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Historical space and the interpretation of urban transformation: the spatiality of social and cultural change in Sheffield c.1770-1910

Griffiths, S.; (2008) Historical space and the interpretation of urban transformation: the spatiality of social and cultural change in Sheffield c.1770-1910. Doctoral thesis, University of London.

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Abstract

This thesis is concerned with the spatial organisation of the built environment as a temporal phenomenon. It identifies how research into the relationship of urban society and the built environment over time is rendered problematic by the absence of an adequate concept of historical space. The difficulty arises where social theory and empirical research methods fail to comprise a coherent epistemological framework for the interpretation of social change associated with the material upheaval of urban transformation. The result is to compromise the researcher’s intention to understand the effects of changes in urban structure on people’s lives without appearing to endorse a rigid environmental or economic determinism in which the social nature of space and its capacity to be meaningful to human agents remains insufficiently acknowledged. This thesis finds a resolution to this conceptual deficiency in combining the theory and methods of space syntax, associated with Bill Hillier, with the scaling dynamics of fractal geometry, the phenomenology of David Seamon and the ‘human ecology’ of George Zipf. These contrasting but complementary perspectives provide the basis for the formulation of a concept of historical space in which the locative particularities of diverse social practices can be interpreted contextually in relation to the spatial and temporal configuration of the built environment in which they took place. The theoretical-methodological perspective provided by this thesis was developed on the basis of extensive archive-based research and spatio-functional analysis related to the socio-economic history of Sheffield c.1770-1910. The case-study addresses the role of urban form in the organisation and persistence of the ‘innovative milieu’ in Sheffield’s cutlery industry and the shifting spatial orientation of the city’s processional culture. Before c.1850 Sheffield’s physical growth was consistent with the scaled expansion of the cutlery industry over an extended urban area while movement patterns remained typically local and circulatory. However, the centrifugal movement associated with late nineteenth-century suburbanisation began to undermine the distinctive socio-spatial conditions of the innovative milieu, asserting a linearising dynamic that lent increased symbolic emphasis to the presence of middle-class values and state ceremonial within Sheffield’s civic culture. The thesis concludes that the notion of historical space makes a valuable contribution to the interpretation of source data relating to urban transformation by articulating how the built environment constitutes an identifiable but mutable structure for the generation of socio-spatial meanings that are realised and, to a greater or lesser extent, persist, in time.

Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Title:Historical space and the interpretation of urban transformation: the spatiality of social and cultural change in Sheffield c.1770-1910
Language:English
UCL classification:UCL > School of BEAMS > Faculty of the Built Environment > Bartlett School > Bartlett School of Graduate Studies

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