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The Predictive Postcode

The Predictive Postcode
The Geodemographic Classification of British Society

April 2018 | 320 pages | SAGE Publications Ltd

Geodemographic classification systems are one of the exemplar technologies of “commercial sociology”. This book is a detailed, empirical investigation into the question of whether academic social research can compete with the commercial sector, with its new technologies and big data, in order to classify, profile, and understand us.

Richard Webber, the originator and developer of widely used commercial geodemographic classifications such as Acorn and Mosaic, and Roger Burrows, a critical interdisciplinary social scientist, have come together to produce a joint inquiry that aims to compare and contrast both a geodemographic vision of contemporary British society, and one produced by the academic social sciences.

Students and researchers interested in social change in British society will find much to interest them. The book explores questions of population profiling, classifying, and their consequences in the brave new world of “big data”.

Part I: Neighbourhood Classification and the Analysis of Social Behaviour
Chapter 1: Neighbourhoods and their Classification
Chapter 2: The Precursors to Geodemographic Classification
Chapter 3: The Emergence of Contemporary Geodemographics
Chapter 4: The Wider Adoption of 'Commercial Sociology'
Chapter 5: Who Do They Think You Are? Capturing the Changing Face of British Society
Part II: A Geodemographic Account of Social Change
Chapter 6: The Liberal Metropolitan Elite: 'Citizens of Nowhere'?
Chapter 7: Municipal Overspill Estates: Educational Under-Achievement among the 'Left Behinds'?
Chapter 8: Minority Communities: Melting Pots or Parallel Lives?
Chapter 9: The British Countryside: Playgrounds for the Middle Classes?
Chapter 10: Coastal Communities: All Victims of Low-Cost Airline Travel?
Part III: Coda
Chapter 11: A Geodemographic Travelogue
Chapter 12: Geodemographics in the Future

It’s not your genetic code, bank account, ethnicity or social class designation that best reveals your secrets, but your zip- or post-code. Richard Webber and Roger Burrows uncover how your micro-geography reveals who you are in spatially divided nations.

Danny Dorling
Halford Mackinder Professor of Geography, University of Oxford

In the last two decades, geodemographic segmentations have transformed the way political parties, in the UK and around the world, understand the electorate and how they target and segment their the channels, content and framing of their voter contact and messaging, from doorstep canvassing through leaflets and direct mail to Facebook.  This book explores the fascinating detail of the spatial structure of our society and social change, and why the fine-grained scale of those patterns is so important to everyone seeking to win elections today.

Tim Waters
Head of Contact Creator, Targeting and Analysis, The Labour Party

The book is remarkable in its ability to integrate insights from different spheres of knowledge: academic theory with commercial practice; marketing with geography and sociology; statistical methods with fresh insights into everyday behaviour.  If you’re not already familiar with geodemographics this book will change the way you think about, understand and connect with your fellow citizens.

Jan Kestle
President and CEO, Environics Analytics, Toronto, Canada

Drawing on examples from across the social sciences, such as school catchment areas, cities and neighbourhoods, crime and voting patterns, the book is full of wonderful stories about how and why the intersection between people and places matters so much in understanding contemporary societies.


The Predictive Postcode is both a political and methodological exegesis. At its heart, the authors throw a powerful punch at traditional statistical analysis. By revealing how qualitative and quantitative classifications are now routinely used, reinforced and morphed by the socio-technical infrastructures that are now part and parcel of our digital everyday lives, Webber and Burrows pave the way for an alternative kind of social science.


This is a beautifully accessible book, relevant to anyone interested in finding new ways of resisting and intervening the deeply unjust socio-cultural divisions that now mark so many societies worldwide.

Emma Uprichard
Reader, Centre for Interdisciplinary Methodologies, University of Warwick

We’ve all heard the saying, ‘you are what you eat’, but most of us are incognisant of the ‘you are where you live’ adage which has come to prominence in contemporary marketing practices. In this superb new book by Richard Webber and Roger Burrows, sociological and geodemographic frameworks are brought together to demonstrate how physical address, and geolocative data, come to define a person’s life chances and trajectory in important, if unseen, ways. The innovative approach developed by the authors has resonance for how social research and public policy is enacted, but it also attests the ways in which political and economic power progressively flows through the material environment and its virtual overlay. This wonderfully written and thought-provoking text is sure to become a classic in the urban studies and marketing fields, but also in public and policy debates about data-driven social stratification.

Gavin J. D. Smith
Deputy Head, School of Sociology, Australian National University

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