At the end of the Michaelmas term last year, LSE Research Festival announced a number of category winners, and Sally Park, a final year BA Geography student in the Department of Geography and Environment, was one of the joint winners of the Booth Prize. In this blog, Sally reflects on her experience of working with her colleagues on a project that was part of LSE GROUPS initiative.

Booth Prize winners with Niki Lacey and Christopher Stephen
Sally Park, the second left, at the awards ceremony

I had a great experience conducting student-led group research through LSE GROUPS at the end of last academic year.  The work we produced was recently awarded the Booth Prize for headlined abstract category at LSE Research Festival. I am very thankful and would like to honour Jesus whom I live for, for all I have gone through. I also really appreciate all the event organisers and the Geography department that initially encouraged my interest in research and helped it grow.  Here I would like to share a bit of my reflections on these experiences.

LSE GROUPS is a yearly undergraduate group research project scheme that allows students from various disciplines to devise and carry out an academic study with structured supports through resource sessions and supervision under academic staff. This was a two-week intensive project after the final exams.  Although it was a lot of work, I learned so much and enjoyed the experience. This was 6th year that LSE GROUPS was run, and the broad theme was ‘Poverty and inequality in London’. I thought this project would be a good preparation for the final year’s dissertation so I decided to participate. I also found the topic interesting, and wondered what it would be like to generate new knowledge with people from other disciplines.

I was in group 5, and we had team members with Economics and Economic History backgrounds. The planning stage of the project was very hard and time-consuming as we had so many ideas. It was hard to decide on one topic that was focused and feasible enough to study. To facilitate effective team work, we set some ground rules such as having a chair each day on a rotational basis, and splitting works according to each person’s strengths and interests. We ended up deciding on a very geographical topic, gentrification. We studied the relationships between defensive architecture (e.g. anti-homeless spikes) and gentrification in Tower Hamlets, focusing on Spitalfields and Bromley areas where house-price change proved to be most drastic over 2004 and 2014.

The title of our research was ‘Hipsters and spikes: mapping gentrification and defensive architecture in Tower Hamlets’. Because we knew that we would be automatically submitting our work to 2016 LSE Research Festival celebrating Charles Booth and his work, we made our project relevant to it. Booth conducted a comprehensive study on social and economic lives of Londoners in the late 19th and early 20th century, and is most renowned for his Poverty Map, which indicates the levels of poverty in London in street-detail. Inspired by Booth, we decided to map the selected boroughs to show different levels of gentrification reflected by the change in house prices. Then we mapped various types of defensive architectures to see where they are located. Also, we conducted interviews on fields for qualitative insights into the relationship between gentrification and defensive architecture. The study found the trend of more extensive implementation of hostile architecture in more gentrified areas at the inter-ward level but not at the within-ward level. It concluded that defensive architecture can reflect revanchist nature of gentrification that undermines less-wealthy members of society, and also touched upon topics such as (hostile) urban design, social exclusion, ownership, usage and perceptions of the social space.

At the end of the two weeks’ work, we had a chance to present our work to all who were involved in LSE GROUPS, and it was amazing to see how each group ended up researching a unique and specific topic, given that we all started with the same broad prompt. Thankfully, we were awarded the Best Presentation Prize and Popular Prize by vote. With Hipsters and Spikes, I automatically participated in LSE Research Festival for the first time, and it really was an exciting experience to see how research can be presented in a concise yet varied forms (e.g. photography, poster, headlined abstract, 3 minute thesis speech).  An opportunity to talk with interested audience about the work was also highly encouraging, and the experience as a whole has definitely helped me develop my interest in social science research.  When I read articles written by multiple authors, I have wondered what it would be like to work with other professionals to write an academic article. With this unique experience, I feel that now I understand a bit better of the hardship and positive power of cooperative work and the excitement of contributing to existing academic debates. This has also certainly helped me decide on next pursuing further social science studies through a Masters degree with a dissertation component.

Sally Park is a BA Geography student in the Department of Geography and the Environment

Examples of defensive architectures (bum-proof, anti-homeless spikes, pig’s ears – from left to right)
A map of the degree of gentrification in Spitalfields and Bromley by house price changes.
defensive 2
A map of defensive architectures by types and locations in Spitalfields and Bromley.
Booth map
Charles Booth’s Poverty map of London. (Inquiry into the Life and Labour of the People in London, 1903)