Sunday, 13 August 2017 09:11

Somewheres and Anywheres

Somewheres and Anywheres

A think piece on David Goodhart's book "The Road to Somewhere; The new tribes shaping British politics" in light of his presentation to the RSN conference in Cheltenham.
David Goodhart's best-seller, The Road to Somewhere explores underlying social change and its publication is particularly timely in the wake of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump in the USA. The core message propounds two categories of "somewhere" and "anywhere" people. The former are more rooted with their identities based on group belonging and particular places. The latter have "achieved" identities that move with them as they progress from school to a residential university and then through a professional career. They can view the world from anywhere and they can achieve anywhere. Describing the growth, and particularly the growing influence, of "Anywheres" in our society, the upshot is that "somewheres" are viewed as "left behind" and outdated, chiming with stereotypes of rural areas.

However, this is changing. Counterurbanisation and commuting demonstrate that rural dwellers live and work as part of much wider networks. Even those who do work in their locality, especially home-workers, are just as likely to participate in spatially unbounded on-line networks as they are to be embedded in their local economy. Older counterurbanisers, often moving to the countryside with an eye to retirement, also bring a different world view. The professional classes that can afford to move to the countryside can be a valuable asset, contributing to social and community enterprises, Parish Councils and other local functions/services. However, it is fair to assume that a majority of these people are "anywhere" people and if they become dominant in local groups, this can marginalise traditional rural dwellers.
Neither David nor I would lay any blame on individuals here – we are not suggesting any intent to create divisions. The reality is that positive intentions of "anywheres" are linked to quite different aspirations to those of "somewheres", but they don't necessarily realise the dichotomy. For example, it is easy for "anywheres" to assume that building an economic development project with stakeholders from another successful region of Europe is positive and inclusive – they enjoy making new connections, understand the economic rationale and are comfortable mixing in these circles. However, with 50% of the population being "somewheres", not everyone is as comfortable with linguistic and cultural differences nor understands the rationale of diverting spending from local needs. If their business is not exporting or internationally focused, why would they assume that such an initiative is relevant to them?
Translate these differences into broader rural community issues and we can link "anywhere" values with counterurbanisation as incomers attribute different values to rural places. They are consumers who are making a consumption choice about where to live. Therefore, as with a product brand, features that can be seen from the outside dominate decision-making. By contrast, rooted "somewheres" see the community as home and identity is shaped around people, businesses, familiar places and long-standing social relations. When the aspirations to create or sustain a certain external image of a rural place conflicts with the desire to sustain and improve the lives of people living there, tensions arise – and it is increasingly the minority of "anywheres" who are most confident to participate in local community planning and policy activities.
We can also translate this consumerism effect into the use of rural services. Arguably there is one group who are making increasingly individualistic choices between a local service and a host of other competing services (perhaps based on quality, reputation, cost, accessibility and specific tastes) and a second group who are more attached to, and therefore feel more dependent on, a local service. For example, the village pub, shop or playground are local institutions for "somewheres" but part of a cosmopolitan choice of gastronomy, retail or leisure services for "anywheres". Taking this a step further, this implies that "somewheres" want to protect these services for their intrinsic value whereas "anywheres" want to increase their desirability so that they become more inclined to choose these services and thus improve their assessment of local quality of life. The resulting gastro-pubs and farm-shops fit a consumer economy with high-spending anywhere but may not provide the essential services that "somewhere" would expect.
So how do we move forwards? The binary divide of somewhere/anywhere is an extreme one and there are plenty of people in the middle who are capable of appreciating the value systems of each group. The challenge is for those who wield influence in rural places to recognise this. Speaking to delegates at the RSN conference, the majority appeared not to be from the places where they work. This brings new expertise and introduces new network connections that can support development but it also raises questions about whether "somewheres" are truly being represented. With Brexit, David Goodhart explained that some 3 million voters who had previously felt unrepresented by a politic elite were the ones who swung the vote. Just as post-industrial towns need to face up to this question with the creation of jobs for disillusioned (especially white male) workers, we need to think about how we can better engage and communicate with these people in our rural communities too. As rural "anywheres" age and demand more from local public services, it seems inevitable that these issues will remain an influential undercurrent that rural policy must address in the coming years.

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