My early research (for my PhD at the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford) took the form of a two-year study of three ethnic groups, the Indian Sikhs, Polish and White English in the ordinary town of Swindon in the South West of England. Between 2007-2009, I conducted an ethnographic and quantitative anthropological study of notions of ethnicity, community, identity, belonging and sense of place held by adults of prime working age across these three ethnic groups. I investigated which information resources local people used to inform their ideas: the balance between life experience and live social interaction and events (experiential knowledge), versus conversations about what they’d heard or read in national, local and diasporic media (media talk).
I came to understand the local context down to the smallest detail through undertaking two years of participant observation in community settings including places of worship, civil society and leisure groups and activities, workplaces, pubs and private homes. I collected data from thirteen families using semi-structured interviews in their homes, and social, demographic and media consumption survey data from a larger sample of 217 people.
From there, I was able to piece together the dynamics of identity and ethnicity formation, how communities worked, and the dynamics of three specific forms of national and local change that influenced my study participants’ ideas:
- socio-demographic change in Swindon’s population composition owing to regional and international migration;
- changes in the town’s socio-economic profile and occupation make-up (from industrial to service industry);
- changes in the built and natural (biophysical) environments, i.e. green spaces inside and outside the town.
During my research, I briefed Lord Michael Wills, then MP for Swindon North, on the findings of my research. He was also the Labour Minister for State, Justice and Human Rights, and working under the Labour mandate to revisit UK constitutional, national identity and citizenship values around ideas of multicultural ‘Britishness’.
I have used the knowledge of how communities work, are affected by and respond to change in all my subsequent work, from health impact assessment to international development consultancy. My thesis is downloadable by clicking on the ‘Download’ button below.