Overview and Introduction: Chapter 4

Identity… labelling people and places

Exercise

An exercise preferably for 84 players, but can be played with 336, 252, 168, 42, 21 or 10 and numbers in between with some careful organisation.

Before you begin, assign each player to one of the 84 areas of Britain. If you have more than 84 players, work in groups. If you have less, each player is responsible for more than one area or, more easily, you could only use part of Britain. The instructions here are written assuming that you have exactly 84 players but it is not difficult to adapt them. Northern Ireland is excluded here because it has no clear neighbour in the rest of the UK.

  1. Each player needs to construct the hypothetical atypical individual living in their area using the information contained in Figures 4.1-4.10. If that place were a person, who would that person be? Note: this person is not typical of the area and may not even exist. Instead, they are typical about what is atypical of their area, what identities are more clustered there than in other places. For example, here is the atypical occupant of London Central:
    • 4.1. Female
    • 4.2. Aged 25-29
    • 4.3. Black African
    • 4.4. Muslim
    • 4.5. Single
    • 4.6. Living alone
    • 4.7. Many neighbours left the area since last year
    • 4.8. Born outside the European Union
    • 4.9. Has a university degree or equivalent
    • 4.10. Professional occupation
  2. Once the players have identified their identities they need to move around the room or lecture theatre so that their 84 bodies are arranged as the map of Britain has been arranged in the Figures 4.1-4.10. They should have several neighbours. Identify each neighbour corresponding to the area immediately around you. Again you have formed a map of Britain.
  3. Next compare your identities to those of your neighbours. On how many of the ten do you differ? For instance, to the East of the person who is London Central is London East and they differ on seven identities marked* below:
    • 4.1. Female
    • 4.2. Aged 0-4*
    • 4.3. Indian*
    • 4.4. Muslim (parents)
    • 4.5. Married (parents)*
    • 4.6. Married with kid(s) (that's you)*
    • 4.7. People tend not to move home in the area*
    • 4.8. Born outside the EU
    • 4.9. Parents have no qualifications*
    • 4.10. Intermediate occupation*
  4. Now move slightly away from the neighbour(s) you share least in common with and slightly towards those who are most similar to you. Someone looking down on the room from above should see a geographical map of social and cultural divides and similarities opening up before their eyes.
  5. To find where the greatest local divides in the country are someone needs to call out numbers: 'Is there any pair of people in the room who differ on all ten identities? On nine? How many on eight?', and so on. Where are these divides and is a pattern beginning to form to connect them? Are any two neighbouring areas identical in their identities? Are any pairs of non-neighbour areas identical in their identities?
  6. Finally, start with the greatest local divides identified above and attempt to connect them using the next greatest adjacent divides to eventually divide the room and yourselves into two roughly equally sized groups. Your dividing line should ideally be continuous. It may become quite convoluted and complex as you attempt to link enclaves and exclude pockets that do not fit their original side of the line. It is advisable, and mildly amusing, to use a ball of wool to construct this line, starting with the pair of individuals who have least in common holding the wool in the middle and sending both ends out either way from between them to attempt to eventually join those two ends together again, having split the country in two.

With over 84 players it may be advisable not to attempt this last part of the exercise, especially if anyone needs to use the toilet in the near future.

If you are wondering what the purpose of the exercise is, it is to dispel a myth. It is often said by eminent social researchers that it is not possible to define areas as being rich or poor and to then expect them to contain most rich or poor people within them (or any other two groups). This is not true. It is possible. It is just that the dividing line you might have to construct, to be perfect, would be very long and very complex. It would snake up one street, taking in the odd house or two, then encompass an entire estate, save for a single person living in a flat in the middle, for whom a special loop would have to be drawn. The line would appear fractal in shape, like a coastline but even more convoluted than that.

Such lines are drawn everyday in the world. Rather like geo-demographics, there is a small industry that has developed to draw them. Political maps and voting districts are constantly redrawn, often in the interests of a particular group or party. This is known as gerrymandering, particularly where the attempt is to draw lines around voters to win seats. The job of gerrymanderers can be even more complex than yours when they try to draw lines around groups of people who are different from one another to ensure that the group they favour is just larger than the group they do not like; but more on them in the next chapter.

Finally, having geographically divided the country into two halves, compare the differences between areas either side of the dividing line to the differences between areas on the edge of one half and in its centre. Do areas either side of the line have more in common with each other than they do with other areas in their half? If so, what maintains the line of the line?

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