Beyond Banglatown: continuity, change and new urban economies in Brick Lane.

Project Details


Brick Lane in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets is one of Britain's most iconic streets and for over 25 years has been synonymous with the curry houses of Banglatown. Brick Lane/Banglatown is perhaps the most famous example of urban regeneration and ethnic branding through food, and the restaurants and annual festivals attract hundreds of thousands of visitors. However, the identity of this once iconic street is now under erasure, with the proliferation of alternative food and retail businesses and increasing gentrification. There are also changes and challenges internal to the sector, through the over-expansion and diversification of markets, migration controls and intergenerational shifts in education and employment.

This two year ethnographic study explores the challenges and changes to Banglatown through an in-depth focus on the restaurant sector in and around Brick Lane. Using an innovative mix of historical, visual, quantitative and qualitative data, this project maps the changing face of Brick Lane over time and today. It traces the development of Banglatown since its emergence as part of the urban regeneration schemes of the 1980s to the present time, and places this as part of a longer history of Indian food and eateries in London, linked to Empire, migration and trade. This small-scale and spatially bounded analysis provides a unique lens onto broader questions and tensions around: diaspora, migration and settlement; ethnicity, inequality and the labour market; culture, consumption and economy; religion, gender and generation;multiculturalism, conviviality and everyday practices in global cities. While the focus is primarily on the Bangladeshi restaurant sector in Brick Lane, the project uses this as a stepping off point to consider the changes and challenges confronting this marginalised religious and ethnic minority community, the multi-billion pound Indian food retail sector in
Britain, and the wider processes of cultural, social and economic transformation in the lives of ordinary streets.

To date there has been no in-depth ethnographic study which considers holistically the changing nature of the Indian restaurant trade, the role of space in shaping ethnic businesses, and their significance as a place of global branding, interaction and encounter in multicultural societies and cities. The focus on ethnic minority businesses in a time of austerity, post-Brexit uncertainty and policy retrenchment makes this a particularly timely and important project. Through an interdisciplinary and mixed methods approach, we will gain a three-dimensional portrait of this important sector at a crucial moment and also, importantly, locate this within a fourth dimension - of change over time.
Short titleR:HSS AHRC Banglatown Aug Sub
Effective start/end date1/07/1830/06/21

Collaborative partners

  • The University of Manchester (lead)
  • London School of Economics & Political Science (University of London) (Collaborator)
  • University of Cambridge (Collaborator)


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