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For Rochdale: reading, mapping, and writing place in the era of the northern powerhouse

Bailey, Jennie Ruth (2018) For Rochdale: reading, mapping, and writing place in the era of the northern powerhouse. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

The aim of this thesis is to explore the way in which popular perceptions Rochdale, a town and borough in Greater Manchester, can be challenged and reconfigured through a range of critical and creative practices. Using the Northern Powerhouse project – an initiative introduced by George Osborne, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer – as a starting point, this thesis argues that the language of the Northern Powerhouse is invidiously insubstantial: it is a vague rhetoric of regeneration which is inextricably indexed to top-down place-making practices. The research has a multifaceted approach and utilises methodologies from the fields of literary and creative geographies to critically, and creatively, explore how a place is made through literary texts, maps and new writing. The thesis is organised in a tripartite structure: Reading Place, Mapping Place and Writing Place. Chapter One presents theories of place which underpin the analysis of the literary texts. In Chapter Two a literary survey of poetry, prose, folk tales, and plays is used to pull out some of the key themes and tropes in extant writing about Rochdale. The second part introduces critical cartography. Chapter Three starts from J. Brian Harley’s premise that maps are a form of text that reveal and conceal what Michel de Certeau calls spatial stories. Following a discussion of ‘official’ maps of Rochdale, new maps are made, and explored, in Chapter Four. The final part features a discussion on practice-as-research and exegeses of the creative work. Crucially, creative literary and artistic responses are scattered throughout the thesis, interrupting the expected narrative of traditional critical research. This experimental, hybrid approach demonstrates the complexities of Rochdale. This research contributes to nascent geohumanities scholarship and practice that explores the intertwining and blurred boundaries within (and without) the normally siloed fields of the arts, humanities, and sciences. Rochdale is not a cultural lacuna, and the imaginative approach offered by my thesis challenges the “business as usual” narratives posed by regeneration organisations and the language of the Northern Powerhouse.

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