Life in the 'Alpha Territory': London's 'super-rich' neighbourhoods

Principal Investigator:

Rowland Atkinson


September 2013 - July 2015

This research is a concrete response to the recognition that the social sciences need to start taking the 'super-rich' seriously. The central aim of this research is to move beyond a shaky social science evidence-base, journalistic reports and anecdotal evidence on these phenomena, and to undertake a study of the neighbourhood contexts of the lives of the very affluent. The project has four key objectives:

First, to 'test' a range of conceptual claims that have been made about class 'spatalization', 'spatial retreat' and the 'segregation' and 'insulation/fortification' of the wealthy, that have hitherto not been studied with much empirical rigour. Even though many studies have been carried out on the middle-classes and there have been myriad specific studies of gentrification processes and (more limited) studies of the rise of gated communities, there has currently been very little work focused on the lives of the very wealthy.

Second, to partially mimic the research designs and concerns of earlier successful metropolitan studies of the social habitats of the middle classes in London and Manchester but this time moving our attention further 'up' the income, wealth and class hierarchy. We are interested to evaluate the extent to which broadly similar research designs are successful in accessing this far more powerful social group, and the degree to which methodological innovations will be necessary in order to successfully complete this study. Does the supposed spatial retreat of the rich extend to successfully avoiding the analytic gaze of state-funded social scientific research?

Third, to develop empirical research protocols in order to learn more about this group and thereby to provide (1) a general statistical overview, (2) a focused literature review and (3) detailed observational and qualitative research in a limited number of carefully selected case study settings in order to develop: a class/housing history of each area; a synthesis of quantitative neighbourhood data for each locale; and, crucially, rich qualitative descriptions of each neighbourhood.

Fourth, generate household interview data with the 'super rich', with full knowledge that access will be difficult, and to supplement this data by seeking contact with an extensive range of major service 'intermediaries' in these neighbourhoods (delivery drivers, personal services, shopping and restaurant staff and so on) in order to develop a detailed picture of the day-to-day practices of living, belonging, identification and the mobilities of the super-rich within this 'alpha territory'.


Economic and Social Research Council