Fitting into Place?
It may be bad practice to judge a book by its cover, but the hand-drawn map covering Fitting into Place offers the reader a tantalising clue to some of the book's major themes - women, class, reflexivity and narrative. The cover echoes on a larger scale the mapping techniques used with some participants, a nod to its qualitative, multi-methods approach. The book explores the gendered and classed nature of belonging against the backdrop of the transition to a post-industrial economy in North East England. It seeks to do justice to the complexities of fitting (and not fitting) into places which have undergone enormous shifts and will be of interest to human geographers and sociologists, especially those interested in understanding the role of reflexivity in research practices in action.
The first third of the book is devoted to theorisation, key themes and methodological reflections. The work is strongly theorised, drawing out tensions between 'new' sociological thought of fluidity and flows, and 'old' classed and gendered approaches. Though some have heralded the end of class, Taylor emphasises the importance of remaining connected to lived lives and realities, arguing for a re-engagement with class as increasingly complex, "produced at ever more intimate levels, including bodily disposition and appearance" (p.5). Rather than 'new' detached, reflexive and mobile identifications, class and gender are seen as embodied in individuals' sense of place and belonging, and "materially enacted in the resources and opportunities that are available or denied" (p.19). Chapter 2 addresses the challenge of ensuring that a place or case does not come to stand for 'everywhere', "abstracted from its own historical legacies", or 'nowhere', "only a small corner of the world" (p.21). The research certainly offers insights of relevance to many places which have undergone similar economic transitions. An illuminating discussion of the ways in which research can be silenced, edited and reinterpreted by end-users is also presented here, although it may have found a more natural home among concluding reflections.
In drawing on 97 in-depth accounts of both working class and middle class women of a wide age-range (15-84 years old), Taylor is able to address questions of who has choice, who 'belongs' in places and how inequalities resonate across space and time. The strength of this approach lies in being able to compare classed experiences of belonging, which is done effectively throughout, while highlighting intersections with gendered landscapes. Chapter 4 demonstrates particularly well how narratives of choice and change intersect with material (im)possibilities and the unevenly distributed constraints of classed and gendered geographies. Throughout the book, but particularly in Chapter 6, Taylor draws out the fracturing of common regional space, its continual contested reproduction, the embodiment of visual signifiers of taste and moralities, and the "classed politics of place" (p.107).
The deliberately brief conclusion leaves the reader to revisit some of the key themes outlined at the start of the book. Although its succinctness and lack of repetition makes the book readable, there is scope for an expanded conclusion to revisit some of the central messages, especially in light of theoretical debates. Giving prominence to the author's voice here would amplify, rather than detract from, the way in which participant's voices are heard throughout the book, in their own words. The book is impressive in enabling a wide range of women to tell their own stories, avoiding the temptation to rely on the most 'quotable' and instead giving a voice to all participants, doing justice to the "unequal voices at play" (p.155). Perhaps inevitably when managing such a large volume of data, the biographical arc of narratives are somewhat lost in the analysis. Pen portraits are presented in an appendix, but there is a sense that the book does not fully exploit the strong temporal element to the research. Perhaps presenting one or two biographies in-depth would have revealed even greater richness, demonstrating how futures are envisaged with "an eye on the lived, imagined, or borrowed past" (p.12).
Sheffield Hallam University