People from Somewhere vs People from Anywhere

Are you a Somewhere or an Anywhere?

Last years Brexit vote stunned many pundits and social commentators, who struggled to explain how it could have happened. But one of them, author David Goodhart has come up with an intriguing explanation for the deep divisions in British society.

It’s all about “people from Somewhere versus people from Anywhere.”

I think this fascinating idea helps make sense not only of Brexit, but the emergence of conservative nationalism in Europe and Australia, and the election of US President Donald Trump.

Let me explain. In his book The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics, David Goodhart says society can be broken into two large groups.

First, there’s the Somewheres.

These are people whose identity is shaped by a sense of place and attachment to a group. In Britain, they could be a Scottish farmer, a working-class Geordie, or a Cornish housewife. The equivalent in the US might be an Appalachian car mechanic or Oklahoman farmer or Alabaman home-schooler.

They come from somewhere. They feel a deep attachment to their community, to a likeminded cohort, with a strong sense of where they’re from, sometimes with roots going back generations.

According to Goodhart, Somewheres have an ascribed identity. That is, an identity ascribed by the community and the place to which they belong. As a result, they value familiarity, security, and group attachments.

Goodhart says this group is less likely to be a college or university graduate. He estimates in total the Somewheres comprise around 50% of the British population.

Then, there’s the Anywheres.

Anywheres’ identity and self-worth is not tied to place, but rather to their achievements and position. While the Somewheres have an ascribed identity, the Anywheres have an achieved identity. Their values are more associated with their life experience than where they grew up. As a result, they tend to value freedom, openness, social diversity.

After all, if you have an achieved identity, you can fit anywhere. If you have an ascribed identity you only fit somewhere in particular.

Goodhart explains that people who grow up in the suburbs of large cities tend to be Anywheres, but even those kids who grew up in small towns and the country as Somewheres convert into Anywheres when they study at university.

Because residential colleges at universities uproot people from their home towns and sever their attachment to place, graduates are much more likely to become Anywheres. They replace their ascribed identities with the portable identities of the other Anywheres they’re studying with.

Add to that the fact that many British graduates often live and work in Europe for a time after university and it’s highly likely that they are well and truly Anywheres by their mid-20s.

“Anywheres are suspicious of group attachments—they don’t feel them themselves,” says Goodhart who numbers this group at around 25% of the British population.

It’s not simple enough to say these two groups are divided along strictly geographic lines. There are Somewheres in the big cities (working-class neighborhoods, for instance) and Anywheres in rural areas (upper-class professionals living in the country). The demarcation is based on where and how you construct your identity – either prescribed or achieved  – not just where you live.

You’ve probably figured out by now that Goodhart believes those who voted for Britain to leave the EU were the Somewheres who feel threatened by changes to immigration policy and the job market. Many trades and jobs in manufacturing and farming are being lost. If your ascribed identity is as a coal miner from Yorkshire and there’s no more coal mining in Yorkshire you’re going to feel incredibly unsettled.

It’s easier to think the problem is globalization and the influx of unskilled labor taking your jobs rather than where you get your values and identity from.

Goodhart’s ideas can explain why so many Americans rallied around Donald Trump in 2016. Rather than being “Deplorables,” as Hillary Clinton called them, they’re Somewheres undergoing a traumatic loss of identity.

In other words, it’s existential, not just economic.

There have been some criticisms of Goodhart’s analysis. And like any relatively simple explanation for a complex reality all sorts of factors can be overlooked. But that being said, I find it interesting that having a deep connection to place and a strong affiliation with a cohort is likely to make you more fearful, conservative and xenophobic.

Maybe it’s because I’m basically an Anywhere yearning to be a Somewhere that I have idealized those whose identity is tied to a place and strong group attachments.

I thought the more rooted in place you were the healthier you’d be. Obviously, so did the makers of TV shows like Northern Exposure and The Gilmore Girls. And so do many people writing about place-based mission these days. There seems to be a growing sense among church leaders and church planters that rooting deeply in neighborhood, belonging somewhere, is important for mission. But how possible is that really, if the church leaders and planters in question are Anywheres (as they’re likely to be if they’re seminary grads)?

Are we sending college grads with an achieved identity, many of whom have travelled widely and have a very portable sense of self, to try to work alongside Somewheres who are deeply suspicious of outsiders and less likely to share the church leaders’ values on immigration and social justice?

Is there a third category?

Tom Petty sang, “You belong among the wildflowers / You belong somewhere you feel free,” and while I don’t want to make a habit of living my life according to Tom Petty, he might be onto something. Is it possible to finesse this whole Somewhere/Anywhere thing in such a way that, while drawing on a sense of belonging to place and a people group, we can also be free enough to know the world is bigger than where we’re from?

Can we be both wild and rooted at the same time. Like those wildflowers.

Let me go further. Could it be true that you’ve got to belong somewhere in order to feel free?

See, I’m not that keen on just being an Anywhere. Being a so-called citizen of the world, pretending you’re an expert on everything, beholden to hardly anyone, belonging everywhere and nowhere… it makes me shudder. They sound like the liberal urban elite Trump voters were always crowing about.

But being a Somewhere, overvaluing familiarity and security, fearing the new and the outsider? No thanks.

What if we found another way to construe our identities? What if our identities were found in Christ, shaped by God’s love, inspired by God’s example in Jesus? What if I was truly free to accept others because I know I’m accepted by Christ?

I really do believe that Christians should belong somewhere in a way that sets them free. Like the wildflowers. Christians should be good belongers. We should value place, be great neighbors, anchored in community, contributing to the common good in practical, contextual ways. But lest that descend into parochialism and small-mindedness or worse, xenophobia and anxiety, we must be good citizens of the planet, aware of global issues and the challenges of life in other places.

We’re meant to be Somewheres and Anywheres. Like wildflowers. Because it’s in belonging somewhere that we feel free.

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The views expressed are my own and do not necessarily represent the official views of Morling College or its affiliates and partners.

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4 thoughts on “People from Somewhere vs People from Anywhere

  1. Exactly! I’d go further to say a free people [a form of democracy & economic opportunity] to survive needs the shared sense of self (a shared value system, a shared story – its value greater than the story for itctells us who are as to what we value) but… we as God’s people must from a remembering who we are also validate & celebrate the differences of culture & ethnicity. How boring with out the spices of culture! This includes getting a bigger table not higher walls. It includes being true to the story & its (His) values as disciples for the lost, the last & the least.

  2. Hi Mike,

    Very interesting hypothesis…

    It’s really a discussion that’s assumes an underlying global perspective / globalisation, which is generally only applicable for those with access to mobility (across geographic and economic terrain) – perhaps that explains the “Somewheres” tendency to be bound to place? Second, I wonder whether the hypothesis stands when the option of mobility is completely removed (at least on the scale we’ve become accustomed to in a “wealthy global society”).

    Third, it seems to assume that globalisation is “good” (but not having read the work I can’t say…?). Whilst it is clearly a fact of modern life, there seems to have been limited study of “globalisations” ability to handle problems on a global scale. Some would make the argument that “Somewheres” actually have a greater skill set to deal with global problems (on a local scale) than “Anywhere’s”.

    I’ve always been impacted by Ellul’s discussion of technique and it’s affect on our understanding of the natural environment, along with Wendell Berry and his observation that humans can never truly understand global concerns, but only local ones. Berry would submit that all good economies and work are necessarily carried out from a place of affection for a specific time and place.

    A discussion on whether / how Ellul’s & Berry’s ideas interact with Goodhart’s hypothesis would be a very interesting study indeed. There seems to me to be an immediate conflict between the two but perhaps that would not be so with further investigation…

  3. Highly ‘local’ cultures tend to be just that, in my experience – local. Their horizons don’t extend that far – to known individuals and places, to known landscapes, to known statuses and identities. As such, they are also often less rich on a per capita basis than the more cosmopolitan global cities. Their existence is far more fragile, and big change often requires immense adjustment. I don’t want to beat the poverty horse – it’s been overdone – but for people who don’t have a lot of money to throw around, relationships are very important, as is group belonging, if you have it. Changes to those things are threats to survival and freedom, of your own life and those you care about – and mass immigration to your community would definitely be such a threat, particularly by rich foreigners or large numbers of poorer ones. You’d lose your land and access to resources. Not good. Possibly fatal.

    It seems to me that only people with lots of money (on a global scale) and access to resources and opportunities from many quarters could possibly be “tolerant” in the sense that modern, urban and suburban liberals are. Their world seems strange, isolated and rootless to me. They literally don’t seem to know where they stand. I wonder: how do they connect to anything or anyone? They don’t seem to know anyone; their attachments appear temporary and made for reasons of convenience and status enhancement. It’s so odd to me. That sort of behavior would get you ostracized and possibly killed around here. It’s too destructive of community life.

    Finally, I’d like to say something: to me, highly liberal “anywheres” do not seem so liberal and committed to “social justice” when it actually materially affects them. Witness Silicon Valley’s complete and utter resistance (and indifference) to attempts to enforce “diversity” at executive and high programming levels. Let large numbers of cheap Indian (they’re English-speaking) lawyers emigrate to the USA and take many jobs from US born lawyers. You’d see some pushback.

  4. “. . . being a Somewhere, overvaluing familiarity and security, fearing the new and the outsider? No thanks”

    This statement is the essence of the problem between Somewheres and Anywheres. Anywheres have the option of saying “no thanks” to the things you don’t value. Since you don’t value them, you can go to a city, be anonymous, and live a rootless Anywhere sort of life with no permanent attachments; no one will stop you or care to. But the Somewheres are clearly being told that the things they value must be taken away from them, because Anywheres don’t value them. The familiarity and security we value must be destroyed, because everything must be the same everywhere – that is, the way Anywheres want it.

    Things used to work quite well when cities and rural places maintained their differences. In rural places and small towns, change occurs but it is slow and organic – not constant, shocking and ruinous. People who desire a slow and relatively unchanging way of life stay in the places where they grew up; people who want constant change and excitement grow up and resettle in a city. Both types of people are satisfied. But it seems that Anywheres cannot leave others alone until they comply. This attitude is so ingrained that they simply can’t be made to see it as a form of group bullying (which it is).

    Another point I disagree with here is that Somewheres derive their identities from a place. Having a deep and loving connection with a place and wishing to preserve what one loves is not the same as deriving your identity from that place. My identity is derived from many things, of which the places I love are a part, as well as the books I’ve read, the subjects I’ve studied, the people I’ve known, the ideas I’ve entertained, and my own choices as to what becomes part of me and what I discard. The assumption that my love of a place is all that I am is simply insulting! More than ever before, we have the ability to know and learn about a world of things outside our immediate experience. Assuming that Somewheres ignorantly fail to take advantage of these opportunities is, again, insulting.

    “. . . having a deep connection to place and a strong affiliation with a cohort is likely to make you more fearful, conservative and xenophobic.”

    I would instead say that deep attachment and love for any place or group of people renders a threat to their survival a matter of the utmost concern. If you know a way to love a place, for instance, and feel a kind of bland indifference as to the fate of that place, if you are able to comfortably contemplate its immediate alteration beyond recognition, then I can only say that you have a vastly different definition of “love” from my own. The fearfulness, conservatism and xenophobia that you complain of, to the extent they exist at all, do so only as a result of the intense pressure placed upon people to surrender what they value most. I’m often at a loss to know how to make an Anywhere feel this same sense of threat, to enable them to understand what they are doing to people who want to live in a different way. If they were under immediate threat of having their cell phones permanently taken away, and their social media accounts removed, would they then understand how threatened people feel by having everything they have known and loved transformed or destroyed? If they had to give up travel and moving from place to place, and were required to choose a place and spend the rest of their life in it, would they then understand? I don’t know what it would take to motivate Anywheres to live their lives and let others do the same, but thus far I see no awareness of or responsibility taken for their destruction of valued ways of life that have supported and sustained human beings for millennia.

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