Deindustrialisation is a global complex process. It leads not only to the closure of factories which would otherwise damage the environment but also negatively affects everyday life and job opportunities of working-class people. Deindustrialisation often goes hand in hand with neoliberal urban development resulting in gentrification and displacement of longstanding residents of former industrial neighbourhoods and council estates.
Due to the multiple impacts of deindustrialisation on the lived experiences of local communities, it is important to develop multi-sensory approaches and innovative methodologies relevant for researching place attachment, sensual experiences and urban imaginaries of people residing in post-industrial urban areas.
In my study of two industrial neighbourhoods with mixed social compositions in the cities of Moscow and Yekaterinburg, Russia, I drew on the approach of multi-sited ethnography. Its research design built on a combination of the mainstream qualitative methods of interviewing, observation, participation and the creative method of drawing of the neighbourhoods studied made by research participants, also known as a mental mapping technique.
A mental map is a visualisation of the subjective perception of urban space by city dwellers. Kevin Lynch applied mental mapping in his study of the city images in the US. According to Lynch, each image of the city composed by many individual images, which share some similar visual patterns. In my research on Russia’s industrial neighbourhoods, I used mental mapping to explore structures of feeling as affective principles regulating sensual experiences, urban imaginaries and practical activities of local communities. Mental mapping was aimed to elicit how members of those communities sense and imagine their urban areas.
In the article, I provide an empirically grounded theorisation of the concept of structure of feeling introduced by sociologist Raymond Williams. Williams defined structure of feeling differently in his works. According to one of his definitions, structure of feeling can be viewed as ‘the spirit of the age’ reflecting the collective cultural feelings of a period or an era. Williams’s another understanding of structure of feeling is related to the lived experiences of working-class communities which have a particular way of life.
While Williams applied structures of feeling mainly in regard to English literature and film, I suggest bringing this concept in sociology of space and place and urban anthropology. In the article, I extend structure of feeling, drawing on my multi-sited ethnography in two industrial neighbourhoods located in the cities of Moscow and Yekaterinburg, Russia.
I conceptualise structure of feeling by focusing on its affective mechanisms regulating senses, imaginaries and practical activities of residents of the two neighbourhoods studied. This ethnographic conceptualisation of structure of feeling allows me to explain better everyday life and local atmospheres in the urban areas undergoing deindustrialisation. The article answers the question of how working-class and longstanding middle-class residents sense and imagine their neighbourhoods.
The article builds on rich multi-sensory data derived from my PhD project: 50 interview transcripts, more than 150 pages of field notes, more than 550 photographs and 43 drawings of the industrial neighbourhoods made by research participants. I show how to apply multi-sited ethnography in the study of the lived experiences of local communities in two locations. I also explain how to use a method of drawing, also known as a mental mapping technique, in research on structures of feeling and deindustrialisation.
My research has revealed that working-class and longstanding middle-class residents show an affective attachment to place informed by an industrial residual structure of feeling. An industrial structure of feeling comprises values of factory culture, communality and shared space, while an emergent structure of feeling is informed by values of neoliberal development, individual comfort and private space. Both neighbourhoods studied have its particular local atmosphere driven by complicated relationships between socialist/ Soviet / industrial and post-socialist/ post-Soviet/ post-industrial structures of feeling. That is why, I suggest understanding structure of feeling not as a spirit of the time but as a multiple spirit of the time and place.
In 2022, I had some publications, which came out but were not covered in the blog. This post presents the digest of those and forthcoming publications.
1. Together with Andrea Lizama and Denisse Sepúlveda, I co-edited a special section on social mobility and inequality issued in Sociological Research Online.
Cite article: Lizama-Loyola, A., Sepúlveda, D., & Vanke, A. (2022). Making Sense of Social Mobility in Unequal Societies. Sociological Research Online, 27(1), 95–100. https://doi.org/10.1177/13607804211066120
The special section takes a global perspective on different aspects of subjective social mobility and inequality. It includes six contributions covering the themes of political debate about social mobility in the UK and collective social mobility of working-class communities in Wales, intersectional inequality experienced by British-born Bengali Muslim women of working-class origin and educational mobility of people from different social backgrounds in Chile, social mobility of rural students in China and Chilean people’s experiences of long-range upward mobility shaped by meritocratic narratives.
‘How does the water Come down at Lodore?’ My little boy asked me Thus, once on a time; And moreover he tasked me To tell him in rhyme.
Robert Southey, The Cataract of Lodore, 1820
Having a genuine interest in English Romantic poetry, one December weekend, I decided to go to the town of Keswick (pronounced as [‘kesik] or [‘kezik]) located in the Lake District, Cumbria. My choice of destination was motivated by the fact that the poets Samuel Coleridge and Robert Southey lived there at the beginning of the 19th century and where their friend William Wordsworth, a famous poet, visited them.
Below, I will reflect on the visual landscape of the area and nature as a public good. Finally, I will consider critically the issue of taste as defined by the Lake Poets. Altogether, this reflection should explain the social, cultural and economic divisions that I found in Keswick and its surroundings.
The visual landscape of Lakeland
The Lake District, also known as the Lakes and Lakeland, is a national park of North West England. I had a chance to see its northern part with the town of Keswick situated along the northeast shore of Derwentwater lake and surrounded by picturesque hills and mountains, scary caves and magnificent waterfalls.
Alfred Wainwright, a British cartographer and illustrator, dedicated 13 years of his life to exploring the landscape of the area and created seven volumes of A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells published between 1955 and 1966. Through fine detailing, Wainwright’s illustrations and maps depict not only the fells and paths of Lakeland but also the enigma of nature and its magnetism.
My perception of Lakeland was conditioned by the fact that it was my first visit to that area. I was impressed by the beauty of unusual colours of nature which I have not seen anywhere in the UK. The mountains of orange, green and brown with white snowcaps; the azure sky with lenticular clouds of white and grey shades reflecting in the surface of Derwentwater; black-and-white sheep feeding in the green meadows; trees and shrubs of marsh, sand and black; and pearl-white waterfalls altogether made up the palette of Lakeland in winter.
One December weekend before Christmas, I decided to visit Stratford-upon-Avon, the hometown of English poet and writer William Shakespeare. I went there with the Manchester International Society organising cultural events and bus trips across the UK for students and members of the university community.
Whilst the bus was carrying us from Northern England to Midlands, I had a very nice chat with a female master student from China who came to Manchester to study intercultural communication. We shared a common interest in Lake poetry and experienced similar problems of using English English, as far as we were native speakers of Russian and Chinese languages.
For the first time, I leant that British English should be called English English from my main supervisor who explained to me how to use it in my thesis properly. Not ‘practice’ but ‘practise’, not ‘garbage’ but ‘rubbish’, not ‘while’ but ‘whilst’, etc.
My acquaintance, a master student, told me that there was a hierarchy of English languages. For example, British English and American English take higher positions within the hierarchy of languages compared to Australian and Canadian variants, whilst Asian and Chinese English-es take the lowest positions because of the sounds and pronunciations that are typical for those groups of languages.
Meanwhile, our bus reached the green fields of Warwickshire and I saw a couple of road signs reading ‘Shakespeare’s town’ and ‘London’. Once the bus dropped us off in Stratford-upon-Avon, we noticed that the car parking was very busy. Crowds of people, including us, were going towards the Victorian Christmas Fayre taking place in the town centre.
The Fayre stalls located along the main streets near the river Avon were full of Christmas gifts, decorations, hand-crafted goods, candles and illuminations. The smell of fried potatoes, mulled wine and other tasty food mixed with the Christmas spirit was in the air. People were waiting in queues to grab something to eat or drink.
And Shakespeare as a linguistic sign looked at the crowded street from different corners and through the windows of pubs, shops and half-timbered houses. One could see his images on hotel signs, hoodies, mugs, copybooks and souvenirs. We followed Henley Street and came across William Shakespeare’s statue that was surrounded by people visiting the Christmas Fayre.
Aberystwyth is a coastal university town in Ceredigion county of West Wales. If you decide to go there, please do not forget to bring a bit of cultural curiosity and a sense of humour with you. Be ready to meet nice locals there: witches, ghosts, deities, fiends, druids and courageous detectives investigating mysterious crimes. Louie Knight is one of them. He is the best private detective in the town and the main character of the Aberystwyth noir novels by British writer Malcolm Pryce.
In the fifth book of the series, Louie deals with the long-time disappearance of Ninochka, a daughter of Uncle Vanya, a Soviet museum worker from Ukrainian Hughesovka where Ninochka was possessed by the spirit of a dead Welsh girl named Gethsemane Walters. Uncle Vanya, or the man who introduced himself in that way, came to Aberystwyth to ask Louis and his business partner Calamity for help in search of Ninochka. As a fee, uncle Vanya suggested a very valuable sock worn by Yuri Gagarin during his first flight into space.
‘What a story!’ you may say. And you will be right. The Aberystwyth noir novels nicely convey the atmosphere of the town. They can be a good start for learning about its weather, places and legends.
Once you are in the town, go to the Pier from where a beautiful view of the promenade and the Constitution Hill is revealed. The sounds of the blowing wind and crashing waves may combine with the songs of starlings and cries of seagulls there. In evenings, if the weather is clear, wonderful sunsets can be seen from the seafront.
In late November, when I happened to be in Aberystwyth, the weather was mild and changeable. Sometimes it was sunny, sometimes rainy, sometimes cloudy, sometimes windy, but always welcoming.
Rain or shine, people walk along the Prom edged by colourful buildings of the student dorms, hotels, pubs, cafés and small workshops. Once you get to the northern end of the Prom, kick the bar. ‘Kick the Bar’ is a local ritual of kicking the railings performed by students to attract love. However, nowadays not only students but also town dwellers of different ages kick the bar as tradition says.
From the northern end of the Prom, you can easily get to the top of the Constitution Hill either by following a winding path surrounded by small shrubs or by using the Aberystwyth Cliff Railway. Students enjoy going up Consti, as they call the Hill lovingly, and observing picturesque sunsets in evenings and looking at stars shining at nights from the top. One sunny morning after the rain, I was enjoying coffee with the fresh air and the gorgeous view of the bay in the Consti café on the top of the hill. Time stopped and it was nice just to live the moment.
I wrote this poem during the third lockdown in the UK. It reflects my experience of staying in one place and not crossing borders between countries for more than a year. The poem has no rhymes but who cares about rhymes nowadays.
An imaginative journey in the pandemic world
I am on my way to St. Michael’s Mount
The train is moving from the North to the South of England
I see green fields and fast-flowing hill streams
But then I cross the English Channel
(or la Manche as they call it in France)
And I am thinking about people who cross it
Day by day risking their lives
And where am I going?
To St. Michael’s Mount
(or le Mont-Saint-Michel as they call it in France)
That welcomes pilgrims with the rise and fall of tides.
18th March 2021
From November 23, Greater Manchester moved to the local COVID alert level 3 due to the increased infection rate. This information reached me via e-mail as part of the news feed from the University of Manchester, where I am doing my PhD in Sociology. What does it mean for students? We cannot socialise with people from other households in public places. We can neither accept guests at home and in private gardens nor visit other people at their home. But in fact, it means that if you are an international student, you are very likely to continue living in isolation. If you would like to meet friends in person, the only option for you is to walk with them in the park social distancing. Although the rainy Mancunian weather does not permit this much. If you do not want to break the rules, you can merely hang out remotely.
In such a context, I am entering the last stretch to the PhD, which is the most difficult one, as my local friend with a doctoral degree says. In this post, I reflect some challenges, which I face at the final stage of the thesis writing under the local lockdown in Manchester. I explain how I attempt to meet these challenges.
The lack of proper rest
One of the problems, which PhD students with funding face, is that the studentship will run out one day. In my view, it is better to complete your thesis by that moment or at least not shortly afterwards. I know some people will disagree with me saying that it is better to spend more time in the PhD to build a solid CV and improve a publication record.
Well, it depends on your life situation, personal goals and your programme. For example, anthropologists spend at least one year in the field, and it takes more time for them to complete a PhD. It also depends on what academic profile you already have and at what stage of your professional path you are. Bearing this in mind, I worked hard throughout the whole summer and autumn trying to improve the chapters, which I drafted during my third year.
Another problem at this stage is that you need to start applying for jobs or/and elaborate your postdoctoral project if your goal is to continue working in academia. Apart from this, you may need to write some other texts, for example, journal articles, and do a side job in teaching, research or somewhere else. As for me, I entirely focused on improving the thesis draft and preparing an application for the postdoctoral fellowship. I also applied for several jobs. The purpose of this activity was to understand what was happening with the academic labour market during the pandemic and gain experience in applying for positions of different types.
As a result, I did not have enough time for proper rest and sufficient breaks.
Under the local lockdown, you do not have many opportunities to take proper rest. For me, sunbathing on the lawn with the neighbours in summer and regular walks in the park in autumn was the best solution to this problem. It helped me to keep my mind off the work and the laptop screen. I enjoyed walking, observing squirrels, greeting people accurately social distancing, and breathing in the smell of trees in the park. However, it will be more difficult to make in late autumn.
Наше учебное пособие в соавторстве с Елизаветой Полухиной и Анной Стрельниковой “Как собрать данные в полевом качественном исследовании” вышло в Издательском доме Высшей школы экономики. Пособие содержит информацию о качественных методах сбора эмпирических данных, которые мы применяли в наших совместных проектах последних лет. Книга приглашает читателя к размышлению о методологическом инструментарии и вносит вклад в дискуссию о том, как исследователи могут решать методические проблемы, возникающие в ходе полевой работы.
Ссылка: А. В. Ваньке, Е. В. Полухина, А. В. Стрельникова. Как собрать данные в полевом качественном исследовании. М.: Изд. дом Высшей школы экономики, 2020.
Our handbook in co-authorship with Elizaveta Polukhina and Anna Strelnikova ‘How to collect data in qualitative field research’ has been published by The Higher School of Economics Publishing House. The handbook provides information about qualitative methods of data collection that we applied in our team projects in recent years. The book invites the reader to reflect on methodological tools and contributes to the debate on how researchers can solve some methods issues emerging during fieldwork.
Reference: Vanke, A., Polukhina, E., Strelnikova, A. (2020). Kak sobrat’ dannye v polevom kachestvennom issledovanii [How To Collect Data in Qualitative Field Research]. Moscow: The Higher School of Economics Publishing House. (In Russian).
This is Part 2 of the post about my experience of writing PhD at the University of Manchester. You can read Part 1 here.
In the mid of January 2020, when I was coming back from Moscow to Manchester, some people in Europe already knew about the coronavirus from the news. However, most of them neither worried about it nor took it seriously. As for me, I was in reading research literature for my next empirical chapter.
Spring Semester: Stay Safe, Take Care and Write Thesis
Got back from winter break, I started writing chapter 5 on living life in two industrial neighbourhoods, where I undertook ethnography. In the chapter, I tried to explain the peculiarities of the spatial imaginary of Russian workers and other neighbourhoods’ residents with the help of Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of ‘a sense of place’ and Raymond Williams’ concept of ‘structure of feeling’. It took me three weeks to draft that chapter. Later, I spent three weeks more to improve it for the annual review 2020.
In February, most people from my network still did not worry about COVID-19, apart from my friend, a PhD student from China, who told me the news about the coronavirus, when I came back to the office. In the mid of February, I received feedback from my supervisory team. And then a new UCU strike began at 74 Universities across the UK. The strike lasted until March. Needless to say that striking was a very emotional (and emotionally tiring) experience. I presented my PhD research at the Sociology teach-outs. At the same time, I was mainly focused on writing the thesis. However, even a brief experience of taking part in collective actions was intellectually insightful for me and helped me to formulate my critical arguments.
In chapter 4 on my research approach and methodology, I criticized those scholars who studied a working-class movement in Russia in the 1990s and argued that Russian workers were ‘patient’ (for example, see: Ashwin, 1999), capable only for survival and not for proactive actions. After the UCU strikes, it became clear for me that those scholars looked at Russian workers from the ‘Western’ perspective of strong trade unions with a long-standing history. While in Russia, independent trade unions began to emerge at the end of the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s. However, in Russia workers were involved in everyday struggle of different forms ranging from everyday resistance to open protests (and it also happened in the Soviet era (for example, see: Piskunov, 2017)). Probably, I will move this critique to chapter 3 about the Russian context which was written as a literature review for the annual review 2018. I spent three weeks for drafting chapter 4 and sent it to my supervisors in the mid of March. In a week, a lockdown happened in the UK.
Life under Lockdown:Stay Home, Save Lives
It is really hard to describe my experience of living life under lockdown. Talking to friends and colleagues from the academic community via Zoom, Skype, Facebook and other messengers, I realized that University people employed three strategies of coping with lockdowns in different parts of the globe. Some academics said that they ‘just ignore it’ meaning that they did not worry about the news and death toll and continued working as usual. Some others tried dealing with their worries work-wise. The rest (and it was my case) could not be focused on work at all.
In the first weeks of lockdown, I was very stressed and could not write the next chapter supposed to be about the theoretical framework. I tried making myself to read books on theory, which I found at home. Fortunately, I borrowed some of them from the University library before its closure due to COVID-19. However, it was hard to be focused even on reading. I worried about my family and beloved ones in Russia. Also, all flights between countries were stopped. And there were some delays in delivering food at the beginning of the UK lockdown if you buy it online. These altogether added more stress. I had a feeling that I had to survive, even though it was not true. I am aware that there are a lot of people who suffered much more than me. In my case, it was more about emotional survival.
I felt that my emotional resource was close to run out and I sought professional assistance from the therapist who helped me to cope with anxiety. I was in contact with my relatives and friends, and my supervisory team was very supportive at that time. In the mid of April, I came back to writing and managed to draft theoretical chapter 2, which of course still needs to be improved. While I stayed at home, I tried to pay attention to my body, soul and health. It may sound very Foucauldian. Anyway, I established a daily routine: waking up at 6.30 am and going to bed at 10 pm, doing yoga, cooking healthy food and going out to the courtyard to breath fresh air. I aired out the rooms regularly and kept them clean. Having one walk a day near the house building I got to know my neighbours better.
At the same time, staying at home was a cultural experience for me. Here, I do not romanticize lockdown at all. In March, I subscribed to webpages of the museums, art galleries, theatres, and philharmonics opened online access to their cultural resources. Their wonderful streams helped me to cope with anxiety. I am very thankful to the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, the Berliner Philharmoniker, the Wiener Staatsoper, the Belvedere Museum Vienna, and many others for broadcasting their cultural events.
During lockdown, I finished reading The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante, the final book of the Neapolitan quartet, a series of novels telling the story of a friendship between two women who grew up in a working-class neighbourhood on the edge of Naples and had absolutely different life trajectories. The Neapolitan quartet gets the reader involved in a complicated relationship between two women and their relationships with other people of different backgrounds from their neighbourhood and other parts of Italy. It has your attention from the beginning to the end. I thought that I might borrow some literary forms from Ferrante’s novel and use them in my thesis. But then I realized that I need my ethnographic style.
Returning to the question about a ‘structure of feeling’
In the 3rd year, I was too focused on my doctoral research. To take my mind off it, I bought water-mixable oil paints and started painting whatever I saw around in Manchester and its surroundings. I never painted before and viewed this activity only as a hobby. Staying at home for a long time I painted my window view representing structures of feeling of Northern England. That’s how I tried to reflect in visual arts what structure of feeling was. One of my friends said that structure of feeling was ‘that historical atmosphere of being that can’t fully be explored retroactively’. In this piece of text, I tried to grasp that historical atmosphere, in which I have been writing my PhD.