During a two-year social research project, Bradford crime novelist and Bradford University lecturer M Y Alam talked to more than 150 people from across West Yorkshire about life in a diverse urban society.

The Invisible Village: Small World, Big Society the university’s Norcroft Centre, along with another book co-authored with Charles Husband about social cohesion and counter-terrorism.

The Invisible Village follows Alam’s earlier piece of extended social anthropology, Made In Bradford, published in 2006, which challenged media stereotypes of young Pakistani men.

He recorded and transcribed their views about their life and times in post-riot Bradford in 24 separate chronicles.

Alam explains his methodology for The Invisible Village, funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Association of West Yorkshire Authorities.

In the book’s introduction, he writes: “The interview processes were purposefully open, and encouraged participants to steer conversations towards their own biographies and interests, rather than follow a more rigid agenda set by the researchers.

“However, certain themes (most notably place, family, employment, crime and public services) appeared frequently and were thus subsequently pursued.

“For older members, there are of course recollections of a healthier, more vibrant and closer sense of community well-being, often set against contemporary perceptions of a society dominated by self-interest, consumerism and isolated living.

“This is more than nostalgia; progress is all well and good, but social change comes at a price and, depending where you stand on the social and economic ladder, impacts accordingly. For some, there continues to be a very real meaning and purpose beyond the self.”

Prime Minister David Cameron continues to promote the idea of the Big Society, which is really a form of Social Entrepreneurism – self-help through helping others – that has been around for a long time. Alam makes the same point.

“The call for us all to do more, to be better and become more involved in civic and community life, is heard regularly, and with increasing intensity.

“However, people, by and large, were already living and working in the big society before it was actually given a name – the majority of those interviewed already happen to be civil, neighbourly and active members of society.

“Many are engaged with their communities rather than dependent on the state, their lives are characterised by routines and cultures of mutual support which, directly, or otherwise, seek to achieve a greater social and community good.”

The loss of long-established industries – wool textiles in Bradford, coal-mining in Castleford – the effect of the credit crunch, disillusion with the political class of politicians and technocrats, the feeling of social and political disenfranchisement and insecurity about the future all shape our perceptions about society and our place within it.

But rather than a cause for despair, Alam finds there is still reason to hope.

“What is significant is that, despite seemingly unyielding adversities of whatever nature, there is a capacity for individuals and groups to demonstrate an acute resilience and to adapt, survive and thrive,” he writes.

The pieces in his book are noticeably shorter than those in Made In Bradford, but that does mean they are less effective.

A school support assistant for seven years deplores the Inclusion Policy, which allows badly-behaved children to stay in class and disrupt the day for others. A woman in full-time work has a part-time caring job, looking after an 82-year-old man. “I do it because I want to do it, and he is a caring old man,” she says, in spite of the demands made on her.

A Pole working in a meat factory observes the absence of English workers.

“English young people are too proud to do the job, they want to be given easier way, they’ve got benefits…They are not visitors, they are at home, but they are complaining that others are taking their job,” he says.

An Asian living in Brighouse says why he likes it, adding: “The communities in Dewsbury and Batley change every week – suddenly there’s a new face. Here, unless somebody dies, nobody moves in.”

The Invisible Village: Small World, Big Society, is published by Route, priced £8.99.