Project B

Lived Experience: the Transmission of Attitudes Towards Difference

Principal Investigator

Professor Gill

Academic Staff

Dr Nichola

Research Fellow

Dr Catherine

PhD Candidate

Anna Gawlewicz – for PhD project web page click here

This project focused on how individuals understand and live processes of social differentiation. Specifically, the research explored individuals’  own narratives of their unfolding social identifications across biographical time and their spatio-temporal experiences of differentiation, and the marginalization of self and/or others. It involved 60 individual case studies (n=120 interviews) and associated pilot work. Here, each case comprised a time-line, a life story interview, an audio-diary of everyday encounters, a semi-structured interview about attitudes towards difference, and an interview reflecting on the emerging findings. The participants were recruited from amongst respondents to the project A survey about prejudice. They were sampled to include those from a range of social backgrounds (in terms of socio-economic status, occupation, gender, ethnicity, religious/belief, sexual orientation and (dis)ability); whose personal circumstances and lifestyle affords them a range of opportunities for/experiences of encountering ‘difference’;  and reflect the range of responses to the prejudice survey.

Key findings from project B included:

As populations and cultures have become more heterogeneous there has been a ‘normalisation’ of diversity in which public space has become defined as a space of encounter where we habitually negotiate ‘difference’.  However, inter-linkages between the UK and Poland within the context of the EU are producing – and circulating through the emerging international currency of ‘political correctness’ – a common critique of equality legislation and a belief that popular concerns about the way national contexts are perceived to be changing as a consequence of supermobility and super diversity are being silenced. Specifically, people claim to alter how they to relate to others in public because of an expectation that they may be prosecuted or morally judged, rather than because they accept cosmopolitan social normativities. As such, everyday encounters with difference can only be read as evidence that equality has become embedded in routine ways of thinking and talking in public life, rather than as necessary proof of a progressive cosmopolitan public culture. Prejudice is in effect being privatised. Thus in the context of European austerity and associated levels of socio-economic insecurity, negative attitudes and conservative values may begin to re-emerge as popular normative standards which transcend national contexts to justify harsher political responses towards minorities. As such, prejudice reduction strategies need to receive greater priority in national and  European contexts.

Common-sense meanings of prejudice are inflected by the specific histories and geographies: framed in terms of ‘distance’ (Poland) and ‘proximity’ (UK) respectively. By treating these national contexts as nodes and linking them analytically we exposed a connectedness in these definitions which brings into relief the common processes that produce prejudice. Prejudice is not a static property that an individual either holds or does not possess; and individuals cannot be simplistically categorised as members of the ‘majority’ or ‘minority’. Rather, this research has demonstrated the dynamism of self-identities and the complex ways that individuals frame themselves as both passing judgements on others and behaving in prejudical ways, yet also as the recipients of others’ prejudices and as able to change their attitudes to specific differences.

We have produced insights into specific forms of prejudice. The vehemence of class prejudice in this study demonstrates the extent to which poverty is now popularly understood as a personal failing rather than a product of the workings of capitalism. While the development of equality legislation has contained the public expression of the most blatant forms of gender prejudice, sexism persists and is manifest in subtle ways. As a consequence, it can be difficult to name and challenge. Rather, sexism appears only to be ‘seen’ when it affords the instantiation of other forms of prejudice, such as Islamophobia. Through such analysis we have identified a complex (re)alignment of associations between different social groups (including working class people, disabled people, asylum seekers) in processes of ‘othering’ and identified the intersectional nature of prejudice.

By examining multiple sites where difference is experienced we conclude that the workplace is the site which is most effective at creating ‘meaningful contact’. Intra-familial diversity does produce positive attitudes in public life towards the specific social group that an individual family member is perceived to represent but such positive attitudes are not translated beyond this specific ‘difference’ to challenge wider prejudices towards other groups.  

We have shown encounters ‘work’ differently in Leeds and Warsaw and thus how historical and socio-cultural contexts mediate encounters and what components of ‘meaningful contact’ can be accounted for by micro-level interactions and what can be explained by a wider socio-cultural context.

Related publications

  • Published papers

Valentine, G., Piekut, A. and Harris, C. 2014. Intimate encounters: the negotiation of difference within the family and its implications for social relations in public space, The Geographical Journal.

Valentine, G. and Harris, C. 2014. Strivers v skivers: Class prejudice and the Demonisation of Dependency in Everyday Life, Geoforum, 53, 84-92.

Valentine, G., Jackson, L. and Mayblin, L2014. Ways of seeing: sexism the forgotten prejudice? Gender, Place and Culture, 21, 4, 401-414.

Valentine, G. and Sadgrove, J.  2014. Biographical narratives of encounter: The significance of mobility and emplacement in shaping attitudes towards difference, Urban Studies, 51, 9, 1979-1994.

Waite, L.,  Valentine, G. and Lewis, H. 2014. Multiply vulnerable populations: mobilising a politics of compassion from the ‘capacity to hurt’Social and Cultural Geography, 15, 3, 313-331. 

Valentine, G. 2013. Living with difference: Proximity and encounter in urban life. Geography 98 (1):4-9.

Valentine, G. and Sadgrove, J.  2012. Lived difference: an account of spatio-temporal processes of social differentiation, Environment and Planning A, 44, 9, 2049-2063.

  • Papers in press

Piekut, A., Vieten, U. M. and Valentine, G. (in press) Seeking ‘the new normal’? Troubled spaces of encountering visible differences in Warsaw, Polish Sociological Review.

  • Book chapters

Valentine, G. 2014. Intergenerationality and prejudice, in R.M. Vanderbeck and N. Worth N. (eds)Intergenerational Space, London: Routledge, 155-168. 
ISBN: 978-0-415-85531-0

Valentine, G. 2014. Living with difference: reflections on geographies of encounter, in R. Paddison and E. McCann (eds.) Cities and Social Change: Encounters with Contemporary Urbanism, London: Sage, 75-91. ISBN:978-1-84860-109-3

Piekut, A. 2012. Visible and invisible ethnic ‘others’ in Warsaw: spaces of encounter and places of exclusion, in M. Brubbauer, J. Kusiak (eds.) Chasing Warsaw: Socio-Material Dynamics of Urban Change Since 1990, New York: Campus, 189- 212. ISBN 978-3-593-39778-8


  • Book chapters in press

Valentine, G. (in press) Theorizing diversity and multiculturalism: the implications of intersectionality, in T. Matejskova and M. Antonisch (eds.) Governing Through Diversity: Migrant Societies in a Post-Multicultural Age, Basingstoke: Palgrave, Macmillan (Politics of Identity and Citizenship Series).

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