Northerners in London: Life stories of place and mobility

Saskia Papadakis

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


The English North-South divide has dominated spatial imaginings of the nation’s social, economic and cultural formations for at least the past two hundred years. London and the South East has been figured as the seat of power – of finance, wealth, and government – whilst the North is homogenised as ‘the Land of the Working Class’, associated with industry and manufacturing, and, particularly since the 1980s, with deindustrialisation and decline. Following the 2016 Brexit referendum, the North has been reimagined as home to a static white working class that has supposedly been ‘left behind’ by London’s multicultural, liberal and mobile ‘metropolitan elite’. Such dichotomised representations elide the diversity of Northern identities, experiences and mobilities, and the role that British imperialism has played both in processes of (de)industrialisation and in London’s status as a ‘world city’. Working with life stories and walking interviews recorded with 15 Northerners who moved to London between 1979 and 2016, I aim to unsettle conventional North-South narratives by centring subjective experiences of migration across the North-South divide.

In my first substantive chapter, I focus on the life stories of two older white working-class men, and the implications of moving to London for their ability to embody an archetypal ‘hard’ Northern masculinity. Drawing on Imogen Tyler’s conceptualisation of ‘stigma power’, I argue that the anxieties of these two men are entwined with the long-standing stigmatisation of the North along racialised, classed and gendered lines. The second chapter is based on the life stories of three women of colour. Tracing the influence of Britain’s historical and ongoing colonial exploits on their lives in the North and London, I build on Paul Gilroy’s theorisation of ‘postimperial melancholia’ to develop an understanding of the English North-South divide as a form of psycho-spatial splitting. Contextualised within dominant narratives that contrast ‘gay friendly’ London with a purportedly homophobic North, the third chapter explores the life stories of three young queer people, and how dissident sexual and gender identities figure in their imaginations of North and South. In the fourth chapter, I discuss the significance of the North-South divide for the social and geographic mobilities of six Northern young professionals living in London, analysing the interrelationship between their spatialisation of life courses events and contemporary North-South discourses. By imagining England, not in terms of North-South dualisms, but as a diaspora space, my hope is that these stories break open the conventions of North-South space-time, offering more creative, liveable and imaginative futures across the English North-South divide.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Crang, Philip, Supervisor
  • Rogaly, Ben, Supervisor, External person
  • Engelmann, Sasha, Advisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Sept 2022
Publication statusUnpublished - 2022


  • north-south divide
  • englishness
  • identity
  • northerness
  • the english north-south divide
  • north of england
  • britishness
  • British Empire
  • levelling up
  • dorman long
  • brexit
  • Margaret Thatcher
  • Oral History
  • northerners
  • london
  • drag queens
  • queer
  • paul gilroy
  • avtar brah
  • doreen massey
  • diaspora
  • diaspora space
  • nationalism
  • dorman long tower
  • class
  • working class
  • industrialisation
  • deindustrialisation
  • masculinity
  • gender
  • race
  • racism
  • ethnicty
  • sexuality
  • closet space
  • elite cosmopolitanism
  • Cosmopolitanism
  • class divide
  • white working class
  • postcolonial
  • postcolonial melancholia
  • postimperial melancholia
  • sociology
  • geography
  • hard masculinity
  • southerness
  • soft masculinity
  • escalator region
  • bad gays
  • elites
  • islington
  • toxteth
  • keighley
  • yorkshire
  • narrative
  • stockport
  • leeds
  • west yorkshire
  • suicide
  • gendered embodiments
  • billy elliot
  • inner city
  • composure
  • somewheres
  • anywheres
  • Thatcherism
  • homophobia
  • metropolitan elite
  • upper middle class
  • David Goodhart
  • anywhereville
  • immigration
  • battersea power station
  • boris johnson
  • barbados
  • transatlantic slave trade
  • borders
  • gentrification
  • hortense spillers
  • intersectionality
  • lowry
  • queer migration
  • migration
  • creative class
  • young professionals
  • psychoanalysis
  • life stories
  • made in chelsea
  • newcastle
  • north-east of England

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