Identity, Belonging & Citizenship in Urban Britain

Gidley, Ben; Hanson, Steven and Ali, Sundas. 2018. Identity, Belonging & Citizenship in Urban Britain. Working Paper. Goldsmiths, University of London, London. [Report]

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Abstract or Description

This paper explores how identity, belonging and citizenship might change in the cities of the future.

It starts by setting out how we are using our key terms. As a baseline, it traces the tectonic shifts that have structured these terms in the period from 1965 to the present. As part of this, we present new original analysis of Census data to explore how national identity is patterned geographically across the UK’s system of cities.

The paper then briefly sets out some of the “known unknowns” that will affect their future unfolding, before tracking what we know about trends that are likely to shape future urban forms of citizenship, belonging and identity. Drawing on an inventory of key future threats and opportunities, we set out a series of scenarios for future cities in relation to our three key terms. In thinking this through, we have foregrounded the role that citizenship, belonging and especially identity might have in rethinking notions of resilience in both imagining and planning for cities of the future.

For the sake of coherence, we focus in this paper on trends which relate to the ongoing massive migration-driven demographic transformation of the UK. As we will note in the paper, these changes intersect with changes in several different domains of life – such as gender, age, lifestyle, sexuality, constitutional change and cultures of consumption.

International migration is the main driver of demographic change in the UK today. Thus this paper specifically addresses how migration has fundamentally changed identity, belonging and citizenship in Britain, especially urban Britain. This transformation is not unique to the UK. As we will show, it is part of the larger turbulence of globalisation that has put more people on the move on the planet than ever before, hastening a final global shift from the countryside to the city – but an understanding of Britain’s near future is impossible without it.

At the start of our baseline period, 1965, there were a little over 2 million foreign-born people in the UK; now there are close to 8 million. The period between the 2001 and 2011 Censuses saw the biggest population growth in the UK since the Census began in 1801: a growth of 3.7 million or 7.1%, of which 55% was directly due to international migration rather than natural growth (births over deaths). As the demographic changes caused by this period ripple down the generations in the coming decades, the ethnic make-up of the UK and the prevalent forms of identification, belonging and citizenship will be transformed. There are now a growing number of “majority minority” cities, and the transnational connections of the residents of these cities will be among the most significant drivers of change in this domain.

Item Type:

Report (Working Paper)

Additional Information:

Published in January 2018 by the Centre for Urban and Community Research, Goldsmiths College, Laurie Grove Baths, New Cross, London, SE14 6NW.

Text copyright: as per the author(s) designated.

Design and photography by Steve Hanson.


identity, urban renewal, citizenship, 'Brexit', belonging, future

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Sociology > Centre for Urban and Community Research (CUCR)


January 2018

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

01 Aug 2023 12:55

Last Modified:

01 Aug 2023 12:56


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