I had the pleasure of speaking to Professor Laurie Taylor last week, in an episode of his programme Thinking Allowed, which has been running for many years on BBC Radio 4. I was invited to discuss my most recent book, Mapping Society: The spatial dimensions of social cartography, published with UCL Press last month.
Click here to listen to the programme: https://overcast.fm/+IPNUqK_DQ
Mapping Society does several things: it is a chronology of the evolution of social cartography, from focus on disease in the early parts of the 19th century, to a shift to poverty towards the end of the century and then to crime in the opening decades of the 20th century. It also takes each cartographic type and shows how it is used in a variety of disciplines today, from planning, urban design through to public health – where arguably it started in fact. It also traces the evolution in types of social survey but most importantly, emphasises the spatial dimensions of urban society. In short, it focuses on the complexities of social maps, by using space syntax, a theory and method for analysing urban spatial systems as way into studying the spatial structure of social patterns.
I was a guest of Thinking Allowed alongside Professor Roger Burrows from Newcastle University, whose recent book (co-authored with the inventor of the Mosaic classification system, Richard Webber) employs geodemographic profiles to categorise people on the basis of their geographical location, namely, according to the characteristics of their immediate neighbours (rather than based on personal characteristics, such as age). Now while I agree with the authors about the origins of social enquiry stemming from Charles Booth, I have a different interpretation of Booth’s aggregation of resident populations as involving a ‘neighbourhood effect’.
Booth classified streets rather than localities, and this was I believe an approach that very much recognised the importance of the spatial configuration of a person’s home address in shaping their opportunities. Indeed I maintain that the ‘neighbourhood effect’ is anchored in the opportunities that the streets where you live give you to mix both with people like yourself and those unlike yourself. As I’ve written elsewhere in response to Robert J Sampson’s brilliant study of disadvantage in Chicago, the ‘why’ or ‘how’ neighbourhood effects emerge might help us draw broader lessons about the interrelationship between street configuration and social outcomes. For example, is segmentation of a deprived neighbourhood from places of work or lack of accessibility to education opportunities a factor in the entrenched persistence of its deprivation?
Booth’s use of the street – or frequently the street segment – as the unit of analysis was a fundamental component in shaping thinking at the time regarding how best to intervene in an apparently problem area, as it emphasised the tractability and specificity of the problem. As O’ Day and Englander have written, Booth’s premise was that that empirically derived evidence of distress was necessary before policy decisions could be taken by government. In a sense, the moral geography that his classifications suggest moved his contemporaries’ thinking away from simply labelling an area as disordered, and therefore subject to deviant behaviour, towards refocusing efforts on the buildings and streets that were part of the problem. Unfortunately, this is something that we frequently forget nowadays when we allow ecological fallacies to write off areas, such as approaches that label areas as being prone to crime, without getting to grips with the underlying causes of crime, nor indeed the nature of that crime.
The images below are from a book chapter that I wrote for a Museum of London Docklands exhibition on the East End at the time of Jack the Ripper, that attempted to dispel the industry around his murders by contextualising the setting with academic scholarship (see chapter here: Mapping the East End ‘Labyrinth’.)
 Vaughan L. (2018) Mapping society: the spatial dimensions of social cartography, London: UCL Press.
 Webber R and Burrows R. (2018) The Predictive Postcode: The Geodemographic Classification of British Society: SAGE Publications.
 Sampson R. (2012) Great American City: Chicago and the enduring neighborhood effect, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
 O’Day R and Englander D. (1993) Mr. Charles Booth’s Inquiry: life and labour of the people in London reconsidered, London: Hambledon Press.