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The Geography of Fear

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16 10 08 - 09:38

Globalisation may be breaking down international boundaries, but children are increasingly confining themselves to their immediate neighbourhoods. Many of them inhabit a world where stepping onto the wrong side of the road is insult enough to justify attack, where postcodes mark out borders that can't be crossed and where urban tribes spend their lives patrolling areas as small as 200 sq metres.

The maps on the following pages - drawn by the children interviewed for the study - show just how strong, and sometimes dangerous, these territorial loyalties are. Take diagrams 1 and 2: two 11-year old boys were asked to draw maps of their neighbourhood in Glasgow. The boys sit next to each other in the same class at school but, because they live on opposite sides of the block, the areas they have marked "safe" and "don't go" in their illustrations are mirror opposites. They might be friends in the classroom, but they know that visiting each other's homes is - literally - "out of bounds".

We are familiar with divides based on race, class, gang membership or family; we are less familiar with divides based on geography alone. Take diagram 5: a young white girl from Yorkshire has neatly labelled the neighbourhood stereotypes, crosshatching the "Asian" areas brown and the "chavs" in pink (the small number of "poshos" are in yellow). While drawing, this 15-year-old explained that there is a long rivalry between the "all chavs no asians" estate in the top lefthand corner and the "all chavs" estate to the right of it. Similarly, the blue arrow indicates conflict between the two Asian groups nearer the centre. In these two areas, local boundaries trump race as the key source of conflict in the community


The main reason this territorialism has become so intense is overpopulation. There has long been a tribalism, particularly in England, where people from one town, even village or school have a sense of otherness and competition with those from another location, regardless of proximity. In fact in some ways people feel more rivalry to immediate neighbours even than they do to those further away. It is something primitive which is experienced, markedly by young men, as a territorial feeling.

Now with the unnatural overpopulation and additonal cultural or ethnic divides between communities there is still as strong a territorial instinct as ever among people who feel a connection to the area and community they live in, and now there is far more opportunity for violence as the groups compete and expand into other areas. Add to this immgration from parts of the world where there is war and premature violent death is common, as well as the fact that foreign incomers feel less kinship to those so much less related to them, and it is not hard to see how a situation such as that above can come about.

So much for pluralist dreams of everyone mixing together in friendship and harmony! All that this cheek-by-jowl lifestyle has achieved is to multiply the number of rival communities and make life hellish for all concerned - particularly in poor inner city areas.

The solution is parallelism: separate societies with clear boundaries and no process of enforced tolerance! Let's hope there's a breakthrough for common sense before things become even worse.

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"To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow; a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

From William Shakespeare's "Macbeth"