Spatial routines of daily life in low income neighbourhoods escaping the local trap david robinson
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Spatial Routines of Daily Life in Low Income Neighbourhoods: Escaping the 'Local Trap' David Robinson. Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research Sheffield Hallam University Housing Studies Association Conference, University of York, 13-15th April 2011. Overview.

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Spatial Routines of Daily Life in Low Income Neighbourhoods:Escaping the 'Local Trap'David Robinson

Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research

Sheffield Hallam University

Housing Studies Association Conference, University of York, 13-15th April 2011


  • Poverty, Place Effects and the 'Local Trap'

  • Research Context and Methods

  • Drivers of Mobility in Time-Space Biographies of Daily Life

  • Understanding Time-Space Biographies

  • Conclusions

Poverty, Place Effects and the 'Local Trap'

Poverty and Place Effects

Geographic concentrations of poverty have proved resistant to intervention, persistent across the economic cycle and a consistent feature of particular places despite population change

  • what are the effects of living in these 'poor places' on opportunities/outcomes?

    Research and analysis

  • living in a poor neighbourhood can make you poorer than you would otherwise be


  • problems of urban society increasingly assumed to be rooted in segregated places of poor and excluded

  • lacking the social fabric to proposer - container spaces of social failure

  • social problems localised and thrown back at these places to resolve through the reinvigoration of community

Place Matters: Some Criticisms

Criticisms of the policy narrative

  • places treated as closed systems (what about national/international processes?)

  • evidence of shared norms and behaviours in these places has proved elusive

    Criticisms of research

  • research does not reveal clear evidence to support place effects (Cheshire, 2007)

  • urban studies tradition - tendency to equate place with aggregated attributes of individuals AND to construct places and people as mutually exclusive competing explanations

  • social policy tradition - failure to engage with geographical conceptualisations of place


  • the tendency of research and analysis to fall into the 'local trap'

The 'Local Trap'

  • the local trap questions the focus of research and policy on the local area as the only meaningful unit of interest

  • is the local always the most appropriate scale for analysis?

  • does this focus reflect the real worlds action-spaces of everyday life?

    This paper argues not….

  • people living in areas characterised by economic hardship do not live the spatially bounded, neighbourhood based lives presumed by policy or research

Research Method and Context

  • two rounds of qualitative interviews with 180 people living in six relatively deprived locations across the UK

  • Hillside, Knowsley, Merseyside

  • Oxgangs, Edinburgh

  • West Marsh, Grimsby

  • Wensley Fold, Blackburn

  • West Kensington, London

  • Amlwch, Anglesey

  • agency-centred study exploring experiences of living on low incomes in different types of place and the importance of place in shaping perceptions, actions and outcomes for different households

Drivers and Mobility in Time-Space

Biographies of Daily Life

  • spatial routines of daily life are complex and highly individualised


  • typically extended beyond the residential nhood on a frequent/regular basis

  • a mundane, taken from granted feature of everyday life

  • tightly circumscribed routines the exception rather than the norm

  • challenges the 'container fallacy' (Macintyre et al., 2008) inherent in policy discourse and academic debate about place effects

  • extended spatial routines = an adaptive mechanism through which individuals adjust their spatial routine to access a more preferred situation

    Primary triggers:

  • employment

  • education and training

  • shopping

  • leisure activities and facilities

  • public services and goods

  • social networks

Focus on push-pull factors only takes us so far….

  • spatial routines are not always stimulated by a single stimulus

  • ability to extend routines is closely linked to resources

  • spatial routines are not always a matter of rational choice - linked to disposition

  • understanding routines involves understanding the places people pass through, avoid and dwell

  • mobility can mean freedom and liberation, but can be forced upon people

Exploring Time-Space Biographies

The relational connectivity between people and places

Identity and Dispositions

Social and Physical Context

Collective Dimension of Place


Identity and Dispositions

  • fundamental dispositions, rooted in an individual's history and identity and reflected in their attitudes, preferences and aspirations

  • critical in shaping perceptions and interpretations of place and the recognition and utilisation of resources, resulting in particular mobility choices

  • the case of Mary


  • financial - influential on capacity to sustain extended routines

  • social - - for example, within networks of family and friends

  • political - right secured or ceded to particular groups

  • cognitive - knowledge and awareness of opportunities and how to access them

  • access to resources conditional on individual's situation, circumstance, roles and responsibilities

Contextual Characteristics of Place

  • opportunity structures within the local social and physical environment

  • contrast Wensley Fold and West Marsh

  • consequences depend upon relative positioning, or location, of a place in space and its adjacency to and connectivity to other places

Collective Dimension of Place

  • socio-cultural and historical features of place-based communities

  • the same place can provide some with a sense of belonging, safety and security AND others with a sense of unease and alienation

  • Hillside and West March, compared to Wensley Fold


  • people are pursuing complex and highly individualised spatial routines which frequently extend beyond the residential nhood

  • the nhood is an important context, but is not the only social or physical context effecting opportunities and outcomes

  • nhood should not represent a taken-for-granted proxy for exposure to context

Problems for Policy

  • explanatory power of social neighbourhood effects undermined, given that people are exposed to multiple contexts in their everyday lives

  • the validity of the 'big society' idea that government intervention can be eschewed in favour of people solving their own problems through the reinvigoration of place-based communities

    Problems for Research and Analysis

  • analysis of place effects has failed to take account of the real worlds action-spaces of everyday life

  • social policy research has failed to take account of how people move through and interact with places and risks and opportunities associated with different patterns of (im)mobility

Questions left unanswered: A Research Agenda

  • what are the rhythms of movement, what routes does mobility take, where and when do people stop and how fast are people able to move?

  • what situations and positions promote mobility, what role does mobility play in people's lives, what are the links between mobility and social networks, and what opportunities are associated with extended routines?

  • time for a re-engagement with time-geography's interest in individuals and their continuous performance of the activities of everyday life, which pass through, avoid and dwell in a variety of real world physical and social environments.

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