Second year · Sociology

DDD1: Area study

For centuries, Edinburgh was a small capital city based around the Old Town, with an overcrowded population, which led to a very close proximity between the poor and the wealthy. At the end of the 18th century, began the project of a New Town, with spacious and symmetrical streets, designed to attract the prosperous population of the Old Town and of the countryside. A good illustration of it is the Moray place, designed at the beginning of the 19th century by the Earl of Moray, and to this day considered as a masterpiece of city planning (The Secret History of our streets, 2014). The City Centre ward, which includes the majority of both the Old and New Town, is thus a good example of a prosperous area.

Until 1920, the port of Leith was a separate burgh and waterfront, supplying Edinburgh with goods from Europe and beyond, and welcoming immigrants (Irish and Italian in the 19th century, various refugee groups from the 20th century world wars). Even now, this area has a separate identity borne of a distinguished maritime heritage, and in 1920 the majority of the Leith population voted against the merger with the City of Edinburgh because, for centuries, Edinburgh had run the port in its own interests. In recent years, there has been a real effort from Edinburgh to integrate the Leith area, as illustrated by the fact that the MTV Europe Music Awards of 2003 took place in a venue in Leith. This area study will compare Leith and City Centre, particularly focusing on the general economic activity, and the political stance, in relation to the historical formation. In order to do this comparison, it is essential to understand the specific characteristics of the population living in the two wards.

Population City Centre Leith Local authority: Edinburgh Scotland
Total Population: 2013 22838 26 811 487500 5327700
Total Population – Children (%): 2013 7.20 13.75 15.27 17.11
Total Population – Working Age (%): 2013 82.20 74.82 68.22 63.08
Total Population – Pensionable Age (%): 2013 10.60 11.42 16.50 19.81

(Scottish Neighbourhood Statistics)

The data thus show that there are slightly more people living in Leith, which can be explained by the fact that City Centre is a busy business area and is situated at the heart of the capital. As a result housing prices are significantly higher, as we will see in more details later. Indeed, as in any capital city, many people commute and live outside the centre, in the suburbs. It is always interesting to consider the younger part of a population as a lot of activity builds around children’s upbringing and education, and regarding the children population, it is interesting to see that City Centre has a very low percentage compared to the other wards, the local authority and the country. It seems that there are fewer families living in the capital than in the rest of the country, as 17.11% of the total population is aged under 15 in Scotland, which is about 10 percentage points more than in City Centre, where only 7.20% of the population is aged under 15. This may be due to higher housing prices and costs of living.

Now, looking at the working age population, the data show again that City Centre is a business area, with 82.20% of the population defined as ‘working age’. It is however surprising to analyse the metadata which define the working age people as ‘males aged 16-64 and females aged 16-59’. This gender difference is explained by the pension state, which is 65 years old for mean and 60 for women. However, the Sex Discrimination Act and Human Rights Act give rights not to be discriminated against because of your gender, thus we can wonder what would be the pension age for a transsexual person. It is important to notice that women’s pension state age is scheduled to increase to 65 by 2018.

Finally, regarding the pensionable age population, that is to say women aged 60 and more, and men aged 65 and more, they seem to prefer living outside the capital. This phenomenon can be explained by the high cost of living, or the wish for a quieter life far from the bustle. This quick analysis of the population is important in order for us to understand that City Centre is very much a business, and working area, whereas Leith seems more like a family neighborhood. This will have an impact on both the analysis of the economic activity and the political inclination.

Economic Activity, Benefits and Tax Credits City Centre Leith Local authority: Edinburgh Scotland
% of total population who are income deprived: 2005 9 19 11 14
% of working age population who are employment deprived: 2008 7 14 9 12
Total Income Support claimants.: 2012Q04 290 615 8560 111180
% of population aged 16 to 24 Claiming Key Benefits: 2012Q04 2.6 12.1 7.8 12.7
% of population aged 25 to 49 Claiming Key Benefits: 2012Q04 8.3 14.0 11.0 15.4
% of population aged 50-64 claiming Key Benefits: 2012Q04 16.9 26.8 16.0 19.0

(Scottish Neighbourhood Statistics)

Economic sociology studies the relations between economic and non-economic aspects of social life, and how economy and society intersect (Abercrombie et al., 2006). The central place of economy in the understanding of society is the reason why we need to investigate the economic activity, the benefits and tax credits of the two wards. This table is more difficult to analyze, as the different focuses are not from the same year. The income deprived population in particular, is maybe outdated as the figure comes from ten years ago. Also, economic activity can be very technical, especially when looking at the details of the indicators. First of all, it is interesting to notice that the percentage of the population who is income and employment deprived is twice as high for Leith than for City Centre. Inequalities and deprivation can be explained at a structural rather than at an individual level, especially multiple deprivation that indicates that low income or unemployment may go together with poor housing, poor health and a difficult access to good education. Also, in both income and employment deprivation, City Centre is below the average of the local authority and the country, whereas Leith is above. Again, the employment deprivation is related to the working age population (which is gender unequal). However, looking at benefits claimants in 2012, there is a major gap between the two wards.


Another focus of this area study is the political stance, which is interesting because of the importance of the Scottish National Party (SNP). This nationalist and social-democratic party supports the independence of the country from the United Kingdom, and is the largest party in Scotland, and the third party of the UK (behind Labour and Conservative party) in terms of membership. Political sociology looks at four levels, namely international relations, the role of the state, the organization of movements and parties, and the participation of individual (Bottomore, 1979).  First we will have a look at the councilors in the two wards, then at the Scottish Independence Referendum results.

As the local authority website shows, in Leith, the councilors are three men: Chas Booth from the Scottish Green Group, Adam McVey from the SNP, and Gordon Munro from the Labour party. In City Centre, the councilors are two women, Karen Doran from the Labour group and Joanna Mowat from the Conservatives; and Alasdair Rankin from the SNP. The Conservative party is a Centre-right party that follows a liberal ideology, and has historically had upper and middle-class voters and supporters. However, we can identify here that the SNP has a strong presence in both wards which shows a certain nationalism. Anderson (2006) argues that a nation ‘is an imagined political community – and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign’ (p.6). This concept can explain, maybe better than the Marxist or liberal theory, the specific Scottish identity in relation to its membership to the United Kingdom. Thus it raises the question of national identity, citizenship, belonging, and the feeling of ‘Scottishness’ or ‘Britishness’ (Bond, 2006).

Looking at the Scottish Independence referendum and the European elections results, it seems difficult to compare Leith and City Centre as Scotland is organized around constituencies. Indeed, the two wards are parts of the Edinburgh Northern and Leith constituency in both the Scottish and UK parliament. The table below indicates that North and Leith is the constituency with the highest amount of votes counted, and the results are 40% for the independence and 60% against. It is interesting to relate these figures with the national level, where 44.7% were for and 55.3% were against.

(City of Edinburgh council)


Finally, looking at the recent dynamics of the two wards and how the neighbourhood is changing, we can relate it to the process of gentrification. Glass first introduced the concept in 1964 in her analysis of London: ‘One by one, many of the working class neighbourhoods of London have been invaded by the middle-classes—upper and lower. […] The original working-class occupiers are displaced and the whole social character of the district is changed’ (p.22). In his article on the impact of gentrification on local groups, Doucet (2009) uses Leith as a case study, and shows that the ward is in transition.  The process started in the 1980’s and has accelerated since the beginning of the 21st century. The industrial decline in the post-war period led to changes in the housing sector with poor and overcrowded buildings. Moreover, Leith had the reputation of being unsafe and a place for drug dealing and prostitution. From the 1970’s, the local authority decided to transform the port in order to develop the waterfront, and the working class moved to other peripheries. New buildings have been constructed for households with high income. These changes have contributed to create a new image of Leith, which is portrayed as a dynamic and attractive neighbourhood.

The Port of Leith has recently been the social heart of Edinburgh when, in November 2003, the city hosted the MTV Europe Music Awards. In his article on how cities use cultural event to make an image, Reid (2006) argues that the recent gentrification of the ward was not a success. Despite waterfront development and the finances invested, there are still poverty and deprivation. Moreover, regarding social interactions, there are local tensions within the community between the population in new-built houses and low-income residents.


To conclude, looking at some social inequalities and privileges in Edinburgh, and comparing City Centre and Leith highlights the fact that the history of the capital plays a crucial role. Through the economic and political lenses, we have demonstrated that social divisions are structural and intersect with each other. British sociologist Wendy Bottero (2005) argues that the unequal social relations occur because of the stratification process and the social hierarchies. Finally, the concept of ‘social distance’ (p.5) can be applied in the area study, as the two geographically close neighbourhoods are still different in terms of class, ethnic, occupational and age difference, and thus socially distant from one another.




Abercrombie, N., Hill, S. and Turner, B. (2006) The Penguin Dictionary of Sociology. Penguin Books.


Anderson, B. (2006) Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Verso.


BBC (2014) The Secret History of Our Streets – Moray Place, Edinburgh. Available at: (Accessed: 03/02/15).


Bond. R. (2006) ‘Belonging and Becoming: National Identity and Exclusion’ in Sociology Vol 40 n°4, pp. 609–626. Sage Publications.


Bottero, W. (2005) Stratification: social divisions and inequality. London: Routledge.


Bottomore, T. (1993) Political Sociology. Pluto Press.


City of Edinburgh council. Councillors by wards. Available at: (Accessed: 12/03/15).


Doucet, B. (2009) ‘Living through gentrification: subjective experiences of local, non-gentrifying residents in Leith, Edinburgh’ in Journal of Housing and the Built Environment. Vol 24 n° 3, pp. 299-315.


Glass, R. ‘Introduction: aspects of change’ in Brown-Saracino J. (2013) The Gentrification Debate: a Reader. Routledge.


Nenadic, S. (2011) The Rise of Edinburgh. BBC website. Available at: (Accessed: 03/02/15).


Reid, G. (2006) ‘The Politics of City Imaging: A Case Study of the MTV Europe Music Awards Edinburgh 03’ in Event Management. Vol 10 n°1, pp. 35-46.


Scottish Neighbourhood Statistics. Available at: (Accessed 03/02/15)


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