Aspiration amidst inequality: Middle-class migrants to ‘left behind’ regions

Bryonny Goodwin-Hawkins, Rhys Dafydd Jones

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


So-called ‘left behind’ regions have lately gained infamy as sites of working-class discontent, wont to take their revenge. Yet, as researchers and the media alike descend upon the darker blots of electoral and economic maps, another phenomenon has gone unremarked: the making of middle-class lives amidst spatial inequalities. In this paper, we examine how middle-class migrants (defined by economic, social and cultural capital) to left behind regions envisage and enact their lifestyle aspirations. While policy typically presumes migration to economically successful urban centres, or to regions offering employment opportunities, we argue that migrant trajectories that appear on the surface as a socio-economic ‘downgrade’ actually reveal how quality of life and spatial inequalities can intersect. Our analysis proceeds through a qualitative case study of West Wales and the Valleys, a ‘less developed’ NUTS2 region predominantly composed of rural and post-industrial geographies correlated with out-migration. Drawing on interviews with in-migrants from Germany, Romania and elsewhere in the UK, alongside long-term ‘stayers,’ we illustrate how three dimensions of quality of life – material, relational, and subjective – are mobilised in middle-class migrants’ placemaking amidst economic peripherality. We demonstrate: 1) how spatial inequalities can offer those whose class position is less secure the ability to afford aspirational lifestyles; 2) how middle-class migrants to left behind regions intentionally pass over career opportunities in favour of material affordability; and, 3) how a ‘middle-class gaze’ enables migrants to identify aspects of the region that they can transform into cultural capital, despite – and sometimes due to – its economic peripherality.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 15 Nov 2019
EventTurbulent Times: Rethinking Regions and Cities: RSA Winter Conference 2019 - London
Duration: 14 Nov 201915 Nov 2019


ConferenceTurbulent Times: Rethinking Regions and Cities
Abbreviated titleRSAWinter19
Period14 Nov 201915 Nov 2019


  • Wales
  • Migration
  • Middle-class
  • Left behind places
  • Territorial inequalities


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