The following blog came from a discussion I had with David Byrne, Jonathan Wistow and Jonathan Warren on the complexities of post-industrial globalised life in North East England.  The reason for the discussion was a function of the recent work all three have done on the topic, particularly as it links to the challenges the working and middle classes and, more specifically, the working poor presently face in today's globalised world and, in turn, the negative impact that post-industrialisation (i.e.,g de-industrialisation) has had on work, identity, health and general well-being.

David Byrne is Emeritus professor of sociology at Durham University.  He is internationally recognised as a leading expert in social complexity theory, complex realism, case-based methods, social policy, and a series of substantive works on social class and the welfare state.  His most recent book is Class After Industry: A Complex Realist Approach.
Jon Warren is a member of the sociology department and Vice-Principal of St. Cuthbert's college at Durham University. His research focuses on de-industrialisation and how its effects have manifested themselves in the lives and experiences of those living in areas like the North East of England. He has published work in the fields of disability studies, social policy and the sociology of work.  His most recent book is Industrial Teesside, Lives and Legacies.
Jonathan Wistow is an assistant professor of sociology at Durham University.  His interest in health inequalities centres on the implications of both methodological and ideological framings for how this issue is understood and addressed. His research in this area focuses on the application of both complexity theory and qualitative comparative analysis to health inequalities and links to broader debates about governance and public policy implementation. His most recent book is Studying Health Inequalities: An Applied Approach.


My interview with David, Jon and Jonathan revolved around four key questions:
  • How their work helps them to understand the current challenges of post-industrial globalised life in North East England relative to other places in the western society?
  • How these challenges impact the identity and psychology of the area, including key differences in gender and ethnicity?
  • What they think are useful ways, if possible, to address these challenges?
  • And, finally, how do the tools complex systems thinking and the complexity sciences help to both understand and address these challenges.


The interview proceeded as follows:



BRIAN CASTELLANI: Hello David, Jonathan and Jon.  As someone new to living in the North East of England, I am struck by the significant similarities it shares with the rust belt region in the States, as both areas have been hit hard by the forces of deindustrialisation and, more recently, globalisation, as well as some combination of a collapse in public and social and health services or (alternatively) the privatisation of services -- along with an overall decline in a variety of quality of life measures across gender and ethnicity. 

I guess my first question, then, is: Is this comparison fair?  Do you see the struggles of the North East of England as part of a wider global struggle -- both within other parts of the UK and also in other western countries in the global north?  Or, do I have the question wrong?

JONATHAN WISTOW: I think you have the right question in the sense that this is a global struggle facing most countries in the global north; but the way in which national governments have managed this has particular implications for particular places.

In my view, the form of capitalism (neoliberalism) that has been enthusiastically adopted by successive governments in the US and UK coincides with the forces of deindustrialisation and globalisation -- which goes some way towards explaining the similarities you have identified.  (But the public - despite limited electoral choice – has to take some responsibility here too.)

Of course, the quite significant difference in the history and type of welfare states that exist in these countries is a difference between these places.  Nevertheless, the North East of England and the American rust belt are places that have had to deal disproportionately with the 'dis-benefits' of growth, given their previous reliance on industry and as nations that have increasingly organised their economies around financial systems and services (with associated tax and labour market policies).

BRIAN CASTELLANI: I agree, that is a good point.  

JONATHAN WISTOW: I am not totally sure about the States, but in the UK cuts to public service jobs post-2010 has had a negative consequence on both the provision of services and as a large form of 'good' employment that creates demand in local economies.  This may be more of a change within the North East of England compared to the States?  Also, the very centralised nature of UK policy and how spending is allocated e.g., spending on infrastructure heavily skewed towards London and the South East, is a particular issue for the North East of England.  But the size of social problem (e.g., poor health outcomes) and the limited capacity of the local state to respond are likely to be common themes.

Finally, the notion of a global struggle is interesting in the sense that this is a struggle that many regions/places have had to face.  But I am not convinced that it is global in the sense of a struggle (i.e., movement) that is providing a collective and organised response.  The potential to coordinate action is there but requires sustained effort to re-balance national and global political economies.  

BRIAN CASTELLANI: I agree... I think you see movements here and there -- as in Occupy Wall Street or the Yellow Vest movements -- but they are not sustained or focused.  So, yes.
JONATHAN WISTOW: To me this is one of the most important issues to organise around, i.e., spatial economic and social justice within and between nation states; but I am most likely out of step with the popular mood, which seems, as you say, to be fragmenting into debates around contemporary identity politics.  Identity is really important but is a secondary issue to material conditions -- we need to move the cart back behind the horse.  Or, in the spirit of compromise, the horse in front of the cart -- either way works for me!  

DAVID BYRNE: I agree with what Jonathan has said but want to push forward in theoretical terms and then say something about taxation systems as something like a control parameter.

First, let us use complex systems language and recognize what has happened in places across what used to be called the advanced industrial countries AND in large parts of the former Soviet systems has to be understood as a system change of kind. I have called this a great if partial transformation - after Polyani's notion of marketization as the first great change of kind (although he paid too little attention to simultaneous industrialization).

On reflection we might describe the development of welfare capitalism as an intermediate transformative state of these places. Certainly, welfare capitalism was sufficiently different from pre-welfare industrial capitalism to merit description as qualitatively different. What we have now is both post-industrial and post-welfare.

BRIAN CASTELLANI: So, context and place matter?

DAVID BYRNE: Yes, Jonathan is right-- context modifies the state system for these places.  For example, Sweden, which has maintained an industrial policy, is much less post-industrial than the UK/.  So, context matters even more in relation to the impact on welfare systems.

HOWEVER, the underlying driver of neoliberalism, which is an active political ideology, has moved many places in the same direction. The most evident illustration of this is in the fiscal gap between tax revenues and welfare expenditures and the way ‘right-wing’ parties and ‘centre-right’ and even ‘centre-left’ have similarly cut taxes on wealth and incomes derived from wealth and used austerity to cut welfare expenditure and services.

The result of these things in combination -- as Piketty has noted -- is a growth both in wealth itself and the incomes which flow from the ownership of wealth at the expense of the incomes which derive from the sale of labour power AND related social wage incomes in cash and kind from welfare expenditures and services. So, tax becomes an issue. Just been talking this pm to the Leader of the Scottish Labour Party and his advisors about proposals for a wealth tax in Scotland and then in the UK as a whole - see also Elizabeth Warren and the response in the US.

That is the political economy, but whilst I agree that base (the political economy - the relations of production) determines superstructure (so long as we understand ‘determine’ as Raymond Williams put it as setting limits rather than specifying exactly) so does superstructure i.e. cultural forms reflexively determine base.

BRIAN CASTELLANI: So, not just political economy but also culture. 

DAVID BYRNE: Yes, we need to think both about residual culture and emergent culture set against dominant culture - hegemony. In my meeting today, we all agreed that wealth taxes are now an idea whose time has come.  So, it is as much about culture as about economy and about both in interaction and we see it in Polish Silesia as well as in North East England. The North East of England is the oldest carboniferous capitalist region in the world and first down the pan in terms of deindustrialization so it stands as a prefigurative case for all these processes.

BRIAN CASTELLANI: What is your opinion, Jon? 

JON WARREN: Firstly, yes, it is the right question, and I am in broad agreement with everything that you are really asking – that is, whether the North East is a particular case and whether this case can offer us any help in understanding similar regions in the global North. Methodologically it raises interesting issues regarding the notion of “casing” which Charles Ragin has discussed.

My answer is that whilst the North East’s experience is in many ways very particular there are parallels with many other regions in Europe and the US. The crucial difference, however, is how the economic and social challenges these regions have and continue to face have been responded to. 

BRIAN CASTELLANI: So, like Jonathan said, it is as much, at a global level of comparison, about political and policy differences as it is economic similarities?  And, in particular, history?

JON WARREN: Yes. As David mentioned, the North East of England was one of the first regions in the world to industrialize and it became fabulously wealthy – there was of course massive inequality but fabulous capital accumulation; in fact, so much so that this accumulated capital still is part of the region’s economy.

However, the region has been in economic decline for a very long time.  In terms of production of coal, iron and steel and ships the party was over by the eve of the first World War.

So why did the region not diversify? Well some parts such as Teesside did (establishment of the chemical industry).  But most did not; or, where they did diversify, the new industries did not operate on anything like the scale and size that the older declining ones had. There were attempts to deal with these issues in the interwar period development of team valley and lighter engineering etc, however this was far off set by the great depression. (This more or less wiped out certain industries such as ship-building on the Tees).  Importantly, diversification was also resisted by the civic elite who were for the larger part the same people as the business leaders.

The second world war changed everything, suddenly the industrial capacity of the region was required and mobilized and very successfully. The lessons of planning were learnt and it was also acknowledged that “Modernization “was required e.g. North East Shipyards were still building ships in the same way as they had in the 1890’s well into 1950’s. As the region was falling behind other comparable regions in the world.

A planned approach to reconstruction or even managed decline was abandoned after 1979 due to the ideological imperatives of the Thatcher government which relied on blind faith in the market and abandoned any notion that government had a duty to ensure “full” employment. It also opposed the tools which made planning possible such as nationalisation of key industries.  This, in turn, accelerated the region’s economic decline to a huge extent (See Hudson1996 for detail) as did globalization

So, as you can see, the generic issues are about resources, flows of capital, the extent to which planning is possible and the ideological and political climate within which things happen.

Similar post-industrial regions in Europe have had very different experiences largely due to better planning and different political institutions and ideological outlooks. For example, the Ruhr in Germany has managed to transition from being a region based on coal and steel without the pain the North East has experienced. It also has sought to retain markers and monuments to this heritage.  So, in short, the North East is an important case which can help us to engage with the issues that many post-industrial regions face, both because it is endemic or wider global trends and also because of the specific ways in which its challenges have been handled (or, alternatively) mishandled.


BRIAN CASTELLANI: So, given the list of challenges you three have outlined, how do you think deindustrialisation and globalisation have impacted the psychology of the region?  For example, in the rust belt of the States, for many small towns and smaller cities these forces have caused a form of community-level trauma (from education and healthcare to employment and environmental well-being), requiring considerable reconciliation, healing and empowerment – which have yet to happen.  Still, there are examples, as in the case of inner-city Cleveland, which is going through a significant period of rejuvenation and development, albeit awkwardly and not for all. With women and minorities, in particular, struggling.  But, it does also lead to an alternative to my question: in the case of the growth taking place in Newcastle, for example, how has the psychology of the region held up in the face of these challenges?

DAVID BYRNE: It is all about the interactions among personal position in class / resource terms, specific potential for realization of value in the secondary circuit of accumulation, specific planning and grant policies by levels of government and the degree to which austerity is being imposed.

BRIAN CASTELLANI: Can you unpack that a bit, David?

DAVID BYRNE: Let me lead with the planning/secondary circuit of accumulation element, which interacts with the available rresources of the more proprosperous.  In the early 2000s I was surprised at how derelict former industrial sites in Cleveland Ohio (USA) looked compared with similar sites in Cleveland UK where derelict land grants and the operations of the Teesside Urban Development Corporation had cleared industrial remnants and developed lots of housing and retail uses. However, I was told that what happened in Ohio was that such uses simply developed on the urban area fringe so not so much the core of the City but the surrounding inner city was left to rot. The more prosperous use the new zones for consumption but the residualized working class are excluded by money. So, when Glasgow was city of culture it promoted the slogan 'Glasgow smiles better' to which working class people in the peripheral schemes (social housing areas) replied: 'Glasgow's miles away' and too expensive for us.

The limiting case here is probably to be found in the former mining settlement of East Durham. The former miner and novelist Sid Chaplin commented that these places - pit villages - were really just multi-generational mining camps where the social reproduction was done in families instead of cookhouses and bunkhouses. Without the mines they have no purpose and they are hotbeds of drug use and anomie. What is even more interesting is that there is a massive epidemic of depression among young adults, especially males, with considerable use of prescribed anti-depressants. This applies even to people in the modern form of dead-end jobs e.g. call centres. The old industrial world had an alternative future for which it pushed - see the content of colliery banners - but no equivalent seems to be on offer. I am struck by the way football club identity has intensified in the post-industrial period. When I was a young adult basically supporting Newcastle as opposed to Sunderland was no big deal but now it has become for some a core of identity. Then there is industrial work AND industrial social reproduction for women - was a way of constituting identity. The disappearance of that has left a void which often manifests in terms of psychological dissociation.

The increasing dependence of local government on revenues from local taxation has put development capital in the driving seat in relation to urban policy - it is all the shits in suits so far as most people are concerned. So, there is no local political programme to identify with. However, the recent selection of a socialist as against a system politician as the Labour candidate for the 'North of the Tyne' mayoralty is interesting. Things may be changing as they are in much of the US but the new Democrat running for Mayor of Chicago opposes rent control so perhaps not so much.

To sum up people seem to feel they have no control over their future either personal or collective. It is the same in Silesia in Poland with the collapse of Solidarity as a real thing in the post-communist era. Kazimiera Wodz from the Silesian University in Katowice, like you Brian originally trained as a psychologist, has written interestingly about this.

BRIAN CASTELLANI: What is your view, Jon?

JON WARREN: Your question is interesting and one that is difficult to answer in short order; but I will give it a try.  As an opening point, it is interesting that you refer to the psychology of the region, as I tend to think of it in slightly different termsI tend to talk about identity.

BRIAN CASTELLANI: That is an interesting difference and does, a bit, tie into the identity politics that we seem to be addressing.  What is your view, then?

JON WARREN: The North East certainly has a distinct identity and within it individuals identify with their cities, towns and villages and they have great pride in those.  Just for example try referring to someone from Sunderland as a Geordie and see what happens….

JON WARREN: I have long been fascinated by the relationship between work and identity.  It is incredibly strong in the region, as so many places only exist due to the industries they sprang up around -- that is, all the pit villages in Durham, the shipbuilding communities along the rivers, and places like Billingham on Teesside ICI, which built this as a ‘company town’ to serve the chemical works.

This relationship between work and identity has also meant that communities have been damaged by deindustrialisation at the level of their identity. This was very apparent when Redcar Steelworks closed people talked about having “steel in the blood” it provoked a period of mourning on Teesside, this wasn’t just an industry closing it was a bereavement.

This of course it the culmination of a process that has been going on a very long time. What this has produced is a region which has two tendencies.

The first tendency is that it wants to look to the future and re-invent the region, leaving the industrial past behind. This modernisation project was very strong in the 1960’s and included T Dan Smith’s ambitious programme to try and transform Tyneside into the “Brasilia of the North”. Smith’s own corruption and the coming of Thatcherism, however, put an end to that vision.

The other tendency seeks solace in the past because, whilst it offered hard work it also offered some kind of certainty and consistency. This idea of a "Better yesterday" is extremely powerful and largely the reason why “Leave” won so overwhelmingly in the region in the European referendum in 2016. Raymond Williams had it spot on when he described “emergent” and “residual” cultures. There is also the persistence of what Williams called “Industrial structures of feeling.”

BRIAN CASTELLANI: So, again, this link between economics, politics, culture and identity.

JON WARREN:  Yes, but let’s not pretend the North East was ever devoid of social problems poverty and deprivation. They were always here it’s just as such things were thought to be a thing of the past or least disappearing due to the post 1945 consensus they re-emerged due to deindustrialisation, mass unemployment and Thatcherism. The people who are doing ok in the North east are those who always have skilled industrial workers with transferable skills, a good friend of mine was an electrician in the pits he lost his job when Wearmouth Colliery closed in the early 90’s since then he has been all around the world working on oil rigs and making a very good living. It is semi-skilled or unskilled workers who have and continue to suffer most, de industrialisation wiped out thousands of semi-skilled and unskilled jobs and nothing has ever replaced them.

Those communities have suffered the most and have, leaning on the second tendency, stubbornly resisted any of the attempts which have been made to regenerate them in the last two decades, as such schemes have failed to tackle the root problem -- which is a lack of secure paid employment. Nor have those in power furnished these communities with the education and training opportunities which could make a real difference.

DAVID BYRNE: Just to jump in quick...

DAVID BYRNE: Relative to what Jon is saying, one thing to note is that the spatial arrangement of how people live has changed drastically in the North East of England in the last 50 years. There had already been big changes before that with the development of very large peripheral housing estates, many of which were social housing, but there has been a massive development of owner-occupied housing. Ingleby Barwick, the location of a PhD. study by Katy McEwan -- which Jon and I examined recently -- is just one of these. So, the very specific associations with place have become at the very least attenuated. Remember the pit villages were basically multi-generational mining camps and most did not exist before the mid nineteenth century so things change and change rapidly. The NE had the highest rate of immigration in the UK up until 1914, primarily but not exclusively from Ireland and Scotland. I guess what I am pushing is my usual line on the missing middle in the UK social order and we know so little about these people.

BRIAN CASTELLANI: What is your view, Jonathan?

JONATHAN WISTOW:  Both Jon and David make some really important points about how the North East has changed and has responded to change and I would like to add to this by drawing on my own experience as an ‘incomer’ to the region.

However, before I do that what strikes me about Dave and Jon’s ideas, and links to one of my areas of interest (health inequalities) is the notion of control.  Michael Marmot’s influential work in this field has developed from the idea that being, or feeling, in control of your own destiny is an important contributory factor to a person’s health outcome, which he then links to resources and social structures including class, place, environment etc.  If we aggregate the idea of control up to a regional level (and we need to be careful not to lose the complexity and differentiation within places when we do this) it seems to me that the North East, in general terms, has not been in control (or has had limited control) of its own destiny for a long time.  It has agency (as people do) but (like some individuals) it has been dealt a poor hand and this impacts on the psychology of place, which develops cumulatively over time (i.e., the past 40 years or so that have included globalisation, deindustrialisation and neoliberalism) – but we should also take on board Dave’s comment about the potential for very quick change. 

I have lived in the region for about 20 years now (exactly half of my life) and while I feel at home and happy here I would not say I am ‘from’ the North East – partly because these were not my formative years but also because I still feel somewhat of an outsider (which is down to accent, psychology, identity etc.) but much less so than when I first arrived.

BRIAN CASTELLANI: Interesting.  How so?

JONATHAN WISTOW: Well, over this period I slowly moved north from Hartlepool to Durham and now live in Gateshead and the first thing to say is that each of these places is very different and seems to me to have a different psychology and identity.  However, a common characteristic of these places is a sense of loss, which is felt more keenly in some places than others, and links to the lack of control and looking to the past that David and Jon both talk about.

BRIAN CASTELLANI: Can you give an example?

JONATHAN WISTOW:  Sure, for example, working in local government in Hartlepool in the Overview and Scrutiny Committees (similar to House of Commons Select Committees) in the early 2000s we conducted an inquiry into the decision to grant permission for some ex-US military vessels to come to Hartlepool to be broken up and (largely) recycled in the town.  The argument for doing the work in Hartlepool was that this would be much better controlled there than on the beaches of India (where a lot of this kind of work was undertaken) and it brought employment to the area.  One of the workers told me that whilst it was much better when they made things in the region this was still skilled manual work and that was a good thing i.e., much better than working in a call centre.  There were local concerns about toxic chemicals including asbestos being disposed of as the ships were broken up.  However, in the town (and amongst the local politicians) the larger concern seemed to be reputational -- that is, we will be seen as nothing more than a dumping ground for American waste.  At the time I thought this was partially understandable but a little overly defensive about a single issue that could and should not be reflective of the character of a place.

So, in my view there is something here that reflects a wider tendency in the North East (compared with some other parts of the country) to be concerned with being stigmatised and ‘looked down upon’.  Some might say that this unsurprising given the continued economic disparities experienced in the North East as the poorest region in England and given that the "rules of the game" and the political, social, cultural and economic infrastructures are all skewed towards the strengths and interests of the South and East of England and, of course, London, in particular. 

Turning, briefly, to where I live now, things are different.  Living on Tyneside I live in a major conurbation of over 1.5 million people (the sixth largest in the UK).  The place I live in is not overly wealthy but is certainly comfortable and is part of a large urban area with the benefits of, and access to, services and amenities that come through living in a large city and one with a rich industrial heritage.

BRIAN CASTELLANI: So, scale is important?

JONATHAN WISTOW: YES, In this sense I think that scale does matter to both identity and the psychology of place.  Interestingly, working in Hartlepool there was a perception that they lost out in three ways in this respect.  Firstly, to the scale and power of London in the national economy, secondly, to Newcastle-Gateshead in terms of power and control over regional economic funding, and thirdly to Middlesbrough as the dominant player in the sub-region of Teesside.  In each instance the idea of trickle-down economics seemed to win-out – by investing in the larger centre the more peripheral areas will benefit from their growth.  So, we can see a relative lack of control at different scales here that may well impact on the psychology of place.

Finally, having lived in Durham city for close to ten years it was striking how isolated it is from the region in terms of psychology.  It is massively a University town and is either full of students during term time or very quiet during the long holidays.  It is not a typical University town either given its collegiate system and the high number of privately schooled students.  In this respect it is a classic example of "town vs gown."   When the students are there public-school accents, attitudes and behaviours (and increasingly international ones) are at least as common as local ones.

BRIAN CASTELLANI: What do you think the future is of all of this?
JONATHAN WISTOW: Well, as the University continues to expand, the balance is likely to change further.  It often feels like a place apart from the region and more locally County Durham, where some of the highest levels of poverty exist in the ex-mining communities.  For my partner who grew up in and then moved back to one of the East Durham ex-mining villages, Durham University neither seemed an attainable nor, perhaps more importantly, a desirable place to study.  It could be argued that this is more revealing about the psychology of elite institutions and the UK establishment than it is of the regional psychology... but it is also the case that these are systems at different levels interacting with, and reacting to, each other.

JON WARREN: Yes, as Jonathan says, the sense of loss., this is a very strong theme.  I found that young people on Teesside also felt it too, which was a surprise

DAVID BYRNE: Very good stuff Jonathan and Jon. Two things - first, there is a very high level of internal differentiation in places. Even in Durham if you go to Newton Hall you never see students - Newton Hall is very much a location of the missing middle - and people are more likely to shop at the Arnison Centre than in Durham itself.  Sherburn Road council estates are another world again. What interests me is that both the missing middle and the residualized working class do seem to me to share this sense of loss. The Tyneside conurbation is massively internally differentiated. To see this for yourself, take the Metro from Gosforth down to South Shields.


BRIAN CASTELLANI: Moving on to my third question, in one way or another, you have all hinted at what could be possible solutions to the current problems in North East England.  You have also said, in one way or another, that any pathway out will be difficult and require, at minimum, some degree of forward thinking -- in other words, something far beyond incrementalism or more of the same.

So -- from politics to economy to education and healthcare -- what do you think needs to be done to help the area?  And, how can such efforts be community based or (alternatively) driven through cooperative relationships amongst communities, policy makers, civil servants and academics?  Particularly, for example, such groups as David mentioned, including the invisible middle, women, minorities, and the working poor? This is particularly concerning, given gender inequalities in pay and access to work in the North East.

DAVID BYRNE: Thirty odd years ago I worked with a WEA (Workers Education Association) class on Tyne and Wear 2000 - which was all about what we needed for a decent future. One thing we emphasized was a regional level of government to correspond to devolution in Scotland and Wales but that was wiped out (on a 40% turnout) by a no campaign in a referendum which was organized by the UK associate of the US Heritage Foundation.  However, regional level of governance is not enough because Scotland - which is more deindustrialized than the NE with Greater Glasgow much like Tyne and Wear and Edinburgh being a mini massively polarized London - has not used that level to address the underlying issues.

So the first thing is to make the political class wake up and smell the coffee - what the newly revived Democratic Socialists of America element is doing in the US Democrats.  People have to be motivated by the presentation of a realistic possible alternative - what happened in Britain with the Beveridge Report and the 1945 Labour Manifesto. There is some interesting stuff around e.g. about the possibility of building up an eco-energy industrial base. A key thing to get right is taxation - but I would say that wouldn't I.

 BRIAN CASTELLANI: Yes, you would, LOL!

DAVID BYRNE:  However, attacking the status of the affluent matters.  Some basic things:

1) Minimum wage set to real living wage.
2) Repeal of anti-trade union legislation.
3) a new union structure in what are now wholly unorganized sectors of labour - signs of this e.g. London cleaners.
4) asserting the values of the NE's industrial culture although being very careful to avoid the trap (which the working-class studies lot have to be careful to avoid) of just making this another multi-cultural strand. Assert an inclusive identity. The SNP did manage to do this in the independence referendum and it is a lot harder to do this in Scotland than in the NE because of the history there of religious sectarianism wholly absent here (NE England although writing in Edinburgh).
5) Putting more money into skill training for jobs than into higher education (big mistake to do the opposite in Scotland).
6) remove austerity as a pressure on local government so that they stop whoring themselves out to property developers.
7) Old Keynesian trick of building lots of good social housing - done this before - it works. Likewise, with other useful public infrastructure especially in public transport to get cars off the road.
8) Revive the Red Duster - rebuild the British Merchant Marine by using legislation like that deployed by the US and some European countries in relation to flagging, crewing and beneficial ownership.
9) Build up post carboniferous and fossil energy and chemicals by massive R and D investment (Japanese MITI was a model for this).

I stlll have some copies of our little pamphlet by the way.

BRIAN CASTELLANI: I would love to read one... by the way, David, could you define what you mean by the terms dispossessed working-class, etc?

DAVID BYRNE: Sure, the aristocracy of labour was originally an abusive term employed by Lenin (an aristocrat of course!) to refer to workers who had achieved particularly good conditions of work and remuneration under industrial capitalism - coal miners, fitters (machinists to Brian), lots of skilled workers and so on. Of course, these groups were the most industrially militant and were the backbone of the labour movement including particularly miners’ wives in relation to social conditions.

I used the term dispossessed working class in various publications including my book on Social Exclusion to refer to that part of the working class which had been dispossessed of the industrial and social gains of what Hobsbawm called the fortunate third quarter of the 20th century. Note that there were two trajectories for people from that background, as it was in the good years- up or down. 

What I call the missing middle largely went up a bit. The dispossessed went down a lot and are concentrated in the UK on social housing estates e.g. East Middlesbrough which I reference in my recent book on class. By now this is mostly a matter of inter-generational change. But now the middle is being hit. I am currently reading this OECD study and it is very interesting indeed.

BRIAN CASTELLANI: What is your view, Jon?

JON WARREN: Well the first thing to say is that I agree with David that the political will to change things is required before anything can happen.  There is then the issue of being able to make things happen that’s about institutions and processes.

Regarding a change of outlook, well that isn’t going to happen overnight.


JON WARREN: The political class in the region are part of a very established order going back a long, long way, they also largely believed that what was good for industry was good for the region. I outline this in detail in my 2017 paper. “The way things get done around here…” Exploring spatial biographies, social policy and governance inthe North East of England.  Often their interests obviously overlapped (for example Bolckow and Ropner were capitalists who became civic leaders). But generally, this view was largely one endorsed by Labour politicians who have dominated politics in the region since the 1920’s (as without industry there was no Trade Union or Labour movement.  I won’t get too far into this as Dave has far more direct experience of local and regional politics than me.

However, the story of trying to revive the region economically has been one of politicians having to do their best in the face of a Westminster driven neo-liberal agenda, which severely restricted their options from 1970’s onward. This led to a dominant idea that, because this region’s economic problems stemmed from the loss of big industries, the solution was to find new big industries to take their place -- remember tendency 2 I mentioned earlier?

Still, there has been some success with this -- for example, the Automotive industry namely Nissan, but also some terrible and expensive failures, such as Fujitsu microchips at Sedgefield and also Seimens microchip plant on Tyneside. Other industries have risen and then diminished as cheaper options overseas appeared for example call centres were the next big thing 15 -20 years ago.  This approach hasn’t helped and even success stories such as Nissan are now vulnerable as capital is mobile not to mention Brexit.

It pains me to say that many of our local politicians are frankly hopeless.

I live in South Tyneside, where Council is dominated by the Labour party to the point that it promotes cynicism and low turn outs, there is simply no opposition. Furthermore, the Labour council is bereft of any ideas or indeed values. For example, the Council recently closed all the local libraries (we saved ours by making it into a community trust).  However, our Local Councillor, who had voted for its closure, actually had the gall to ask to be invited to the reopening event we did! This dominance has fed a cynicism with politics and gave rise to an idea that “nothing can be done.”

This attitude has led in the last 15 years to two very bad decisions for the region.

BRIAN CASTELLANI: Can you explain?

JON WARREN: Sure... firstly, the rejection of a regional assembly which would have given the region more say in its own affairs in the mid 2000’s; and, secondly, the "Leave vote" in the 2016 European referendum. So, I guess I am saying we need to revive our politics, shake up the political establishment and encourage the belief that things can change, and that local and regional government are there to do things for people rather than doing things to them. Interestingly enough it is the Conservative Mayor of Tees Valley Ben Houchen who has successfully tried to shake things up. His unexpected election on a very low turnout in 2017 was based around a policy of taking the local Airport into public ownership! (Hardly a Tory policy). However, he has, 2 years on, actually achieved this!  So, a belief that positive and progressive change is possible is required, also actions to back this up are required.

Simply there is work that need doing in the region and people feel that the public sphere is increasingly neglected. So, money need to be spent. Than needs to come from better taxation and more devolved powers.

BRIAN CASTELLANI: David's point?

JON WARREN: Yes.  We also need to revitalise institutions and infrastructureOne of the most farsighted set of proposals and infrastructure projects for the region came out of the Hailsham report in 1963.  This report seriously looked at how the reduction in the size of the coal industry would affect the region and much of the regions road infrastructure came from this. People are increasingly seeing local amenities disappearing and being replaced with private ventures. For example, Sunderland council recently demolished a leisure centre and have sold the land to a private housing developer...  or, just look at how student accommodation is colonising Durham City and forcing young families out of the city. We also need to reframe the relationship between the five universities in the region. Currently they are treated as businesses. The region demands very little of the Universities and the Universities give very little back to the region.  For example, Durham, when closing Queens campus at Stockton, did not even think to consult the local authority about the impact this might have on the local economy; that is, until the trade unions pointed out that this might be a good idea.

BRIAN CASTELLANI: Other suggestions?

JON WARREN: Rail infrastructure in the region is terrible, which is ironic as this is where railways were invented.  There are however lots of excellent community projects in the region and lots of people who have fought to keep their neighbourhoods going in very difficult times.

We need to help with research and disseminating the tools/capacity building, social scientists can help build partnerships and bridges with local businesses and governance.  However, you can’t make something out of nothing so resources and political will are needed. I used to teach community and youth workers, we need these desperately but there are no paid jobs in this area due to austerity. Also, the diploma and degrees have died due to a lack of demand, aggravated by the fact that the type of mature student who used to do this kind of degree can no longer afford to due to the marketization of Higher Education.

So, to finally answer your question Brian, need the following:

1) A revived politics which can demonstrate its ability to change things for the better, this could revive a belief in progressive change.

2) Better infrastructure for the region.

3) Better publicly owned housing, (the post-war boom in the region was driven in part by massive public housing projects)

4) Improved and stronger regional government.

5) More money and an end to Austerity.

6) Better partnerships between employers and local government and trade unions

7) More opportunities for training and education (grants and an end to fees)

8) Support for community groups/ building capacity.

BRIAN CASTELLANI: How about you, Jonathan, what is your view?

JONATHAN WISTOW: Once again I agree with what David and Jon have said and suggest likewise their ideas as a way forward here. 

BRIAN CASTELLANI: any additions?

JONATHAN WISTOW: Yes.  In adding to this I’ve just read a recent report by Crisp et al (2019) commissioned by The Labour Party that makes a number of similar points and argues that regional funding -- including a replacement for the European Structural Fund -- should invest proportionality more in the least economically prosperous places.
To me, at least, this is a good principle to organise around and would contribute to what Martin has described as rebalancing the spatial economy.  However, looking at the average public spend per head at a regional level (and I have done this as a five-year rolling average between 2013/14 and 2017/18) then the North East has about £9,700 spent per person, which is more than the English average of about £8,900 but less than London’s spend of £10,200.  Of this approximately £4,500 is spent on social protection in the North East compared with £3,900 nationally and £3,600 in London.  This means that per head £7,600 in London, compared with just £5,200 in the North East, is left to be spent on services like health and education and on economic affairs.  London has nearly twice the spend per head for this latter category.  

Arguably, then, the North East has public funding skewed towards social problems arising from the labour market (see Beatty and Fothergill’s work for a fuller account of this) and associated with the mismanagement of the post-industrial transition whilst the political, institutional and spatial centre/location of the political economy that has so (mis)managed this transition is continuing to use public money to disproportionately invest in the capital city that has plenty going on already and might be considered to be more self-sustaining (i.e., without the disproportionate use of public monies to stimulate economic growth – although I accept that London contributes far more per head in taxation than other regions).  

So, returning to you question, Brian, of how things could be done differently, I would like to draw on some of the research I have been doing for a book I am working on -- which is on "social policy and the social contract." In particular, I do so by drawing on the work of Richard Titmuss (which I hinted at in an earlier post) and Rousseau’s notion of the social contract.

BRIAN CASTELLANI: Can you explain a bit more?

JONATHAN WISTOW: One idea of Titmuss’ that I particularly like is the notion of "loss allocation."  For Titmuss this stems from socially caused "dis-welfares" -- that is, social costs and insecurities that are framed here as the price some people pay for other peoples’ progress.  In this light he viewed welfare and benefits as partial compensation for the costs of progress.  I think that this can be taken further and applied as a framing for spatial justice as well as individual issues of equity, i.e., in identifying that in competitive capitalist societies certain interests, people or places are better placed than others to do well and, therefore, that something actively needs to be done to level the playing field to provide a relatively equal footing. However, as discussed earlier in our discussion here today, the country’s political economy over the past 40 years or so has been organised in a way that further unbalanced the North East relative to London and the South East.    

In a society, which is dynamic and develops complex trajectories across spatial scales, a key role for the state should be to invest in, shape, develop and coordinate activity to attempt to secure roughly the same deal for its constituent members (which neoliberalism effectively rules out as the market should not be interfered with in this way).  Here we can turn to Rousseau’s idea of a social contract as something that goes far beyond a pragmatic and self-interested contract providing a degree of stability and coherence for those participating in society.  Instead he advocates for absolute normative equality as the basis for human individuality as an association of equal, interdependent and autonomous individuals.  To achieve this, we need to ensure that redistribution of income, resources and wealth are on the agenda.  New Labour and the Third Way were far too passive and complicit in the face of some of the forces facing it and despite relatively high spending on public services and targeting of largely age-related aspects of poverty failed to pursue a programme of equality with a sufficiently redistributive thrust.  They did not deal with the mechanisms causing ‘loss allocation’. 

My view is that we need to aim much higher than the last left of centre government did and start from a position of redistribution and leveling the playing field (through taxation and sustained public investment) rather than attempting to, at best, enhance the capacity of those engaging with this.   People living in the North East need the playing field levelled for them more than for those living in any other region in England.  Both to enhance their chances and to strengthen the region itself.  Tying together arguments about the distribution and patterning of individual and social outcomes and linking this to place can help to formulate a social contract that is both more equal and equitable.  Life is not, and never will be, fair.  But for some people and places it is particularly unfair and both Titmuss and Rousseau provide a rich tradition to draw on for staking a stronger claim for equality and questioning the legitimacy of a society that is as unequal as ours.  Convincing those people and places that get a 'head start' from the playing field as it currently exists is the tricky part! Ref Crisp, R., Ferrari, E., Fothergill, S., Gore, T., and Wells, P.(2019) Strong economies, better places: Local and regional development for aLabour Government, London, The Labour Party 

DAVID BYRNE: I generally agree with Jonathan's points, but I have been working on data from the ONS Wealth and Assets survey and found that London is the most unequal place in the UK with nearly 20% of households in the bottom 10% by wealth and 32% in the top 10%. Comparable figures for the North East of England are 13% and 7%.

BRIAN CASTELLANI: that is an important caveat, David.



BRIAN CASTELLANI: Okay, thanks for such an excellent discussion so far.  And so we come to my final question.  As we are all, in various degrees, involved in the complexity sciences, I thought it appropriate to ask: How do you think that a “complex systems” view of North East England -- both in terms of the its key concepts and methods -- can help to better understand and, in turn, facilitate the changes you three have recommended?

Map of the Complexity Sciences
JONATHAN WISTOW: Thinking in terms of complex systems is appealing because it makes sense for how I see the world – both academically and non-academically.  It provides a degree certainty (a foothold, at least), in terms of knowledge about the world but also a great deal of flexibility in understanding it.  In this respect it rewards continued investigation through an iterative approach to research that allows individuals and/or groups of like-minded people to build a deep understanding of place (such as the North East), including how individuals, institutions, culture, history, political economy etc. all interact.  In building this kind of understanding there is not necessarily an end point.

BRIAN CASTELLANI: Can you give an example?

JONATHAN WISTOW: Sure, for example, doing a QCA (qualitative comparative analysis) around health inequalities can provide a systematic ‘tin-opener’ for further qualitative inquiry (but still using and ‘pulling in’ secondary datasets) with local practitioners and policy makers.  This in turn could lead to a process of evaluation and co-design of health programmes that can be measured and compared with other approaches, in different and/or similar contexts, raising important questions around fundamental issues of structure and agency, and local and global processes influencing these.  This, in turn, would raise further questions that suggest systematic comparison as a way forward, and so on.

So, as you (Brian) have argued elsewhere, both data and social reality are "self-organising, emergent, non-linear, evolving, dynamic, network-based, interdependent, qualitative and non-reductive."   The implications for developing dialogue between methods and social reality are clear.  In this respect there is a process of building understanding that is very respectful of (or resonates with) the dynamic and relational nature of the social world.  To me there is no hierarchy in knowledge.  Instead we might think in terms of “horses for courses.”  What method suits the issue best?  Narrative accounts, for example, can be very useful for understanding the complex history and nature of place, as Jon has demonstrated so effectively in his book on Industrial Teesside.  In the "hierarchy of evidence" these would be regulated or dismissed to the bottom rung of the ladder as lay perspectives, which is a nonsense. 

In understanding (which is a necessary condition for facilitating positive change) something as complex as a region it makes total sense to me to think about this in terms of complex systems.  David has written around nested and overlapping complex systems in the past.  This provides a strong framework to explore the interactions between people, places and political economy with a tendency towards using place as a basis for ‘casing’ these systems (with overlapping and non-coterminous organisation and administrate boundaries included here too). Including how different levels of place can be conceptualised as systems from neighbourhoods through localities (e.g., villages, towns, cities), to regions, nations, international regions and to the international or global system.  Then helping us to think how these systems interact, interrelate and influence each other.  We then have the language of complexity that David focuses on at the start of his new book that is concerned with things like ‘possibility space’ and ‘attractor states’ that sums up the potential for, and nature and scope of, change for particular types of places very well.

BRIAN CASTELLANI: What is your view, Jon?
JON WARREN: Well I think that my approach to this would be one that tries to understand places as having their own biographies. The idea of a biography of place is central to a lot of the work I have one in recent years and an outline of it follows below. 

Understanding Biographies of Place: From 2009 until 2012 I spent much of my working life evaluating health initiatives commissioned by the NHS within the region. It appeared to me as a relative newcomer to the world of public health that many of those involved with it were asking some interesting questions. For example, why do some localities have much higher incidence of impairment and chronic illness than others? Why do some policy initiatives and health interventions work in some areas and make little impact elsewhere? However, as a Social Scientist I was surprised where they were looking for the answers, particularly in the way in which they focused on individuals and their behaviour, i.e., seeing smoking, drinking alcohol and a poor diet as a cause rather than a symptom or reaction to something deeper rooted in the communities these individuals were part of.  It seemed that what was being sought was a quick fix, a “magic bullet”. Any discussion of the places they lived was at worst absent, and at best highly superficial. Multiple geographical analyses of the labour market, health and social deprivation in the UK show us that location is highly significant and that major inequalities are evident. As a result, I began to consider and question the way in which public health researchers and geographers had tended to focus on composition or contextual effects (Macintyreet al., 2002) instead of seeking a more integrated understanding of spaces and places. 

Subsequently, Kayleigh Garthwaite and I have argued that there is a need to understand places as possessing specific identities with intersections between environment, history, and culture: which can be understood as a "biography of place" (Warren and Garthwaite 2014). The idea was further developed in my paper -- which I mentioned earlier, The way things get done around here…”  And of course, in my book Industrial Teesside, Lives and Legacies.

BRIAN CASTELLANI: Can you speak to that a bit more, as this is an interesting way to think of complex systems in terms of place -- which I think we've been talking about for most of the interview?

JON WARREN: Sure, the core of this idea is that places have biographies in the same way as individuals. Furthermore, the intersection of individual and spatial biographies is particularly significant for understanding the structure and impact of disadvantage and social exclusion.  Additionally, the relationships between collective and individual biographies, the place in which they live and the potential individuals have to improve their personal situation and overcome the barriers within those spaces must also be considered.

Place is commonly taken for granted and often subsumed by the needs of policy makers, with place becoming "whatever policy says it is." Because of this, there is a need to re-imagine place in order to provide a viable counter narrative to the dominant one which sees place as little more than an administrative category. It can be argued that this in turn has led to a failure to challenge the “one policy fits all” approach which national governments have pursued in Britain since the early 20th Century.

BRIAN CASTELLANI: Are you connecting this to C. Wright Mill's then?

JON WARREN: Yes, in order to begin this process, we can usefully draw on what Wright Mills (1959) termed the Sociological Imagination. Wright Mills (1959:4) asserts that: “no social study that does not come back to the problems of biography, of history and of their intersections within a society has completed its intellectual journey”

Mills also declared that "neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both" (1959:5). This statement of how the history of society shapes the lives of individuals is applicable not only to whole societies but to communities, and in order to fully comprehend an issue such as the health of those who live in a place, we need to understand that place; not only the history but the narratives of work, locality, culture and being that exist within it. It is these parts which can be said to constitute a biography of place.

Mills also urged us to study the critical points where biography and history intersect and the junctures where private troubles become public issues. Mills made this point with his discussion of unemployment.  To understand unemployment in a place such as Easington in County Durham, space is highly significant as its labour market was dominated by a declining industry (coal mining) within a regional context of industrial decline for most of the twentieth century. Without an account of place the dynamics between personal troubles and public issues any explanation is rendered unintelligible. It is important to point out that a place’s biography is more than just the sum of these parts; neither is it a ‘one-way street’. The action of individuals also shapes the social structures they inhabit: “By the fact of his living he contributes, however minutely to the shaping of society and to the course of its history, even as he is made by society and its historical push and shove” (Wright Mills, 1959; 6).

In order to explain the present in a locality and the lives of those who reside there, it is necessary to understand the area’s past as well as their individual and collective experience. It is also crucial to recognise that the way in which a place has been conceptualised and administered are part of this process as this, too, contributes to any biography of a place. My argument, which I believe I have been making across this interview, seeks to show that these processes are only part of a wider story which needs to be understood. Biographies of place become embedded over time and are revealed and manifested in individual life stories

It would appear to be self-evident that the underlying circumstances and characteristics of a place need to be considered before potential solutions are offered; this may be an area where something could be learnt from medical practice. 

BRIAN CASTELLANI: Interesting, can you explain more?

JON WARREN: Medicine routinely takes patient histories in order to diagnose problems and prescribe remedies. Within medicine, it is accepted that whilst there may be an accepted course of treatment for a condition, the way in which it is applied to individuals will vary, according to their present condition, prior experiences and behaviours. If a similar approach was applied to policy it is place that provides these answers allowing a convincing “case history” to be established. Such an approach would allow a path to be trodden between the ‘one size fits all’ approach which discounts difference, and a ‘complexity’ approach which see the problems of each place as being a unique and atomised ‘case in itself’. Instead, an intervention which draws upon best practice in the policy field but is equally aware of the biography of the place within which an intervention is to be deployed becomes possible. In summary the idea of a ‘biography of place’ in order to construct a holistic account of what it is like to live in a particular area with a particular context, is essential. Otherwise, contextual and compositional arguments, whilst to a degree helpful, can be argued to be essentially attempting to account for a places’ deviation from an idealised imagined norm. By considering each place as unique and then asking what it may have in common with other places. For example, ill health related worklessness is often the product of a complex interaction of several factors: the environment, the social, the economic and also individual lifestyles: the compositional, the contextual, and beyond. In other words, we need to pay attention to the elements which make up an area’s history and culture.

In order to do this a multiplicity of methods are needed, Jonathan and I undertook a QCA analysis on health data which revealed that particular groups were benefited or disadvantaged by a particular policy initiative, conventional statistical techniques didn’t pick up these subtle variations. Warren, J., Wistow, J. and Bambra, C., 2013. Applying Qualitative ComparativeAnalysis (QCA) to evaluate a public health policy initiative in the North Eastof England.

So, I guess that I am again picking up the point on “casing” which I think we have all raised in the course of this discussion. It also brings us back to the issue of local and regional governance too.

I am also advocating a truly ethnographic and also a participatory approach to mapping and understanding the communities which we are trying to formulate policy. This point i.e the need for Community Studies which deploy a full range of investigate and analytical strategies is one that Dave has made many times and I fully support.

BRIAN CASTELLANI: And, David, as our resident complexity expert, what is your view?
DAVID BYRNE: My approach to this is at multiple levels - let’s say macro, macro/meso, meso, meso/micro, micro/ meso, micro and micro/micro. To explain this ordering:

Macro - global system
Macro/meso - nation states as cases within the global system
Meso - regions within nation states
Meso/micro - localities within regions
Micro/meso - neighbourhoods within localities
Micro - households within neighbourhoods
Micro/micro - individuals within households

BRIAN CASTELLANI: Which sort of brings us full circle to my opening question, vis-a-vis understanding the local challenges of deindustrialisation and globalisation and their uniqueness within the context of wider complex systems, moving from the regional to the global?

DAVID BYRNE: Yes, but it is all about trajectories i.e. historical journeys of change through time for cases at all these levels. So, I find the idea of phase shift very useful i.e. qualitative change in the character of any system at any level. What I in my recent book called the great if partial transformation was the phase shift in the character of welfare capitalist industrial societies through deindustrialization.  This has implications for all the levels contained within nation states BUT trajectories differ.

So, some regions have moved in different directions. Jon Warren as a South Londoner knows just how industrial London was. London’s post-industrial trajectory has been different from that of the industrial regions of the English North and Wales. And localities have had different trajectories. The trajectory of the ex-urban localities of Hexham, Morpeth, Northallerton (in York and Humber but driven by Teesside) is very different from the trajectory of East Durham or SE Northumberland. And within localities neighbourhoods have very different trajectories - compare Ingleby Barwick with East Middlesbrough or Low Fell with the Leam Lane estate in Felling (very far from the worst social housing in the NE, actually some of the best but different).  And households and individuals have had very different trajectories -look at what I have called the 'missing middle' present in Ashington and Easington as well as say Bedford in the SE. So, the NE has had a trajectory to post-industrialism AND austerity and it may well be the latter which has the more general effect because it hits the middle as well as what I have termed the dispossessed working class. At the cultural level I find Williams' distinction among residual and emergent cultures useful as complexity congruent and describing a dimension or perhaps control parameter is a better term for the socio-cultural- economic-spatial systems which constitute the social order. Systems of systems to quote Bourdieu thinking back about Parsons.

A note on this. In a recent edition of the Herald (Scotland's mildly left Broadsheet daily - much better than the Guardian), some celeb was doing the "what do I like?" thing and demonstrated intelligence by praising Pearson's "The Far Corner," which is about community and football (soccer to Brian) pointing out that as this is set in NE England it is about place not tribe as it would be in much of Scotland. Our colleagues in Sport have done some useful thinking about this as an aspect of our complex region. 

BRIAN CASTELLANI: Interesting...  any last point on it all?

DAVID BYRNE: Let me conclude by focusing on the political driver of austerity - affecting the welfare part of welfare capitalist industrial societies at this stage in the great if partial transformation. The role of the state, not least but not only of the state as employer, is one of the great shapers of class identities and regional character. The location of the back offices of National Insurance and child benefit to the NE in the post WW2 era was actually very important in making welfare state (and at that time benign) roles part of the culture - the Ministry (DHSS as it then was Longbenton with thousands of employees) was part of the world that made the Animals if you know that good popular book. So, I am thinking about post-welfare as a phase shift in association but slightly temporally after post-industrial.

BRIAN CASTELLANI: Excellent!  Well, thanks everyone.  That brings us to the end of my questions.  And, as someone new to the area and thinking widely in terms of global comparisons across the western societies of the global north, this has been a very interesting and educational discussion and certainly helped me to better understand the region.