Birmingham’s furthest outpost: Michel de Certeau and the strategies of Elan Village’s builders

 I was very fortunate recently to get to camp in one of the most beautiful spots in the country, in the Elan Valley, Powys. It's among the most sparsely-populated parts of the UK, falling within what John Henry Cliffe described as 'that great desert of Wales' as far back as 1860. Despite that descriptor, it's far from … Continue reading Birmingham’s furthest outpost: Michel de Certeau and the strategies of Elan Village’s builders

#shs40, #storypast and academic memory

Tuesday this week saw a trip up to Lancaster and the Social History Society's 40th anniversary conference. It's always fun to take the train somewhere new, and this was no exception - the gap between the arrival of my train and the departure of my bus gave me a few minutes to wander around the … Continue reading #shs40, #storypast and academic memory

Beauty is in the streets

  The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it. Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach. I never realised that, like party politics, academia has a conference season. At least, March appears to be it which means I've ended up with far too much work to do in one … Continue reading Beauty is in the streets

‘Symbols of Urban Malaise’: Past and Present

Rather than a brand new post here this week, I’ve written this for the MBS Birmingham blog on Cameron’s approach to so-called “sink estates”, or as Michael Heseltine believes, everyone knows that they’re “slums”. As you can imagine, that got my back up a bit.

Language, as Chomsky, Foucault, Lefebvre or any number of other critical theorists will tell you, is crucial. It sets the tone and the scope of debate, it stigmatizes and divides, it creates problems and solves different ones. For Lefebvre, it’s an integral part of the production of social space – describing a housing estate as a slum automatically sets a tone and starts a debate, whether there’s any basis for this or not. It’s even more specific this week: Cameron is targeting language itself as a cause of extremism, of segregation, of division and modern cultural problems. Statistics fly around about the number of women, in particular, amongst Muslims, in particular, who are not learning the Queen’s Own English. Like slums, these are myths – not to say there aren’t truths hidden in there but they are obfuscated by larger, disingenuous distractions. The effect of these is to redirect public opinion away from the wider benefits to society that learning a language can bring (which the last government’s free ESOL classes sought to help) and towards the stigmatisation of small sections of society which can be blamed (women; Muslims; foreigners). It’s all highly distasteful, and a major problem of modern political debate.

Modern British Studies Birmingham

simonSimon Briercliffe

Simon Briercliffe is a doctoral researcher in the Department of History at the University of Birmingham working on Carribee Island in Wolverhamption during the 19th century. He blogs at and you can follow him on Twitter @sbriercliffe.

David Cameron last week set out his new plans to wage “an all-out assault on poverty and disadvantage” by investing £140 million into revitalising 100 post-war housing estates in the UK. These, he holds, are totemic of the social problems facing our cities: “those built just after the war” in particular “actually designed [crime] in,” they are “self-governing and divorced from the mainstream”; “decades of neglect have led to gangs, ghettos and anti-social behaviour” and “spatial analysis” has shown that 2011 rioters “came overwhelmingly from these post-war estates.”

He was supported in his analysis by Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Greg Clarke who was interested in…

View original post 871 more words

“Slums” of the Black Country: Darlaston

I've ummed and aahed a bit about what to write about the Post's report on Darlaston. It's really the same old story: surface drainage, evils, abomination, bubbling and seething, stagnant, over-flowing, the cholera, back courts, and so on; there's not a lot to add compared to previous outrages at Oldbury or Bilston. Despite the fact that the journalist's … Continue reading “Slums” of the Black Country: Darlaston

Land of my fathers

I've been reading Henri Lefebvre's Rhythmanalysis lately. I'm no expert on continental philosophy or cultural theory really, so I've enjoyed this - it's light and possible to read in an impressionistic sort of way, glossing over all the Bachelards and Nietzsches, the Objects and Subjects. Lefebvre's key ideas throughout his career were around the 'everyday' - the mundane, … Continue reading Land of my fathers

Empty space

Warning again: I'm going to be talking Black Country history a little further down, but I've been interested in what maps do and don't show, so the preamble is a bit... vague and theoretical. Maps are complex beasts. They show what they show, for reasons their makers choose, and the inclusions and omissions can define a district. … Continue reading Empty space

The Planner’s Eye

Heath Town Estate, Wolverhampton, by Smileyface on the Skyscraper City website. Click the pic for a link to some truly frightening pictures of the estate at its worst. Multi- and inter-disciplinary research is a major part of academia these days, and the benefits it can bring are clearly profound - to see something anew, in a … Continue reading The Planner’s Eye

Using Lefebvre’s triad

I did warn you that this would be a place for testing half-baked theories, so no Black Country history today, sorry. If you're not up for critical theory and continental philosophy on a Friday morning, back away slowly now. There's been plenty of debates over the years about the role of theory within the practice … Continue reading Using Lefebvre’s triad


I've not got a lot to post today, but would cheerfully make this one public (to catch you up, I'm blogging partly in private as I haven't started my research yet). I've just started Michel Foucault's Madness & Civilization. Even at Masters level we were only given readings by people talking about Foucault, but so … Continue reading Foucault