Housing, Memory and the Post-War State: Resident Experiences, Regeneration and the Council Estate in Manchester, 1945-2010

  • Paula Chorlton

Student thesis: Phd


Council housing was a key component of state activity in the lives of citizens after 1945. Scholarly and popular narratives of council housing have focused on the progression of policy across the twentieth century, emphasising failures. Not only does this lead to a narrative centred on what went wrong, it also ignores the very people who have direct experience of living on the estates. This thesis challenges the 'official' perspectives of council housing, by using oral history interviews conducted with residents from three council estates in Manchester to ask how they have experienced urban change over the past sixty years. These estates were chosen because they have seen repeated state-led interventions into their physical fabric since the end of the Second World War. Using personal testimonies, this thesis contributes to the scholarship on council housing in three key ways. Firstly, it demonstrates how residents view history as a cyclical process of change and continuity, rather than a linear process of policy development and implementation. Residents recognise the similarities between slum clearance, estate construction and regeneration practices, in a way that local authorities, national governments, planners, and the scholarly discourse do not at present. Secondly, the thesis develops historical uses of key terms such as 'community' and 'neoliberalism'. These two concepts are integral to scholarly and practice-based debates about urban change. 'Community' in particular has a range of uses, from state-led appeals for a 'Big Society' to mitigate a shrinking of the welfare state, to resident-claimed memories of social networks and working-class spaces that no longer exist. This thesis concentrates on the latter, arguing that for the interviewees, feelings of community were organised around proximity and shared positions in the life cycle. In terms of neoliberalism, the thesis enters a debate that presently takes place outside of the confines of history. It argues that the current view of neoliberalism as a 'turn' in the economic and political relationship between state and citizens neglects continuities in the practice of urban interventions that interviewees recognised so clearly. Finally, the thesis demonstrates a methodology for challenging the stereotypical narrative of social housing as a 'failure'. It demonstrates how the use of a broader range of source materials, such as personal testimonies collected from residents, offers alternative assessments of the value and function of social housing in twentieth-century Britain. This thesis presents an account of council housing able to recognise successes as much as failures. Positioning housing within the broader contexts of personal histories offers a rich source of memory and experience lacking from much of the existing scholarship and popular discourses. These memories challenge some key assumptions about the function of housing in postwar Britain, including claims for novelty for each subsequent policy or practice. Policy makers and local authorities could also employ memory-work as they develop new urban interventions, to ensure that the experiences of working class city residents are recognised, and most importantly, valued.
Date of Award1 Aug 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorLeif Jerram (Supervisor) & Eloise Moss (Supervisor)

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