Date: Thursday 7thJune 2018
Location : Deptford Town Hall, Council Chambers, New Cross Road, London SE14 6AF
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Goldsmiths College is an ideal geographical location for researchers to study the nuances of life found in the alleys and estates behind the artery of the A2. The abundance and diversity of unexamined lives inhabiting on the doorstep of Goldsmiths, is oft neglected in favour of a quick trip on the ‘ginger line’ to the gentrification of East London. Yet, closer examination of spaces inhabited by the locals creates rich knowledge and unique inner city snapshots of social life. The following extract comes from the final empirical chapter of my book ‘Fostering Mixed Race children: the everyday experiences of foster care’, undertaken at Goldsmiths College, University of London and later published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2017.
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Lucy: “It was summer and all the girls had their shorts on and their vest tops and we all had flip flops on, walking round the estate and he must have driven round in his car, music blasting out and everyone turned round and looked at him… I thought what’s this man doing? He come out the car…grabbed my hand.”
Lucy is sixteen years old and has spent most of her childhood in the care system, and is now living in a semi-independent hostel when she meets Rick. Within the space of the estate a specific set of heterosexual, raced, and gendered practices emerge, underpinning this particular space as a site in which hierarchies of power produce social relations.
Council housing estates are places controlled by men and the current postcode wars reflect the emphasis on ownership and territory over poor urban areas. Young men are unable to walk through unfamiliar territory without fear. Certain types of men are able to move through estates more easily than others. Rick is the man on the estate who is invisible because of the power he wields through his race, age and status, which (in an environment where men die young) is valuable. He is highly visible but what he is able to do remains ‘unseen’. He is feared by women for his history of sexual assault, kidnap and revered and feared by men for his power, wealth and evasion from prosecution. Rick is divested of race; as a man on the estate his power to move through the geography is unhampered and younger men aspire to his status. The relationship Rick enters into with Lucy is possible through the lack of official regulation and wider social discourses surrounding the policing of spaces inhabited by specific social and racial groups. Rick’s identity is under-valued in wider society and is thus of greater value in this marginal space of the estate in which he may act free of intervention.
Social spaces are not blank and open for anybody to occupy. While all bodies can enter, certain types of bodies are natural occupants of specific positions. Some bodies have the right to belong but others trespass in accordance with how space and bodies are imagined – they are out of place not being the somatic norm; they are ‘space invaders’. (Puwar; 2004:8) Women in public spaces that have been designated male spaces are abject and constitute space in ways that embody their gender and sexuality making them highly visible.
Lucy’s account of her presence on the estate highlights that young female bodies are not the somatic norm, they are of the space but not constitutive of its limits; rather they draw its boundaries. The young women act back upon the estate through appearance, gender and sexuality and expose its male constitution through their performance, which coerces a response. The council estate is a site of power negotiable through race, sexuality and gender and reveals the relationship between the individual and wider social life.
The participant, Lucy shares several ‘estate’ narratives, which reveal these spaces as unsafe and she was passionately involved in a campaign to pressure the local council to improve the lighting and surveillance after two young people were murdered.
Dr Fiona Peters educates practitioners and academics and shares knowledge about the need for a more nuanced and complex understanding of mixed people and families. Her talks always use evidence-based research underpinned by rigorous social theory and up to date policy and practice.