Social Science blog

02 June 2011

Changing London

Simone Bacchini writes:

 This week, I attended an event at Foyles bookshop, on Charing Cross Road, in central London. It was a book presentation: Ian Sinclair’s latest work, “Ghost Milk”, to be published in July.

 Quite interestingly, the event was organised as a dialogue between Sinclair and the academic, writer, and broadcaster Patrick Wright who, like Sinclair, has written extensively on the changing faces of the Capital. The venue was packed: women, men, young and old.

 “Ghost Milk” is subtitled: “calling time on the Grand Project”, the “Grand Project” being none other than the Olympic building programme. Quite appropriately, for a discussion about a book, much of the event consisted of a challenge: a challenge to, among other things, language.

 I’m talking about the language that we’ve heard and read infinite times, since London’s candidacy to host the Games in 2012 was announced. It’s a language of agency: things get planned, organised, done, built, and opened. In this kind of discourse, dynamism is everywhere: it’s about the city moving forward; the future getting a little bit closer.

 It’s also the language of positivity, nicely packaged in enticing nouns and adjectives: “legacy” (who wouldn’t want one?) and “engagement”, “inspiration” and, obviously, “inspirational”; and of course “exciting” and, needless to say, “new”. At times, the discourse around “London 2012” (notice the familiar allure of the name: like any “Jonnie”, or “Katie”) takes on quasi-religious overtones: areas get “rescued”, communities become “engaged”; where once there were only rubble and misery now – in the future which, by the way, is here –order and prosperity are to be found. “The Games save”, could be the motto of the event.

 But are there other voices? Is there another language, another narrative that has not been properly heard? Well, yes, according to Ian Sinclair who, in his forthcoming volume, articulates a different vision: a much less optimistic one. There the Olympics are still spoken of in a language of “doing” but it’s a “doing to”, rather than a “doing for” or “doing with”. The outcomes, in this narrative are much less positive; the “legacy” much more sinister. In this view, the whole Olympic project becomes a metaphor for a kind of voracious model of development, which stops at nothing and destroys in its progression.

 After the event was over, I was not sure how much I agreed with Sinclair and Wright. Was their view of the pre-Olympic past a bit too rosy? Was their elegy of the run-down streets and estates of East London a romanticisation of dereliction, coupled with the reassuring familiarity of bygone eras? Perhaps, at least to some extent, but there is a space - a need, I would argue –for dissenting voices, for a different use of language, for alternative narratives. Those present at the event certainly seemed to agree.

 I’m looking forward to reading Sinclair’s book when it’s published, as well as exploring some of Wright’s writings on urban development.

Now I ask myself? Has the time come for our very own Sport and Society website to really join the debate?


Write, Patrick (2009). A Journey Through Ruins: The Last Days of London. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009

London reference collections shelfmark:  YK.1990.12465



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