Stories from the Wall: the making and remaking of localism in rural Northumberland
Blenkinsop, Heather Jayne
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This thesis concerns the making and remaking of localism, by which the thesis refers to the experience of group identity expressed through commitment to community, in rural Northumberland. Specifically, the research investigates the process of becoming, or claiming to be, or being seen as, a local person, and of belonging to a community. It examines how the processes of making, verifying and ascribing such identity claims occur and in what situations and contexts. The research contributes to the sociology of local identity and ‘belonging’, using a broad ethnographic methodology focused around public events. Through participant observation and analysing some relevant documents, it examines how ‘incomers’ and ‘locals’ cooperate to organize and attend these events and how they provide a time/space through which solidarity or otherwise is performed and identities are related to the outside world. The thesis argues against binaries such as public and private, insider and outsider, local and incomer, and instead proposes that there are layers of belonging, gradations of relationship and many points of interconnection. Further, division and cooperation are different ways in which groups and individuals choose to connect, and both are forms of attachment and interrelationship existing along a continuum of belonging. A person can commit and connect over time through volunteering and acquiring local knowledge about the place. However, often it is those who are socially on the fringes, the incomers, who are most assiduous in performing what passes for local. History is important for understanding prevailing social conditions, and some current events were analysed in an historical context. Many commentators have drawn boundaries around their area of study. However this thesis argues that the boundaries, geographic and social, move depending upon context, time, situation and the social location of those involved, including the researcher. The conclusion brings together a set of interconnected findings, and presents the distinctive main arguments about belonging and the local in the thesis. First, birth is not an absolute criterion for belonging and incomers can become ‘local’ in the sense that they can move inwards into their own construction of place. Second, rather than focusing on boundaries alone, the centre of what is bounded is seen as being as important as the boundaries in assessing what it means to be local. Third, while looking into the historic past is a valuable tool in understanding prevailing social conditions, attention must also be paid to the evolving future and how such perceived changes impact on the social. Fourth, there are varied routes to belonging that allow a person to move from outside towards inside. However, the routes to belonging are complicated and cannot be patterned. Fifth, the boundaries are permeable and expand to the global and contract not only to the local, but to the isolated, following an annual rhythm. The result is research which contributes to the sociology of localism and ‘belonging’ in relation to community and self in contemporary Britain.