The trendy borough of east London, which was considered one of the capital’s most run-down areas in the 1980s, has attracted the attention of around 20 academic geographers in recent years, the Royal Geographical Society’s annual international conference in London heard on 29 August.
Sarah Neal, reader in sociology at the University of Surrey, told the conference, which was attended by about 2,000 delegates from around the world, that Hackney had become a focus of academic study owing to the social change seen there over the past 30 years.
Literary and media interest in the area had led to many academic studies in the area, despite other boroughs showing similar trends of gentrification.
“It is a very symbolic urban location – one of migration, political activism, community organisation, social mix, deprivation, affluence, counter culture and creativity,” said Dr Neal, a Hackney resident.
The proximity of ethnically diverse populations – as well as rich and poor – living next to each other had also has heightened researchers’ interest in Hackney, she said.
“An influx of the affluent middle classes, social mobility within some of Hackney’s established communities, continuing social deprivation and the arrival of new global migrants is mixing it up more,” she said.
“Having attracted a young, fashionable crowd, it is now a cool yet paradoxical place in which social and economic polarisations are increasingly extreme.”
While research attention was not necessarily negative, there is some sense of “research fatigue” related to Hackney, she added.
However, the complexity of the borough’s populations, Hackney’s history, the rapid pace of change and the strong cooperation of local authorities are likely to keep researchers interested in the area, she said.