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Alpha Territory is a term used by commercial sociologists to describe the neighbourhoods and lifestyles of Britain’s, and in particular London’s, super-rich. It is also the title of an ESRC-funded research programme which examines the disruptive impact of global wealth both on the neighbourhoods which were previously the preserve of traditional elites and also on the social practices which were once effective in conferring distinction on this group. The study investigates in detail the mechanisms that have evolved which have enabled accumulators of raw wealth to acquire the tastes and lifestyles that ensure their social acceptance by others who enjoy similar financial good fortune.
As a project participant I had initially supposed that the practices that we were investigating represented an entirely new set of phenomena. Detailed analysis of historical and archival material for an elite London suburb, and the arguments presented in Piketty’s Capital, have led me to challenge this assumption. In this presentation I use the Highgate Village case study area to consider the respects which these new elites appear to be recreating social practices which were common in the suburb before 1914 and the respects in which we are witnessing the emergence of distinctly new phenomena.
Professor Richard Webber is the originator of the Mosaic and Acorn geodemographic classification systems, and is currently Visiting Professor in Geography at King’s College London.