LONDON: SETTLERS, COCKNEYS, AND THE “CITY TYPE”


A STUDY OF LONDON SUBURBS, WITH A SPECIAL REFERENCE TO NEWHAM’S EAST HAM
FROM MULTICULTURALISM TO A UK-STYLE “APARTHEID”
FROM “TRADITIONAL COMFORT ZONES” TO SLUM LOCALITIES

 

1. – RESEARCH FRAMEWORK: BASIC OBJECTIVES

The series of papers that shall be presented below constitute an integrated study of some of the suburbs of London but with a special reference to the Borough of Newham and one of its districts, East Ham. The study shall attempt to understand localities such as that of East Ham [taken as a central though not exclusive sample] by placing these in contradistinction to the City of London.

For the mere sake of intellectual honesty, we are obliged to admit that this is a study undertaken by an “outsider” looking in – it is thus inevitably hampered by a somewhat partial knowledge of the object of study. Further, and although the work is based on usually reliable data, most of the conclusions drawn could be reflective of subjective interpretations of such sources. Even the very order of presentation may be coloured by a certain theoretical – or ideological – bias. We say this because we are very much aware that the answers given to the questions raised are quite often determined by the very nature of these questions.

One such question that shall concern us throughout this study may be put as follows: to what extent is it true to say that a State-imposed so-called “multiculturalism” has in fact willy-nilly mutated into a “natural” or “spontaneous” segregation emanating from the socio-cultural practices of UK’s civil society itself? To what extent, in other words, is the phenomenon of a place such as East Ham – taken as an “onionlike” cluster or clusters of ethnic communities – not at all a product of State planning as such but, rather, a cultural offshoot created directly by East Ham residents themselves?

We have deliberately chosen to use the term “apartheid” in our subtitle above. This is not meant to simply provoke. To the extent that a certain reality of segregation has come to prevail in certain areas of the UK, one may – naturally with some degree of discretion – speak of the polarized existence of “parallel lives” or “parallel worlds” organized around ethnic lines, and which is somewhat reminiscent of Apartheid South Africa. But if in the case of the latter it was the State itself that had attempted to organize the lives of people around ethnic-based “homelands”, in the case of the UK it seems that it is the daily lives of people that have come to function as the organizing mechanism tending towards the establishment of ethnic-based communities.

Such an observation immediately prompts one to speak, not merely of the failure of multiculturalism, but rather of the ideological myth of multiculturalism. Now, and as we shall see, such a position is not necessarily an all-inclusive truth describing the whole of the UK. The truth of the matter is definitely much more complex than what such an aphorism might wish to insinuate. It is, we believe, absolutely true to speak of the ideologically manipulative hypostasis of the discourse of multiculturalism – a discourse that is being systematically churned out by very specific socio-political agents in the UK pursuing their own interests. It is, further, as absolutely true that the imposition of the ideology of multiculturalism in a locality such as East Ham has simply been neutralized by social agents at grassroots level. And yet, there are specific areas in and around London – as elsewhere in the UK – where the ideology of multiculturalism definitely does reflect daily reality in as accurate a manner as that be possible. Such discrepancies within the UK need to be thrashed out – and one needs to show why a certain reality of multiculturalism may be necessary and functional vis-à-vis the reality of the UK-style “apartheid” [the former could be said to articulate with the latter in a manner which inflates both].

But the reality of an ethnically-based polarization is even further complicated by yet another form of polarization prevalent in UK society – viz. that which is reflective of what may be termed class position [though not necessarily in the restrictive Marxian sense]. We may therefore speak of a superposition of two states of polarization characterizing the social formation of the UK. But one should be wary of attempting to chart an absolute one-to-one correlation between ethnic identity and class position – yet again, the relationship between these two factors remains complex and we shall attempt to both describe and explain this complexity.

One question to be addressed in this case would be the following: to what extent is it accurate to say that a shared class position within a community such as that of East Ham has bolstered an ethnic-based identity [or clusters of identities] prevalent in such community? Were this to be the case, one could argue that the common class experience of economic deprivation has forced people to cluster around ethnic norms as a form of self-protection. But this would presuppose that a community such as East Ham is characterized by some degree of class homogeneity – something which, as we shall see, is definitely not the case.

Alternatively, one may wish to explore the extent to which ethnicity itself [or race for that matter] is a determinant of class position. Often enough, it is suggested that practices of racial discrimination – be these latent or blatant – may deprive people of economic opportunities and thereby socially peripheralize them [and do so within their ethnic cluster]. There may be a certain truth in such an assumption – and yet it would be difficult for such an approach to accommodate the fact that UK society has yielded a highly successful Black or Hindu upper middle class [elements of the latter are clearly discernible in a locality such as East Ham]. The issue nonetheless remains open.

Yet another question to be addressed may be put as follows: to what extent is it accurate to say that ethnic identity per se reproduces itself independently of class position, thus cross-cutting different class positions? To what extent, for instance, may one say that a member of the Hindu middle class in a locality such as East Ham preserves and perpetuates specifically ethnic norms? And, assuming that such perpetuation occurs, could one discern whatever disparity in the content of Hindu cultural norms as these are practiced by East Ham’s Hindu middle classes vis-à-vis East Ham’s Hindu so-called “have-nots”?

One final question here is the extent to which class position may be such as to surpass the conventions of ethnic identity, thereby peripheralizing the significance of such identity in the mindset of someone occupying a “privileged” class position. In this case, a member of UK’s Black managerial class or, say, a Hindu hotel-owner somewhere in Newham would come to more or less ignore one’s ethnic origin or prudently look down on it as some residual manifestation of an irrelevant distant past.

All such questions remain open to research – at the same time, it need be stated that each of these possible cases could manifest themselves as discreet social realities right across the spectrum of UK society. Further, they might manifest themselves in entangled realities from one community to the next. Whether entangled or discreet, such realities might simply coexist peacefully or they could point to some degree of hostile polarization between the various social groupings. But there remains one common denominator which seems to envelope all such realities: the prevalence of a UK-style “apartheid” crosscutting much of society – this may be either ethnic-based or class-based, or both.

To be able to answer such types of questions, our research work has focused on a number of key dimensions possibly characteristic of the socio-cultural condition of what we have identified as the three main social agents: the “settlers” [people not of British ancestry], the “cockneys” [natives of east London or, more generally, all White working class Londoners], and the “City Type” [people in some way related to “The City” and belonging to the more “privileged” middle classes]. Some of the key dimensions explored in the papers to be presented include the following [not necessarily in the given order], and all of which shall be presented in terms of extents or degrees of reality, given the inevitable imprecision of our findings:

● The extent to which the “cockney” element has been moving out of certain London areas – we would also need to explain the causes behind this and the repercussions of such “White flight”;

● The extent to which the “cockney” element, as also certain other ethnic groups constituting the “settlers”, live in discreetly or not so discreetly segregated areas within the various suburbs of London – we shall need to explore the possible magnitude of such a reality and its implications;

● The extent to which such ethnic-based segregated existences are the end product of a self-imposed communal condition based on de facto socio-cultural norms – the implications of this with respect to State policies pursuing an institutionally imposed multiculturalism shall have to be discussed;

● The extent to which upper middle class suburbs may also reveal signs of a certain specific segregation – we shall need to examine whether or not a socio-economic segregation expressive of a class-based status identity has come to define certain upper middle class localities;

● Concomitant to that dimension of reality pertaining to upper middle class suburbs, we would further have to gauge the extent to which such suburbs may be multicultural in their demographic morphology and communal psyche – we would here need to examine the degree to which such suburbs are cohesive in terms of their class-based status identity and therefore independent of ethnic norms and/or origins;

● On the other hand, we shall be examining the extent to which upper middle class suburbs may also reveal signs of an exclusivist class-based status identity in combination with an exclusivist ethnic identity, and in that way possibly yielding a double segregation in terms of both demographics and psyche;

● The extent to which upper middle class suburbs are all – or almost all – segregated from immigrant presence – in cases where some such presence is nonetheless evident, we shall have to measure and explain its volume [in particular cases where, say, immigrant presence happens to be merely miniscule, we would need to explain the possible social functionality of such presence – viz. whether or not immigrants are meant to “serve” certain specific needs of the upper middle classes];

● The extent to which either ethnic or class-based segregation [or, most probably, a complex combination of these] is the primary determinant of specific material conditions prevailing in certain localities in and around places such as Newham – here, we shall be examining the phenomenon of slum landlords and their relationship to tenants [both former and latter may be, for instance, of Hindu origin];

● The extent to which segregation [based on ethnicity/race or class, or a combination thereof] is related to criminality and the specific forms that such criminality can take in various London localities – we shall in this case undertake a comparative study of crime rates and their forms as these are evident in various suburbs [we shall, for instance, contrast the case of East Ham to that of Highgate];

● With respect to the specific forms of criminality, we shall have to examine the so-called “gang matrix” and gang culture, and the extent to which such social phenomena are themselves expressive of the distinct attributes of “apartheid” as manifested in certain London localities;

● Yet another area which calls for serious research work is that of the relationship between the segregated ethnic locality and the operation of what one may term “terror networks” in the UK – here, we shall merely point to certain pieces of evidence pertaining to this rather controversial issue as regards Newham [we do not intend to undertake any in-depth analysis of the matter in this series of papers – but cf. “A tentative sociological examination of the political economy of the Muslim ghetto in the Western world of the 21st century”, gslreview.com/category/political-analysis, 15.02.2018];

● We believe it is quite impossible to form an objective picture of localities such as those of east London without placing these in the overall context of the UK’s political economy – this necessarily means that we shall have to explain the reality of such localities in terms of yet another reality standing in stark contradistinction to these – viz. the reality of The City. Such an approach is based on the assumption that the primary contradiction characterizing the political economy of the UK is founded on the division between, on the one hand, The City [and its “satellite” suburbs] and, on the other, “the rest” of society [which we may otherwise refer to as the popular masses]. Here, we shall need to evaluate the extent to which The City retains a relative autonomy vis-à-vis the State of the UK. The realities of an area such as east London may be explainable in terms of the very power of The City, as also of the specific form of such power;

● To further understand the role of The City in the political economy of the UK, we shall need to undertake a study of the manner in which the tentacles of its power extent into localities outside The City proper, and how these function so as to reproduce such power. In such context, we shall be examining The City’s “stockbroker belts”, “professional belts” and various “feeder” suburbs. The functioning of such bastions of power – not simply in terms of their economic hypostasis, but also with respect to the very socio-cultural practices that define them – will need to be contrasted to the economic and socio-cultural practices of both “settlers” and “cockneys” residing in the East End and its related environs. The “mindset” of the “City Type” – in its various manifestations depending on the hierarchically-determined sub-strata that compose The City – shall also have to be examined;

● The power of The City will be yet further explored by examining how both White Britons and various ethnic minorities are being “squeezed out” by the “City Type” in certain areas of London – our basic focus shall be on the case of Whitechapel. Again, this shall allow us to draw certain conclusions as regards the relationship between the so-called “popular masses” and the “City Type”.

These are some – though not all – of the key dimensions that we shall be attempting to deal with in the papers to be presented. Obviously, one understands that this is a project meant to grasp the question of multiculturalism with specific reference to the UK. And yet, the underlying purpose of such work is not at all limited to some understanding of one particular country – it is in fact the wider implications of our findings that essentially concern us. We know that questions of class, race, ethnicity and migration are all burning issues as regards Europe and the Western world at large. Here, we need to delineate the precise content of such wider issues [though we do not at all mean to suggest that this project can provide any definitive answers to questions raised by such issues].

To begin with, one needs to pose one pivotal question that has often been taken for granted: to what extent should multiculturalism be accepted as a valid “universalist” ideology [and/or practice] applicable to all socio-cultural contexts and to all social formations across the board in the Western world? Put otherwise, one has to examine the extent to which multiculturalism should be adopted as a moral tenet befitting the “humane” traditions of the Western world, and which would exclude whatever questions of a pragmatic or socio-political nature related to the adoption or rejection of multiculturalism as a policy for any one particular country.

To argue that multiculturalism befits all and sundry across the Western world calls for a critical appraisal. It may be counter-argued that the question of multiculturalism constitutes a problem [or, for that matter, a solution] specific to each nation-state. One may begin with the assumption that each nation-state constitutes a reality unique unto itself – such uniqueness would be expressive of the history of the particular country and of the socio-economic and cultural configurations constituting the present-day conjuncture of that society. These may be taken to be the concrete criteria determining whether or not a country would choose to adopt multiculturalism as its own national policy. The study that follows seems to confirm such a critical position with respect to multiculturalism and its multiple variations: we shall see that, even in London, the “melting pot” syndrome does not always “melt” as planned by the State, and that, given the specific conditions that prevail within a particular local conjuncture. In fact, even “melting pots” have their own specific history and take their own specific forms from country to country or from region to region, and the City of London is no exception to that [cf., in contrast, David Ready, “London is a melting pot of cultures, we should keep it this way”, Huffpost, 25.03,2015].

Multiculturalism as a generalized ideology – or as a generalized EU ideology – presupposes an essentialist universal humanism more or less expressive of a secularized Christianity advocating a politics based on “love” [the State rationale behind such ideological discourse will not concern us here]. Both “essentialism” and “universalism”, however, are abstractions that willfully ignore concrete people and their concrete circumstances. What may apply to London’s “Square Mile” may not at all apply to a neighbourhood such as East Ham. Similarly, what could apply to the UK as a whole may not at all apply to nation-states such as, say, Hungary, Italy or Greece.

But State-imposed [or State-propagated] ideologies of multiculturalism ought not to be confused with concrete manifestations of multicultural practices evident in certain countries or specific localities. In fact, adopting a concrete approach to the question of multiculturalism is not necessarily meant to belittle multicultural practices as a given social reality [and one may say that precisely because our approach is non-“essentialist”]. One cannot, for instance, deny the aesthetic pleasure of cultural diversity as one walks along London’s Regent Street from Piccadilly Circus to Oxford Street and on to Hyde Park-corner. This should not be waved aside as a purely subjective observation: there is simply no evidence of whatever tension amongst crowds moving up and down those streets. On the other hand, one cannot easily reduce the multicultural diversity along Regent’s Street to a mere “melting pot” of apparently redundant ethnic identities. Much more importantly, neither the multicultural nor whatever “melting pot” reality can be at all understood if isolated from that other reality as much evident in the suburbs of, say, the Borough of Newham – viz. the obviously dominant reality of ethnic-based segregation at local, neighbourhood levels.

As regards the UK, both multicultural practices and rudiments of the “melting pot” are a given reality – similarly, so is the ethnic-based segregation. All three constitute de facto social phenomena, but it is the specific form that their respective interaction takes that truly constitutes the problem to be researched and understood. All three phenomena are socially entangled. But their interaction cannot be understood unless they are somehow first disentangled as discreet realities, thereby allowing us to explain the one phenomenon in terms of the other, if that be at all possible.

A careful examination of the history of the UK would most probably show that all of these three social phenomena are – by now – not merely de facto multiple realities: there is a sense in which they have come to crystallize into “necessary” realities. At what may seem to be a rather mundane level [but which, in the last instance, is not so at all], one could describe such “necessities” of UK society as follows:

● One may feel one’s own ethnic identity fading – or “melting” – within a particular social space and given special circumstances: when, in July 2018, the English football team was taking part in the semi-final of the World Cup, the event would bring “the whole nation together” [Evening Standard, 11.7.2018]. These are rudiments of UK’s “melting pot” syndrome.

● When within that approximately thirty-day period UK’s Muslims observe Ramadan, they feel that need to assert their own ethnic-religious identity in the face of “the rest” of the population – they thereby ensure that they do not fade – or “melt” – into a “pot” of existential limbo. This is a characteristic feature of the multicultural reality.

● When class position and ethnic identity fuse into a reality which calls for self-protection in the face of the exigencies of a globalized capitalist onslaught [in the UK, this would take the corporeal form of The City], communities struggle to ensure their material survival and socio-cultural reproduction at a local, neighbourhood level. Such fusion yields the myriad clusters of ethnic-based segregation.

Potentially, the superposition of these three entangled social realities could yield degrees of intra-class and/or intra-ethnic tension that may undermine the overall narrative of national cohesion [to some extent, the Brexit revolution would come to address this very issue by 2016].

But the “internal” tensions of such triple entanglement have been further exacerbated by yet another factor, this time apparently “external” to that de facto entanglement of realities we have been describing thus far. This factor, of course, has been the continual influx of new migrants further enriching or supplementing the ethnic-based clusters already in existence around various London localities. As we shall see further below, and according to, say, The Migration Observatory [of the University of Oxford, 15.10.2018], “Between 2004 and 2017 the foreign-born population in the UK more than doubled from 5.3 million to around 9.4 million”. Similarly, Matthew Goodwin, in his article entitled “Britain’s Populist Revolt” [cf. Quillette, 3.08.2018] would observe that, for the 2012-2016 period, UK’s annual average of net migration would come to 256.000 people.

The fact that existing social tensions and a relatively destabilized national cohesion would be further exacerbated by the continual [and often unconstrained or arbitrary] influx of foreign elements would come to have its own, rather logically understandable, repercussions. It would almost naturally posit a central question in the minds of significant segments of the British population as a whole – viz. the question of “citizenship”, and the associated rights and duties that define such status. Again, that would inform the ideological content of the Brexit movement.

Of course, that particular question has not only concerned the British popular [but also “intellectual”] mind. In an important sense, such issue seems to be emerging as the central most strategic question of the 21st century for the Western world as a whole. The very definition of “citizenship” has turned out to be a central political issue over which political parties in the EU may win or lose an election campaign. As of late, such definition seems to be up for grabs, and it shall be the balance of social and political forces that will decide the ultimate content of what it means to be a “citizen”. Certain forces – those espousing a particular understanding of “globalization” [cf. “Globalization, the EU, and the rise of alternative nationalism”, gslreview.com/category/political-analysis, 08.01.2018] – are systematically attempting to redefine or dilute the Western concept of “citizenship” [and are doing so precisely on the basis of that “universal humanism” referred to above]. Opposing forces, usually dubbed “nationalist”, are struggling to uphold the original or traditional understanding of what it means to be a “citizen” of a particular nation-state. For these latter forces, the rights and duties of “citizenship” are cherished as the golden harvest of centuries of popular struggle dating back to the rise of capitalist or quasi-capitalist nation-states.

The concept of “citizenship” has its definite material manifestations. Be it as concept or as practice, its feasibility depends on its precise legal definition and its protection by the State, if need be through the use of force. As a foreigner enters UK’s Luton Airport, about 35 miles from the center of London, he is immediately faced by the latest electronic mechanisms of the State [passport control processes] meant to scan and identify the newcomer. Essentially, the State has here been entrusted with the duty of selecting its citizens and of permitting the stay of its temporary visitors – and that is exactly what it does – or ought to do – at whatever geographical point of entry. It is such State practices that function so as to define UK “citizenship”. At the same time, however, the State of the UK – and as is the case with so many other Western States – has been characterized by a certain laxity as regards the arbitrary or illegal influx of aliens. Such laxity may be explained by a variety of factors, all of which could be intertwined: for instance, some have put it down to a mere administrative weakness on the part of the State itself; others have explained it in terms of the pressures imposed on the State by various sectors of capital for cheap labour; yet others speak of the permeation of State organs by the ideology of universal humanism, and so on. But the overall offshoot of such laxity has been to further metamorphose the demographic morphology of an already multicultural or ethnically-segregated UK – thereby, the question of “Englishness” as an identity takes center stage, and which is a question deeply interwoven with that of “citizenship”.

We well know that the issues raised here do not of course only concern the citizens of the UK – these are issues that have taken the Western world by a veritable storm. Citizens all over Europe – whatever their class position, educational level or perhaps erstwhile political convictions – express a deep disquietude over questions of “citizenship”, multiculturalism and migration. On Wednesday, July 18, 2018, a youngish German lady taking her lunch break somewhere in the city center of Nuremberg, had no qualms about speaking her mind on the presence of migrants in her country. This lady’s thoughts – who happened to be member of the business world, was articulate, fairly proficient in the English language and a traveler – may be summarized as follows:

● We here are not a multiracial country, and we do not want to become one – we do not want to become like the UK;

● Merkel opened the gates to Syrians and others – but our cultures are very different;

● See what happened at Cologne [reference to the mass sexual assaults on 2015-2016 New Year’s Eve] – we do not want to be touched by migrants;

● The migrant problem is affecting the whole of Europe – the continent is changing for the worse;

● However, the AfD is dangerous.

We need note this German lady’s apparent reservations as regards the AfD. And yet, her thoughts certainly echoed those of Frauke Petry [AfD leader, 2015-2017]. The latter has held the position that, while cultural “melting pots” may be perfectly acceptable, Germany’s new migrants refuse to assimilate – they consistently opt for a self-imposed segregation within German society. Perhaps unlike the German lady at Nuremberg, Petry would not necessarily feel “threatened” by Islam – rather, the emphasis would be placed on the cultural differences that exist between Germans and Muslims, as also on the need to maintain a Western-European identity. Based on such need, Petry has asserted the importance of selectivity with respect to migration: it should be up to the German citizens to decide what sort of migration they wish to accept.

One may go on pointing to further parallels between the thinking of an anonymous German businesswoman and that of a so-called “extremist” political leader. But it is above all the convergence of thinking that is most striking, and which is indicative of current trends in mass popular consciousness throughout the Western world.

These are the underlying issues that concern this study. But it would be absolutely fruitless to attempt to deal with such issues at a general, abstract level – the Michael Sandel type of lecture posing moral questions such as “What is the right thing to do?” would be taking us round vicious circles. Any position espousing some form of universal humanism can be countered by as many of its opposites. Neither political nor moral philosophy can rescue the 21st century from its present conflictual conjuncture.

Such issues, we believe, can only be dealt with by undertaking concrete analyses of particular case-studies. But it would be overly naïve to expect that case-studies could offer answers in support of this or that political agenda. Our only purpose here is to achieve some degree of a sociological understanding of the object of research.

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