Migration and Homophily

A reader recently contacted me taking umbrage with the phrase ‘familial homophily’ which had slipped into to the piece about Anthroposophy in the Totnes area.  I amended the posting on the basis that, as I explained to him, I had always meant to post this extract before that one. Nearly all the posts are from an early draft of my thesis and I do my best to ensure that any academic concepts and language is understandable  by a wider audience. However, the odd word or phrase may slip through.

One of the underlying arguments that is emerging from my research is the fact that it is people migrating to the area who have been, to the greater extent, primarily responsible for the development and sustaining of alternative cultures in the area. There are many drivers of such migration, and obviously the activities of Dartington have been important in this respect. However, one more indirect migratory effect has been what is sometimes called ‘homophily’ – the desire to be amongst likeminded or similar people. This is a sociological concept and appears to be significant in the terms of this research. There are several different forms of homophily as explained in this extract. Obviously such migration into the Totnes / Dartington area has been going on for some time. Indeed it is the children of previous incomers who have sometimes been active in alternative businesses and projects. This muddies the distinction between incomers and locals, as does the fact that all places are, to a greater or lesser degree, created by migration. The below extract explains a bit more with some examples.

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Another driver of migration to the area was homophily, the desire to be near likeminded or similar people. Homophily is a sociological term which describes the observable tendency of the way in which individuals with similar characteristics tend to aggregate together in social networks. There are a number of drivers of homophily. Most relevant to this discussion are the notions of familial homophily and value homophily. A number of interviewees came to the area because they had family who had previously migrated to this area. An interesting example here is provided by the Canters. Vicky Canter came to the College of Arts and settled in the area marrying a tutor at the College. That bought her parents increasingly to the area where they established two Cranks shops (Dartmouth and Totnes) and a restaurant (Dartington). This obviously played a role in popularising wholefoods and organic produce (often called ‘compost grown’ in the 1970s). The Soil Association group which formed in the mid 1970s met at the Cranks restaurant and the Canters also got involved in the Steiner school in the early 1980s. They were also responsible for bringing Aksel Haahr and Jeanne Day to the area to provide Alexander Technique therapy for the students at the College. This illustrates the way in which personal connections contributed to the development of alternative cultures. Other people got drawn into Dartington who had arrived for homophilic reasons such as Guy Dauncey who arrived in the area because his girlfriend was at the College of Arts. He got involved in range of alterative projects and wrote the first public critique of Dartington in the Sherrack magazine and subsequently went on to develop projects within the Trust.

Another type of familial homophily that was important was generational. Some of the people who got involved in alternative activities in the 1970s were the children of previous incomers to the area who had either direct or tangential connections to Dartington. Many of these young people were sympathetic to the alternative ideas that were circulating at that time and involved in promoting them.  For example Ollie Bosence, who had attended the School and whose mother had worked there was one of the early organic pioneers in the area. Andy Langford, was the son of a state school teacher who had migrated to the area because of the establishment of the Totnes Comprehensive School but who was very much interested in what Dartington was trying to do. As well as founding Conker shoes, he became a significant instigator of alternative projects in the 1970s and 80s.


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