On the Wrong Side of the Track?
East London and the Post Olympics
As we approach the Rio Games, which has many echoes of London 2012, not least in its extravagant claims to be ‘remaking the nation’ at a time when its economy is in crisis, Phil Cohen’s book On the Wrong Side of the Track?: East London and the Post Olympics offers some useful ways of evaluating this latest iteration of the Olympic Dream.
A counter-narrative about the impact of the Olympics on the East End, and how London was presented to the rest of the world during the games. On the Wrong Side of the Track draws on insights from the human sciences to challenge the arguments of Olympophiles for whom the Games can do no wrong, as well as Olympophobes for whom they can do no right. It uses 2012 as a lens through which to examine underlying trends in contemporary culture. Part one explores the changing social and physical landscape of East London from the inside – including voices from East London communities and Olympic Park workers – and from the outside – in the imagination of artists, social commentators and reformers who made the area into an object of public fascination and concern. Part two examines the strategies that were used to present an ‘Olympian’ vision of London to the world; it focuses on the rhetoric and reality of regeneration and the cultural politics of staging the event. The book includes a photo essay on the Olympic site, original photographs; artworks by Aldo Katayanagi, Jake Humphrey, and Jock McFadyen; and maps by William Dant and John Wallet. The cover is a photomontage by Peter Kennard and Tarek Salhany.
Part One: East London in transition: an everyday story of ‘race’, class and imagined community
1. London Goes East: the gothic imagination and the capital’s ‘other scene’
2. Island Stories: dreams and nightmares in a Docklands community
3. From Canary Wharf to Stratford via Thurrock and Southend: London’s eastwards turn and the making of Thames Gateway
Part Two: The 2012 Olympics: between the artificial paradise and the beautifying lie
4. London Calling 2012: notes on the haunting of an Olympic Story
5. In the Zone: labourhoods and bodyscapes @ the Games
6. ‘No shit, please, we’re British’: kitsch, ‘high’ culture and carnival capitalism in the making of an Olympic spectacle
7. Signs Taken For Wonders: the politics and poetics of staging a grand project
8. London Babylon 0, New Jerusalem 0: a Para-Olympic analysis of the 2012 ceremonies
9. Speaking out of place: East Londoners talk the Olympics
10. East 20: Towards a good enough legacy
“For many years Phil Cohen and his colleagues have been taking the pulse of East London as it experiences dramatic economic and social changes, the most recent being the impact of the cargo cult known as the 2012 Olympics. Whatever one’s opinion of the success or failure of the Olympic dream, this study will prove invaluable to all other commentators on the event and its legacy, now and in the future.”
“From its delirious counter-factual opening, through a cavalcade of arguing and asserting voices, a necessary, intelligent, and balanced response to a moment of local and national hallucination is achieved. If the book works, the Olympic madness can serve a useful purpose: in making us look harder at ourselves and the place where we have chosen to live.”
“On the Wrong Side of the Track? is a vibrant social geography of East London that ripples with vivid political history, a grounded account that insists we explode dichotomous either-or thinking. Both a principled critique of Olympics-induced urbanism and a celebration of working-class creativity, this book charts a path through the thick haze of the Olympic legacy-speak fog machine. It includes the voices of working people who are all too often shunted to the margins of political discourse during a host- city’s extended Olympic moment. Part poetry, part politics of place this work deftly illuminates the machinations of gentrification, the shiny packaging of Olympic frippery, and the merits of class-based fightback. A fine-grained examination of the subtle give-and-take between Games honchos who parachute into the Olympic city and the denizens who already live there, this book shows that in the back-and-forth extraction battle, sometimes, against the odds, locals can win.”
Jules Boykoff, author of Power Games: A Political History of the Olympics (Verso 2016), Professor of Political Science at Pacific University in Oregon, USA
‘Written since the Games ended, Phil Cohen’s On The Wrong Side of the Track? locates legacy claims firmly in the social and geographical context of East London. This was where the regeneration was supposed to take place, acting as a leveller between the city’s tourist and retail mecca, the West End, and the depressed East End. Beautifully written, with an uncanny eye for cultural detail Phil’s book is a powerful response to the overblown myths and broken promises of the Olympian legacy agenda’.
- Mark Perryman
‘Of the many books, reports and articles that have been and will be written about the 2012 Olympics, it is unlikely that any author will match Phil Cohen’s passion for and knowledge of East London.. the strength of the book lies is in Cohen’s determination to hear the voices of people going to school, working in and living around the Olympic Park and to listen attentively to their suspicions, fears and aspirations without shoe-horning them into a simple narrative of disenfranchisement and despondency.’
- European Journal of Communication Studies
‘Cohen is most impressive in analyzing the spectacle of the Olympics/ Paralympics, and in particular in decoding Danny Boyle’s ‘Isle of Wonders’ opening ceremony. He describes the gulf between the classical Olympic ideals and the commercialism of modern sport; the irony that the rise and veneration of elite athletes has been accompanied by a decline of popular sporting participation; and, very importantly, he recognizes that sport has become a proxy for politics, a ‘simulacrum of the plebiscitary forms of direct democracy’ dissimulating active participation in the public realm.’
- George Morgan, Space and Society
‘Cohen’s flair for social observation, coupled with extensive personal insight derived from longstanding involvement in the area have allowed him to produce a memorable book that places issues of Olympism and legacy in a truly rounded perspective.The book is a major contribution that may be profitably read by anyone interested in where the Olympic project is ultimately headed.’
- John Gold, Sport and History
‘Phil Cohen’s masterly book is anchored in an enormous body of literature that ranges from architecture, history and sociology to economics, planning and poetry. It embraces a wide range of methodologies, including many interviews with local residents and with workers who created the infrastructure and buildings of the Olympic site. It is enriched theoretically by its author’s long experience of and very broad take on ‘cultural studies’. Some three dozen, full-colour illustrations from local photographers and artists are included, and three visual essays are posted on Cohen’s website to supplement the images in his book. Appearing in the spring of 2013, both author and publisher worked with remarkable speed to produce this impressive – and well-priced – book that deserves to reach and be appreciated by a very wide readership.’
- Hugh Clout, Cercles