for their  support during this difficult time. It was especially moving to learn that Stephen had so many good friends, many of whom  turned up ,  and who also organised a face book network of over sixty people to share their memories of him.   We are giving the tribute book  to Stephen’s sons,  Ricky and Casey,  to keep  as part of a memory box  which  we are putting together  for them . We have raised nearly £1000  for Alcohol Concern and would like to thank  everyone who  has given so generously. It is still not too late  to make a donation by logging on to : Thanks to the generosity of Liz  Haggard we are  setting up a bursary  at Birkbeck College , where Stephen was a student ,  for  first [Read More…]

May/June Blog – Living the Dream : a Letter from Paris

Forty five years after the May ‘evenements’ in Paris I took my grandchildren to Euro-Disney for their half term holiday break. To bracket  the most determined assault on the ‘Society of the Spectacle’ with the most extravagant expression of its triumph might seem wilfully perverse, at best a rueful acknowledgement that capitalism has succeeded, beyond our wildest nightmares, in appropriating and merchandising the spirit of carnival, rendering it into an entirely alien, kitsch idiom; at worst  an exercise in political masochism, rubbing  one’s nose in the fact that the revolutionary Left has  failed to produce a culture of popular pleasure  other than rioting. But in the event a more complicated set of  considerations imposed themselves. The Cabinet of Curiosities When we got to Paris, our first port of call was the Quai Branly, the  new home of the  ethnographic collection of the  Musee de’L’Homme,  which  also houses artefacts from the [Read More…]

April Blog On Translating politics

ON TRANSLATING POLITICS For DNS  What sounded fresh once may sound hackneyed later; what was once current may someday sound quaint. To seek the essence of such changes, as well as the equally constant changes in meaning, in the subjectivity of posterity rather than in the very life of language and its works, would mean – even allowing for the crudest psychologism – to confuse the root cause of a thing with its essence. Walter Benjamin, ‘The Task of the Translator’ In the opening sequence of Patrick Keiller’s film Robinson in London, the narrator is sitting in a railway carriage recording the start of his journey across the fractured landscape of a great city in the grip of a fever – what the late Mrs Thatcher called ‘the enterprise culture’ – which has decimated large areas of what had once been a thriving economy based on industry and international trade. [Read More…]