Identities and Regeneration in the Former Coalfields of East Durham

coalfieldFunded by

ESRC Identities Programme

Period of grant

10.2004 to 09.2007

Award personnel

Dr Katy Bennett

Research Aim

This research will examine the relationship between identities and regeneration agendas in the former coalfields of East Durham. It looks at how changes in roles, job opportunities and places have affected identities. It particularly focuses on women and what regeneration activities and their new roles mean for their identities.


It is over ten years since the last coalmine closed in East Durham, making it a pertinent time to study what pit closures and regeneration programmes have meant for identities. A particular focus on women is critical because they have been in the shadows where research has focused on the experiences of ex-miners.

Theoretical context

This project engages with performances. It looks at how people self-consciously respond to others (outsiders, regeneration agendas) and (less self-consciously) perform in tune with expectations, representations etc. It is influenced by two main approaches to identity. On the one hand, writers (in social anthropology) have recognised how people self-consciously identify themselves in relation to what/who they are not. On the other hand, writers (in cultural geography) describe how individuals have much less control over their identification as they are the product of discourses and socio-cultural processes. Through the programme the project is keen to engage with other academics to consider psychoanalytical perspectives regarding identity.

Three research questions

The first asks: how do regeneration agendas affect processes of identification? It will look at the work of the East Durham Task Force (EDTF) and more recent initiatives to explore how regeneration agendas both identify the coalfields and affect how people identity themselves. Analysis of policy/programme documents, participant observation work and semi-structured interviews with people key to regeneration efforts will be used to address this question. The project also analyses the work of the Amber Film and Photography Collective, which explores identities in the former
coalfields of East Durham.

The second asks: how do women in East Durham identify themselves? This research question looks at how representations of the former coalfields affect how women identify themselves and what their new roles mean for their identities. In addition to the above research methods the project will organise focus groups with local women, representing a range of experiences and backgrounds, to discuss issues and concerns affecting processes of identification. The work of the Amber Collective will be used to prompt discussion.

The third asks: how can regeneration initiatives be made more effective? Through workshops that include representatives from organisations formally involved in the regeneration of the former coalfields, the project connects research findings to (future) regeneration agendas.

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