JULY BLOG A Walk in Olympic Park

  As Londoners we are used to buildings crowding out the sky, the constant friction of human traffic, the barrage of  audio-visual noise which cuts into our  thoughts and counterpoints our   conversations on the street.   And so we cocoon  ourselves  inside little immersive techno-bubbles which are just as invasive, but at least of our own choosing, and we seek out little niches of tranquillity amidst the urban buzz: churches,  squares, unfrequented places and of course parks, so many refuges from the oppressive circumstances of everyday city  life. The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is not a refuge from the city, it is a prospect on it. The first  impression as you walk onto it from the main entrance  is of an infinitely  expansive space,  a series of vistas  that pull the eye to a  skyline dominated by the iconic landmarks of financial power clustered around Canary Wharf and the old City [Read More…]

June Blog Crossing the Borderline : the dialectics of trespass in ethnographic fieldwork

Introduction Trespass is a very complicated, tricky, and sometimes dangerous concept. It occupies an ambiguous  semantic space somewhere  between a model and a metaphor, that is, it operates within both a normative and poetic  discourse of transgression.  For example a work  of graffiti sprayed on the side of a house can be treated as both an act of  cr5iminal damage or trespass, ‘the intermeddling  of the property of another’ as the legal statute puts  it, and as an act of creative vandalism,  one which, if it happens to be by Banksy,  may greatly enhance the value of the property in question.   It might also serve a social function in marking out  a gang territory and convey the implicit message ‘ this is our manor, keep out. Trespassers will be  given a good kicking’. The polysemic aspectof trespass is its special attraction for ethnographers in seeking to define the peculiarity  of [Read More…]

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 : www.justgiving.com/phil-cohen1. 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…]