Enfances de classe. De l’inĂ©galitĂ© parmi les enfants.

Lahire B. (dir.), 2019, Enfances de classe. De l’inĂ©galitĂ© parmi les enfants, Paris, Seuil, 1232p.

(N.B. Ce compte-rendu a Ă©tĂ© publiĂ© par la revue Cybergeo, European Journal of Geography. La version blog ci-dessous inclut, en plus, une discussion de l’ouvrage en lien avec mon projet sur les inĂ©galitĂ©s urbaines, ainsi que le document compagnon contenant les citations que j’ai considĂ©rĂ©es importantes.)

La premiĂšre chose qui marque dans ce livre, c’est  probablement son poids! Avec 1232 pages, l’ouvrage dĂ©passe mĂȘme le record du nombre de pages pour un livre grand public consacrĂ© aux inĂ©galitĂ©s dĂ©tenu par Thomas Piketty. Toutefois, la lecture (et la revue) n’en sont pas dĂ©mesurĂ©ment longues, notamment car les deux tiers environ de l’ouvrage sont consacrĂ©s Ă  18 portraits d’enfants, qui prĂ©sentent leur biographie familiale, leur environnement quotidien ainsi que les descriptions et opinions de leurs parents, enseignants et proches sur diffĂ©rents thĂšmes relatifs Ă  leur socialisation (la lecture, le sport, les jeux, l’alimentation, l’autoritĂ©, etc.). C’est d’ailleurs l’aspect que j’ai trouvĂ© le plus intĂ©ressant dans cet ouvrage quant Ă  sa forme : contrairement Ă  beaucoup de recueils de rĂ©sultats consĂ©cutifs Ă  une enquĂȘte en sciences sociales menĂ©e par une Ă©quipe de chercheurs sur plusieurs annĂ©es, ce livre fournit Ă  la fois le contexte de la recherche, sa mĂ©thodologie, ses rĂ©sultats, mais aussi le matĂ©riau de l’enquĂȘte lui-mĂȘme, synthĂ©tisĂ© en monographies de 30 Ă  40 pages chacune. Les chapitres d’analyse concluant l’ouvrage en sont d’autant plus percutants que le lecteur ou la lectrice a dĂ©jĂ  pu gĂ©nĂ©raliser certaines conclusions lui ou elle-mĂȘme en lisant la sĂ©rie de monographies, dont la prĂ©sentation suit une trame plus ou moins standard, abordant tour Ă  tour les diffĂ©rentes questions de la socialisation de l’enfant, agrĂ©mentĂ©e d’extraits d’entretien.

L’ambition de l’ouvrage est annoncĂ©e par Bernard Lahire dĂšs la page 13 : il s’agit de montrer “la plus extrĂȘme pauvretĂ© comme la plus grande richesse et permet[tre] de faire sentir, autant que de faire comprendre, que ces enfants, qui sont tous en grande section Ă  l’école maternelle, au mĂȘme moment, dans la mĂȘme sociĂ©tĂ©, ne vivent pas du tout les mĂȘmes rĂ©alitĂ©s. Saisir les inĂ©galitĂ©s dĂšs l’enfance est une maniĂšre d’apprĂ©hender l’enfance des inĂ©galitĂ©s, au sens de leur genĂšse dans la fabrication sociale des individus ». Contrairement aux enquĂȘtes quantitatives menĂ©es sur un Ă©chantillon trĂšs large d’enfants (l’enquĂȘte ELFE de l’Ined par exemple compte plus de 18000 individus en 2011), le parti-pris de l’Ă©quipe de sociologues rĂ©unis autour de B. Lahire est de sĂ©lectionner un nombre rĂ©duit d’enfants d’une mĂȘme cohorte (35 en l’occurrence), et d’analyser le plus finement possible la façon dont leur inscription sociale, familiale et scolaire influence leur vie au quotidien, de la maniĂšre la plus concrĂšte possible. Ainsi, les enquĂȘteurs ont demandĂ© aux familles combien de livres possĂ©dait l’enfant, quelles Ă©taient ses habitudes vis-Ă -vis des Ă©crans, s’il ou elle recevait ou non de l’argent de poche et selon quelles modalitĂ©s, etc. En lien avec la visĂ©e politique qui traverse l’introduction et surtout la conclusion de l’ouvrage, “la variĂ©tĂ©, la richesse et la densitĂ© des informations produites sur chaque cas permettent d’incarner la rĂ©alitĂ© de l’ordre inĂ©gal des choses et de rendre plus difficile le dĂ©tournement du regard ou l’indiffĂ©rence. » (Lahire, p.15).


“Enfances de classe” se compose donc de trois parties. La premiĂšre (“Etudier les inĂ©galitĂ©s Ă  l’échelle des enfants”) est entiĂšrement rĂ©digĂ©e par B. Lahire. Elle dresse tout d’abord le contexte de l’Ă©tude – Ă  savoir les travaux et dĂ©bats scientifiques existant sur l’identification des inĂ©galitĂ©s entre enfants et leur significativitĂ© -, son importance en raison du poids des inĂ©galitĂ©s et enfin sa mĂ©thodologie. La deuxiĂšme partie consiste en 18 Ă©tudes de cas, signĂ©es chaque fois du ou des enquĂȘteurs impliquĂ©s. La derniĂšre partie (“Les inĂ©galitĂ©s dans tous leurs Ă©tats”) prĂ©sente la synthĂšse des rĂ©sultats issus des diffĂ©rents cas et leur gĂ©nĂ©ralisation selon une dizaine de dimensions. Les diffĂ©rents chapitres sont signĂ©s par diffĂ©rents groupes de chercheurs, tandis que la conclusion gĂ©nĂ©rale revient Ă  B. Lahire.

Le premier chapitre (“Une enfance socialisĂ©e”) de la partie introductive correspond Ă  la posture thĂ©orique et Ă©pistĂ©mologique de l’ouvrage. L’auteur situe explicitement l’ouvrage dans le champ des Ă©tudes de socialisation, en opposition aux childhood studies. Il critique notamment l’importance donnĂ©e par ce courant Ă  l’agency (i.e. la capacitĂ© de choix de l’enfant dans le dĂ©roulĂ© de son dĂ©veloppement et de son Ă©ducation) en raison du poids des normes sociales et de la socialisation familiale dans le type de choix offerts Ă  l’enfant et leur existence mĂȘme. Il renvoie aussi l’action des pairs Ă  un effet de la position des familles dans l’espace social (et gĂ©ographique) plutĂŽt qu’Ă  un facteur indĂ©pendant de l’Ă©volution sociale et scolaire de l’enfant: « Le capital Ă©conomique et culturel des parents (et notamment le volume et la nature du capital scolaire qu’ils possĂšdent) ont des effets sur le type de parcours scolaire rĂ©alisĂ© par l’enfant, sur le type de quartier habitĂ©, le type d’école frĂ©quentĂ©e et, du mĂȘme coup, le type d’amis que les enfants peuvent se faire, une grande partie des pairs potentiels se recrutant dans le voisinage immĂ©diat et parmi les camarades de classe. [
] Les enfants ne sont pas passifs, mais ils sont particuliĂšrement dĂ©pendants des adultes avec qui ils sont liĂ©s et qui structurent leurs champs d’actions et de rĂ©actions depuis leur naissance » (p.23). L’importance primordiale de la famille dans la socialisation prĂ©coce de l’enfant est ce qui fonde les prĂ©mices de cette enquĂȘte menĂ©e sur des enfants suffisamment ĂągĂ©s pour pouvoir s’exprimer par le langage et frĂ©quenter l’Ă©cole depuis plusieurs annĂ©es, mais suffisamment jeunes pour ĂȘtre encore principalement dĂ©pendants de leur famille en termes de ressources, d’habitudes et de dispositions. Le programme scientifique de l’enquĂȘte est donc d’identifier les multiples ressorts concrets par lesquels des enfants de mĂȘme Ăąge et scolarisĂ©s au mĂȘme niveau Ă  l’Ă©cole maternelle dans un mĂȘme pays prĂ©sentent des comportements et des caractĂ©ristiques aussi diverses, en analysant dans chaque famille enquĂȘtĂ©e comment “elle dĂ©termine l’environnement social de l’enfant par le choix du mode de garde et du lieu de rĂ©sidence ; elle exerce un contrĂŽle plus ou moins Ă©troit en matiĂšre de ‘frĂ©quentations’ [
], de choix de l’école [
] elle joue un rĂŽle de filtre par rapport aux usages des programmes tĂ©lĂ©visĂ©s, des imprimĂ©s lus ou des jouets achetĂ©s, par rapport aussi aux diffĂ©rents types d’activitĂ©s culturelles ou sportives pratiquĂ©es par les enfants ; elle effectue, enfin, plus gĂ©nĂ©ralement, un travail, insensible mais permanent, d’interprĂ©tation et de jugement sur tous les domaines de la vie sociale » (p.31-3).

Dans “Le poids des inĂ©galitĂ©s”, l’auteur donne sa dĂ©finition des inĂ©galitĂ©s et rĂ©affirme sa posture critique. Il distingue ainsi les inĂ©galitĂ©s des diffĂ©rences sociales par la diffĂ©rence de valeur et de dĂ©sirabilitĂ© entre les diffĂ©rents Ă©tats et ressources des individus : “Etre riche, instruit et en bonne santĂ© n’est pas une option qu’on aurait Ă  choisir parmi d’autres possibles. C’est bien parce que la richesse est plus enviable que la pauvretĂ©, que l’instruction et les savoirs sont mieux considĂ©rĂ©s que l’absence d’instruction et l’ignorance, et que la bonne santĂ© est prĂ©fĂ©rable Ă  la mauvaise santĂ© qu’il n’est pas seulement question de diffĂ©rences sociales entre riches et pauvres, instruits et non-instruits, personnes en bonne santĂ© ou personnes souffrantes ou diminuĂ©es, mais bien d’inĂ©galitĂ©s » (p.39). Le devoir du sociologue (critique) est donc, selon lui, de donner Ă  voir les asymĂ©tries prĂ©sentes au sein de la sociĂ©tĂ© Ă  un moment donnĂ©, ainsi que les rapports de domination par lesquels les diffĂ©rences sont transformĂ©es en inĂ©galitĂ©s et les inĂ©galitĂ©s reproduites au cours du temps et des gĂ©nĂ©rations. Ce programme fait donc la diffĂ©rence entre inĂ©galitĂ©s vĂ©cues et reprĂ©sentations subjectives en interrogeant les conditions d’accĂšs et les usages sociaux d’un grand nombre de biens matĂ©riels et symboliques valorisĂ©s par une sociĂ©tĂ© donnĂ©e (par exemple l’instruction, la santĂ©, l’espace, le confort, le leadership, le temps, la culture, etc.).

Dans le chapitre consacrĂ© au “dispositif de recherche inĂ©dit”, l’auteur rĂ©affirme le parti-pris original d’aborder les inĂ©galitĂ©s par l’Ă©tude des « conditions et modalitĂ©s concrĂštes de la socialisation, envisagĂ©es Ă  l’échelle des cas individuels et dans leurs effets conjuguĂ©s » (p. 54). En l’occurrence, 35 enfants ont Ă©tĂ© enquĂȘtĂ©s, Ă  raison de trois entretiens par famille, plus un entretien avec l’enseignante ou l’enseignant, un entretien avec un proche de l’enfant, une journĂ©e d’observation en classe et quatre exercices langagiers. Les familles ont Ă©tĂ© “recrutĂ©es” Ă  partir des rĂ©seaux personnels et professionnels des chercheurs, en veillant Ă  tenir compte du niveau et de la composition du capital culturel et Ă©conomique des parents, de leur situation professionnelle et de leur capital scolaire. PlutĂŽt que d’Ă©chantillonner les familles de façon Ă  reproduire la composition exacte de la sociĂ©tĂ© française (dans laquelle les classes populaires et moyennes sont plus nombreuses que les classes supĂ©rieures), le choix a Ă©tĂ© fait de reprĂ©senter ces trois catĂ©gories Ă  part Ă©gale, en explorant plutĂŽt les diffĂ©rences entre “fractions de classes”. « L’enquĂȘte devait permettre d’objectiver deux grands types de ‘ressources’ inĂ©galement rĂ©parties parmi les familles : d’une part, des ressources socialement objectivĂ©es (niveau de revenu, niveaux de diplĂŽmes, carriĂšres et positions professionnelles, types de logements, rĂ©sidences secondaires, recours Ă  des femmes de mĂ©nages ou des domestiques, etc.) et, d’autre part, des ressources incorporĂ©es (dispositions et compĂ©tences), qui engendrent des effets en matiĂšre de types d’interactions avec l’enfant, de pratiques adultes qui font exemple pour les enfants, d’organisation de la vie familiale, de choix de pratiques ou d’activitĂ©s pour les enfants, etc. Les ressources incorporĂ©es des enfants ont Ă©tĂ© saisies Ă  travers les multiples descriptions et jugements de leurs comportements et attitudes de la part des adultes (parents, enseignant et autre adulte de rĂ©fĂ©rence)  » (p.65).

Dans la seconde partie, on trouve ainsi dix-huit des trente-cinq portraits d’enfants rĂ©alisĂ©s par la quinzaine de chercheurs impliquĂ©s dans l’enquĂȘte, regroupĂ©s en trois classes sociales (populaires, moyennes, supĂ©rieures) selon le niveau de capital et de ressources scolaires des parents. Chaque portrait est associĂ© Ă  un prĂ©nom (anonymisĂ© mais socialement proche de l’original) et Ă  un titre (par exemple “Thibault : grandir Ă  la ferme” ou “Balkis : dormir dans une voiture devant l’Ă©cole”). Il signĂ© par le, la ou les deux chercheurs qui ont enquĂȘtĂ© auprĂšs de l’enfant et de sa famille. Il est Ă  noter que certains portraits sont bien situĂ©s gĂ©ographiquement (on sait par exemple que Valentine habite le VIIe arrondissement, Ilyes une “banlieue populaire de Lyon” et Lucie une maison de ville Ă  Besançon) tandis que d’autres sont plus flous ou moins bien renseignĂ©s.

La derniĂšre partie synthĂ©tise l’analyse des 35 cas d’Ă©tudes en dix dimensions transversales des inĂ©galitĂ©s chez les enfants enquĂȘtĂ©s, Ă  savoir le lieu de vie (FrĂ©dĂ©rique Giraud, Julien Bertrand, Martine Court, Sarah Nicaise), la stabilitĂ© professionnelle et la disponibilitĂ© parentale (GĂ©raldine Bois, Sophie Denave et AurĂ©lien Raynaud), le rapport Ă  l’argent (Martine Court, Sophie Denave, FrĂ©dĂ©rique Giraud, Marianne Woollven), l’Ă©cole et les jeux (Fanny Renard, Charlotte Moquet, GaĂ«le Henri-PanabiĂšre, FrĂ©dĂ©rique Giraud), l’autoritĂ© et l’esprit critique (GĂ©raldine Bois, GaĂ«le Henri-PanabiĂšre, AurĂ©lien Raynaud), le langage (Marianne Woollven, Olivier VanhĂ©e, GaĂ«le Henri-PanabiĂšre, Fanny Renard, Bernard Lahire), la lecture et l’expression orale (Marianne Woollven, Olivier VanhĂ©e, GaĂ«le Henri-PanabiĂšre, Fanny Renard, Bernard Lahire), les loisirs (JoĂ«l Laillier, Olivier VanhĂ©e, Christine Mennesson, Emmanuelle Zolesio), le sport (Christine Mennesson, Julien Bertrand, Sarah Nicaise) et le corps (Sarah Nicaise , Martine Court, Christine Mennesson, Emmanuelle Zolesio). Il n’est pas possible de reprendre ici l’ensemble des conclusions apportĂ©es dans ces dix chapitres. J’en propose donc deux Ă  propos des effets du lieu de vie, qui feront Ă©chos aux travaux de gĂ©ographie sur le sujet, et deux conclusions plus gĂ©nĂ©rales croisant plusieurs dimensions (par ailleurs, on trouvera dans le document compagnon de cette recension les citations relatives Ă  l’ensemble des chapitres traitĂ©s ici).

– La premiĂšre conclusion du chapitre sur l’influence du lieu de vie (entendu Ă  la fois comme espace domestique et comme localisation gĂ©ographique de la rĂ©sidence) sur les inĂ©galitĂ©s enfantines est que ce lieu, loin d’ĂȘtre une variable quelconque, est Ă  la fois le rĂ©sultat des inĂ©galitĂ©s Ă©conomiques de la gĂ©nĂ©ration des parents et l’un des facteurs majeurs de la production des inĂ©galitĂ©s entre enfants. En effet, le capital parental (et grand-parental) dĂ©termine quelles conditions d’existence sont accessibles aux familles et oĂč se situe l’environnement quotidien des enfants. En retour, l’espace, le confort et l’environnement social de rĂ©sidence agissent sur le dĂ©veloppement des enfants de maniĂšre inĂ©gale : « Les classes supĂ©rieures bĂ©nĂ©ficient de conditions matĂ©rielles d’existence sans commune mesure avec celles des classes populaires et de classes moyennes. Leurs logements sont Ă  la fois spacieux et confortables [
] Ces chambres individuelles leur permettent de possĂ©der un espace, des objets et des jouets Ă  eux, de s’isoler pour se livrer Ă  des activitĂ©s calmes ou encore d’inviter leurs copains. Elles permettent Ă©galement aux parents de sĂ©parer les enfants lors de disputes ou d’énervements. [
] Nombre de ces logements se situent en outre dans des quartiers oĂč se concentre une population socialement favorisĂ©e : en centre-ville, dans des arrondissements ou dans des banlieues prisĂ©es garantissant l’entre-soi des classes dominantes et le placement futur des enfants dans des Ă©coles ayant ‘bonne rĂ©putation’ » (p.944-5). Les gĂ©ographes des inĂ©galitĂ©s retrouveront donc ici l’idĂ©e familiĂšre que le logement et sa localisation font partie intĂ©grante des stratĂ©gies des mĂ©nages, et surtout de ceux qui ont les moyens de choisir (la proximitĂ© de telle ou telle amĂ©nitĂ©, la rĂ©putation de tel quartier) autant que d’Ă©viter (telle Ă©cole ou tel secteur).

– La seconde conclusion relative au lieux de vie concerne l’effet des ressources rĂ©sidentielles et immobiliĂšres sur les reprĂ©sentations des enfants et de leur importance : « L’accĂšs Ă  la propriĂ©tĂ© individuelle, redoublĂ©e parfois par l’achat d’une rĂ©sidence secondaire, consacre le sentiment d’appartenir aux classes favorisĂ©es – les ressources rĂ©sidentielles et Ă©conomiques des autres membres de la famille facilitant cette consĂ©cration matĂ©rielle ou attĂ©nuant les difficultĂ©s de logement passagĂšres » (p.947). A l’inverse, « la dĂ©possession d’espaces et les conditions prĂ©caires d’habitat peuvent gĂ©nĂ©rer l’isolement et la stigmatisation par les autres enfants. Les inĂ©galitĂ©s spatiales et matĂ©rielles se rĂ©percutent donc sur l’ordre enfantin qui maintient les hiĂ©rarchies et rĂ©tablit les places de chacun en leur sein. » (p. 935-6).

– Da maniĂšre plus gĂ©nĂ©rale, l’enquĂȘte montre que malgrĂ© la distinction de la population en trois classes sociales, les discontinuitĂ©s sociales Ă  l’origine des inĂ©galitĂ©s les plus fortes rĂ©side entre les familles trĂšs pauvres et prĂ©caires sur de nombreux plans (insĂ©curitĂ© Ă©conomique, rĂ©sidentielle et lĂ©gale notamment) et les autres. En effet, bien que la vie des enfants de “fractions stabilisĂ©es des classes populaires” ait peu en commun avec celle des enfants des familles les plus privilĂ©giĂ©es, les effets de ces conditions inĂ©gales de ressources sur leur comportement (notamment scolaire), leur santĂ© et leur stabilitĂ© Ă©motionnelle sont moins immĂ©diats qu’entre eux et les enfants des familles les plus prĂ©caires. Ce constat suggĂšre une action urgente, ciblĂ©e et intense pour venir en aide Ă  ces familles.

– Enfin, il ressort des analyses transversales et des entretiens avec les parents une impression de relation positive entre d’une part la position de la famille au centre d’une classe sociale donnĂ©e et d’autre part sa dĂ©contraction affichĂ©e vis-Ă -vis de l’Ă©ducation des enfants, tandis que les familles “entre-deux” groupes sociaux ou en transition apparaissent comme les plus anxieuses et conscientes d’appliquer des principes Ă©ducatifs distinctifs et intransigeants (pas d’Ă©cran, pas de football, aucun vĂȘtement franchisĂ©, de la nourriture biologique uniquement, etc.).

La conclusion gĂ©nĂ©rale de l’ouvrage s’ouvre sur le dĂ©veloppement de l’humain comme espĂšce ainsi que sur le progrĂšs des civilisations et se referme sur une critique des gouvernements qui, au lieu de permettre au plus grand nombre d’accĂ©der aux progrĂšs de l’outillage et du savoir, contribuent Ă  privatiser les communs et Ă  aggraver les inĂ©galitĂ©s. Entre les deux, on trouve un rappel intĂ©ressant des effets de la domination historique masculine sur la libĂ©ration du temps et de la crĂ©ativitĂ© des hommes. « Inversement, nous l’avons vu dans ce livre, pour celles et ceux qui cumulent les ‘handicaps’ et les manques de ressources, c’est toute la vie qui se restreint. Le temps de vie qui se raccourcit, l’espace qui se rĂ©duit, le confort qui diminue, l’horizon mental et sensible qui se referme, et finalement la maĂźtrise du monde et d’autrui qui s’affaiblit ou disparaĂźt » (p. 1169). B. Lahire en appelle donc aux gouvernements de ne pas dĂ©tourner les yeux du constat parfois cruel qu’apporte son livre Ă  propos d’enfants de 5 ans vivant dans la mĂȘme sociĂ©tĂ© au mĂȘme moment, et de “mettre en Ɠuvre pour rĂ©duire ces inĂ©galitĂ©s” (p. 1176).


Cet ouvrage relĂšve assurĂ©ment le dĂ©fi de fournir un instantanĂ© trĂšs complet et trĂšs lisible des inĂ©galitĂ©s de conditions matĂ©rielles et symboliques entre enfants aujourd’hui en France. Il tĂ©moigne de l’ampleur et de la qualitĂ© d’orchestration d’un collectif oĂč chaque chercheur est impliquĂ© Ă  la fois dans la constitution de plusieurs monographies et dans la rĂ©daction d’une ou plusieurs synthĂšses thĂ©matiques dont il est spĂ©cialiste, mais qui requiert la connaissance des autres monographies. Ce dispositif implique de plus le lecteur qui, ayant accĂšs au matĂ©riau de l’enquĂȘte par le biais des 18 portraits publiĂ©s, participe en temps rĂ©el Ă  la gĂ©nĂ©ralisation des rĂ©sultats prĂ©sentĂ©s en derniĂšre partie d’ouvrage. Ainsi, de l’aveu mĂȘme du coordinateur de la recherche, « en plus de sa volontĂ© assumĂ©e de forcer les responsables politiques Ă  regarder en face la rĂ©alitĂ© des inĂ©galitĂ©s, cet ouvrage revĂȘt une autre dimension politique : celle des pratiques scientifiques mĂȘmes qui l’ont rendu possible. Car ce livre est le fruit d’une recherche collective inĂ©dite, conçue comme une opĂ©ration de recherche cohĂ©rente, et non comme une simple juxtaposition de contributions, ce qui est trop frĂ©quemment le cas » (p.85).

On peut toutefois relever quelques faiblesses Ă  l’ouvrage. D’une part, il m’a semblĂ© que l’angle d’analyse des inĂ©galitĂ©s entre enfants rĂ©sultant de leur socialisation dans des familles issues de diffĂ©rentes positions dans l’espace social Ă©tait biaisĂ© en faveur de la “rentabilitĂ© scolaire” des comportements enfantins. L’importance de cet angle se comprend assez facilement au vu du profil de B. Lahire, spĂ©cialiste de la sociologie scolaire, et en particulier de la rĂ©ussite et de l’Ă©chec scolaire. Ainsi, le fait que les parents valorisent chez leurs enfants la disposition au calme, Ă  l’esprit critique, au leadership ou Ă  la lecture est analysĂ© comme un atout pour l’entrĂ©e dans le “mĂ©tier d’Ă©lĂšve”. Inversement, la tendance Ă  la non-verbalisation des Ă©motions ou l’Ă©vitement de la compĂ©tition sont interprĂ©tĂ©s comme de possibles handicaps dans la poursuite scolaire de l’Ă©lĂšve. Si les dispositions transmises par les familles les plus favorisĂ©es ont tendance Ă  ĂȘtre plus rentables scolairement (et c’est ce que montre les rĂ©sultats de l’enquĂȘte), certaines semblent pouvoir ĂȘtre interprĂ©tĂ©es comme nĂ©gatives voire dommageables dans d’autres domaines de la future vie des enfants, comme par exemple l’attention trĂšs marquĂ©e des mĂšres favorisĂ©es au poids de leurs petites filles ou l’encouragement des petits garçons et des petites filles de classes supĂ©rieures Ă  jouer systĂ©matiquement le rĂŽle de meneur auprĂšs de leurs pairs. Une discussion plus nuancĂ©e de ces questions aurait pu enrichir cet ouvrage et Ă©tendre son application au-delĂ  des effets purement scolaires des inĂ©galitĂ©s. De mĂȘme, une rĂ©flexion sur la particularitĂ© nationale des conclusions prĂ©sentĂ©es aurait pu ĂȘtre intĂ©ressante, par rapport Ă  d’autres systĂšmes scolaires par exemple (oĂč la scolarisation commence plus tard qu’en France, oĂč il n’existe pas de modĂšle dominant d’Ă©cole rĂ©publicaine, etc.). Enfin, bien qu’un Ă©chantillonnage social et gĂ©ographique Ă©quilibrĂ© ne puisse ĂȘtre envisagĂ© pour un nombre d’Ă©tudes de cas si petit, il m’a paru surprenant de constater que toutes les familles prĂ©caires vivaient la mĂȘme mĂ©tropole (Lille) et frĂ©quentaient deux Ă©coles dont le militantisme des parents et du personnel enseignant paraĂźt plus important que la moyenne. De maniĂšre gĂ©nĂ©rale, bien qu’une attention particuliĂšre soit portĂ©e dans les rĂ©sultats Ă  distinguer les conditions de vie rurale, pĂ©riurbaine et urbaine, le lecteur gĂ©ographe ne sait pas jusqu’Ă  quel point ni comment ces critĂšres ont jouĂ© de maniĂšre formelle dans le recrutement et la sĂ©lection des familles.

Dans le cadre de mon projet de recherche sur les inĂ©galitĂ©s urbaines, je retiens de cette lecture l’importance de la socialisation familiale et scolaire prĂ©coce sur la reproduction des inĂ©galitĂ©s sociales, ainsi que l’idĂ©e d’une temporalitĂ© longue au cours de laquelle se construisent les inĂ©galitĂ©s de situations matĂ©rielles, d’attitudes scolaires et de comportements sociaux, depuis la plus petite enfance jusqu’Ă  l’Ăąge adulte. Les  biographiques familiales, bien qu’elles montrent des trajectoires sociales ascendantes et descendantes (notamment en termes de diplĂŽmes) mettent toutefois bien en valeur l’importance des hĂ©ritages multiples (immobilier, culturel, Ă©ducatif, informationnel, etc.) dont bĂ©nĂ©ficient les classes supĂ©rieures et qui les ancrent durablement dans le haut de l’espace social.


Ici, je partage le type de document sur lequel s’est appuyĂ© mon compte rendu. Il est constituĂ© d’un recueil de passages du livre que j’ai considĂ©rĂ©s comme importants.

A ce jour, je n’ai pas connaissance d’autres comptes-rendus de cet ouvrage publiĂ©s dans des revues scientifiques. Toutefois, une recension-prĂ©sentation de l’ouvrage par Sonya Faure et Simon Blin existe dans LibĂ©ration, ainsi qu’un compte-rendu par François Jarraud pour le cafĂ© pĂ©dagogique.

Ordinary cities between modernity and development

Robinson J., 2006, Ordinary cities between modernity and development, London, Routledge, 204p.

“Ordinary Cities” is now thirteen years old and it features in the reading list of many urban geography university courses, from UCL (where J. Robinson is professor of Geography) to SOAS, LSE and McGill. Its concepts and messages have diffused largely in academia (cf. for instance the 1899 citations of the book in scholarly publications at the time when this post was written), yet the predominance of western cities and western scholars in mainstream urban studies is still patent and renewed with each wave of urban ‘modernity’ (if we think of smart cities, connected cities, etc). This late review of the book content thus provides a yardstick of what it has achieved (or not achieved) since its publication in 2006.

I have first encountered the idea of Ordinary Cities while reading my friend SolĂšne Baffi’s thesis on rail transportation in South African cities. The proposition was of course well indicated in the context of Robinson’s home country of South Africa, but it resonated also with my own thesis on post Soviet cities, supposedly singular and specific, where general urban models would not apply and where mordern urban theory was not made. The whole argument of J. Robinson in this book was thus extremely attractive. It can be summarised as follow: cities are diverse, and therefore so should be urban studies. More than a scientific requirement to better understand cities and urban processes around the world, this objective of diversity is deeply militant, as argued by the author in the preface to the book: “Theories of modernity, just like South African cities, have often reserved experiences of dynamism and innovation for a privileged few, and especially for those wealthy cities and their citizens who have laid claim to originating modernity. Theories of urban modernity, then, have drawn a stark line between ‘modern’ cities and other kinds of cities, variously described as Third World, perhaps African, perhaps developing / underdeveloped, perhaps colonial. At best these ‘other’ cities have been thought to borrow their modernity from wealthier contexts, presenting pure imitations rather than offering sites for inventiveness and innovation. This book is a contribution to the task of ensuring that as scholars of cities we end our complicity in such dispossessions.” (p.x). Further along in the book, she illustrates this claims quite eloquantly: “Once New York’s urbanism has been understood as just another cosmopolitan and provincial form of modernity, any anxiety on the part of other cities about lagging behind or mimicking a modernity that is always ‘elsewhere’ (Johnson 1999) becomes less plausible.” (p.73).

 

 


 

The book consists in six chapters, which take the reader from the deconstruction of the concept of modernity (chapter 1) to the exposition of cosmopolitan ways of being urban and modern through comparative urbanism (chapter 2 and 3). A whole chapter (#4) is dedicated to the critique of city ranking, hierarchizing and labelling, arguing that world cities and global cities are more than centres of control for finance and management. The fifth chapter argues that urban studies need to put the (ordinary) city back to the centre instead of classifying them into modern or developing. Finally, chapter 6 looks at the possible and diverse futures of cities through policy and planning.

In introduction, the author clearly sets the two ambitions of the book. Firstly, she states: “it is an argument of this book that all cities are best understood as ‘ordinary’. [
] Instead of seeing only some cities as the originators of urbanism, in a world of ordinary cities, ways of being urban and ways of making new kinds of urban futures are diverse and are the product of the inventiveness of people in cities everywhere.” (p.1). The change in perception is supposed to provoke a change in perspective at the world scale, by considering cities in their simultaneous diversity rather than in a sequence of modernity adoption. Secondly, J. Robinson suggests that “we need a form of theorising that can be as cosmopolitan as the cities we try to describe. This would be a form of urban theory that can follow the creative paths of urban dwellers – across the city or across the world – as they remake cities (Simone, 1998) and that can draw on the transformative potential of shared lives in diverse, contested – ordinary – cities to imagine new urban futures.” (p.3). Therefore the dual objective of scientific understanding on the one hand and militant repossession of urban studies on the other hand appears to structure the book from its start. The way Robinson chooses to tackle this dual objective in the introduction is by exposing the parochial nature of modernity claims made by Western cities and Western scholars. The appropriation of modernity by “the West” is important because it creates a universal standard of city life and innovations with which other cities are supposed to catch-up. Debunking this claim allows the identification of urban modernity outside western cities in a contemporary and cosmopolitan manner. Robinson argues that it also provides urban planners and decision makers with a wider panel of policy options, inspired from a diversity of experiences around the world that can also be more adapted to their cities, instead of applying the same past “western” recipes. This theoretical articulation of ideas is the core contribution of the book. The following chapters then consist in illustrations of the workings of the appropriation and in research strategies to avoid the dispossession.

The first chapter, “dislocating modernity”, highlights the paradox of modernity: i.e. a concept initially related to temporality which has been diverted and perverted into a spatialised assessment of who is “in” and who is “out of time”. The way in which this diversion was achieved, according to J. Robinson, is through a constant editing/re-writing of the Western urban story to remove all contributions from other cultures: “A reconceptualization of urban modernity might begin by interrogating Western forms of modernity. For these are as much a product of dynamics from beyond the West as its own ingenuity, including primitivist-inspired borrowings, actual resource extraction and political innovations learned in colonial governance (see, for example, Stoler, 1995; Comaroff and Comaroff 1997). But western modernity’s projection of itself as the generative source of creativity relies on forgetting these circulations and borrowings.” (p.19). Cities are central to this process, since they connect people, combine ideas and inspirations at a larger scale and at a faster pace than anywhere else. The rest of the chapter explores how urban studies themselves have embedded the western conception of urban modernity. She cites the Chicago School of sociology as a powerful vector in that process, in particular by noting how Park and al’s conception of the city in opposition with “primitive” and “folk” qualities of community and emotions has imposed a very specific way of urban living as the standard for city identification. This then made it hard for cities with strong community ties and non-anonymous relationships to claim their cityness, as examplified by J. Clyde Mitchell’s struggle to have (now) Zambian cities recognized as such by urban scholards, not discounting but accounting for tribal elements of culture and social relations. Robinson’s argumentation also makes use W. Benjamin’s work on Parisian arcades as urban signals of alternative and possible futures of the western city itself: “a future where the public and the private might be intermingled and where the utopian fantasies through which technological innovations were often represented harkened back to a pre-class and pre-commodity society of plenty” (p.29).

The second chapter in the book is intitled “Re-imagining the city through comparative urbanism. On (not) being blasĂ©”. It starts from the classic contribution of L. Wirth, “Urbanism as a way of life”, which Robinson shows as a claim/attempt at explaining cities everywhere based on a North-American XXth century experience (of Chicago). For instance, she notes that the high demographic growth fueled by a diverse immigration at a time of booming industrial economy on which the theory relies is a very situated moment in the world geographical history rather than a universal path for urbanisation around the world. The scientific antidote to this appropriation lies, for Robinson, in relaying the accounts of urban research from other contexts. She especially relies on the work made by the Manchester School of anthropologists in the zambian Copperbelt. “Like the Copperbelt anthropologists and many other comparative urbanists, Oscar Lewis observed that the blasĂ© attitude of Western urban dwellers, which Simmel, Park and Wirth had seen as a cornerstone of urban sociability, was not representative of urbanism elsewhere. [
] He did not stop, though, at simply noting differences from the US analysis and with J. Clyde Mitchell, Epstein, Gluckman and South African anthropologist Philip Mayer, he went on to suggest that ‘there are many ways of life which may coexist in the same city’ (1973: 130). He insisted that his observations from Mexico should make a difference to how cities in other places are understood.” (p.57). The chapter concludes with J. Robinson advocating for a post-colonial urban theory which “establish[es] conversations because of, and across, strong empirical and theoretical differences” (p.63) and, more importantly, lets ideas flow both ways between locations “from Chicago to the Copperbelt, but also back again” (p.63) .

Ordinary cities make their appearance in the third chapter as the primary material from which a postcolonial comparative and cosmopolitan urban studies might come about: “Ordinary cities, then, exist in a world of cities linked through a wide range of circulations – of people, ideas, resources – in which cities everywhere operate both to assemble diverse activities and to create new kinds of practices. This chapter therefore introduces a new tactic for a post-colonial urban studies: a form of theorising in which the resources for thinking about cities are as cosmopolitan as the cities that are being theorised.” (p.65). Therefore J. Robinson embarks into an analysis of modernity from the perspective of a diverse pool of cities (yet mostly large state capital cities). She looks at the Petronas towers in Kuala Lumpur, which signal the city’s modernity to the rest of the world while excluding poor malaysian residents from it. She looks at the early Saint Petersburg where the Nevsky perspective provided the street decorum for individual performance and recognition in a context of poor infrastructure and peasant economy. She also draws from Zambian cities and how the second-hand clothing trade allowed citizens to express their modernity through styling at a time of post-structural adjustment. All these examples participate in showing that “the experiences of poor people, or cities in poor contexts, do not stand for the ‘past’ of Western urbanism – either as sites of tradition or economic backwardness – but are contemporaneous social formations that have produced diverse and distinctive ways of being urban. With inventive traditions and appropriated copies, urbanisms in poor places stand alongside other ways of being modern and can illustrate experiences of city life in other contexts. But, as we will consider briefly in the conclusion, if poor cities are not the ‘past’ or simply ‘copies’ of Western urbanism, neither, I suggest, are they its future.” (p.90).

In chapter 4, “World cities, or a world of ordinary cities?”, the author introduces the concepts of world-cities and global-cities and how their success moved the attention from the dynamic processes they were supposed to describe (the globalised economic relations between cities and concentration of command over some of these relations in a limited number of nodes) to a fixed hierarchy of cities from which poor cities are excluded, deemed irrelevant and relegated from urban studies to development studies. She offers an interesting alternative to this view, first by considering the “key sectors involved in managing the global economy” as just another form of industrial district (p.97), and second by considering the other sectors of the world network of cities, i.e. “commanding” cities as well as cities involved in other trades and flows. Considering all cities as ordinary enables such integration. “First, ordinary cities can be understood as unique assemblages of wider processes – they are all distinctive, in a category of one. [
] Second, and learning much from global- and world-cities approaches, ordinary cities exist within a world of interactions and flows. However, in place of the global- and world-cities approaches that focus on a small range of economic and political activities within the restrictive frame of the global, ordinary cities bring together a vast array of networks and circulations of varying spatial reach and assemble many different kinds of social, economic and political processes. Ordinary cities are diverse, complex and internally differentiated.” (p.108-9). The added-value of this change of perspective is argued to be found beyond urban studies and theory building, in the practice of urban planning, as it would provide decision makers with a wider diversity of inspirations for policy rather than the restricted example of so-called world cities to catch up to.

“Bringing the city back in” in the fifth chapter means considering cities in their diversity and internal inequalities. “Rather than theories of world cities, which encourage competitive behaviour amongst cities and focus on a very small segment of the urban economy or developmentalist accounts, which zoom in on the poorest and least well-provisioned areas of the city, urban studies will need to explore the dynamics of socially and economically diverse cities. Both globalising economic sectors and the needs of the poorest citizens will have to be considered, bringing the ordinary city, in all its complexity and diversity, firmly into view.” (p.117). In short, the analysis Robinson recommends at this point of the book thus comprises various sectors of city life and the economy, within cities and city-regions as well as between them, in rich as well as in poor cities. This vast program is illustrated with a very specific analysis of Johannesburg metropolitan governance within the iGoli project, although not necessarity laid out in terms of generic research tools and methodology.

Chapter 6 (“Cities futures”) implements the ordinary cities perspective into urban planning. It looks at economic prescriptions maybe by western urban economists in western contexts regarding the desirability of industrial diversity (or specialisation in the case of clusters). For example, in a section devoted to discussing J. Jacobs’ theory of diverse cities, J. Robinson notes that “Jacobs’s overall argument is that it is the everyday, tolerant coexistence of social difference and economic diversity that enables cities to bring together different people and different talents, to generate new activities and to enable innovation. Cities that encourage segregation – physical or social – from the ‘ordinary’ city, with its jumbled mixtures of uses and people, she suggests, will lack vitality and perhaps die. [
] Clearly, diverse neighbourhoods, the physical coexistence of a range of business environments and the spatial concentration of diverse activities can have the generative social and economic effects she described. But cities do not always get to be like that, and yet they remain sites for economic growth and innovation.” (p.159). However, she finds room to accomodate Jacobs’ theory within the ordinary cities framework by switching the scale of analysis from the neighbourhood to the city. “This chapter [shows] how keeping in mind the ordinary city – diverse, contested, connected – brings into view a range of potential strategies for enhancing economic growth that could encourage redistributive investments in infrastructure, as well as expand access to employment and support different kinds of livelihoods. Reinforcing the broadest agglomeration economies of cities, it has been suggested, along with encouraging diverse urban economies, might be more useful strategies than pouring scarce public resources into already successful clusters of globalising firms.” (p.164-5).

The conclusion summarises the content of the book and reinforces the double message that the author has been communicating throughout: the fact that all cities are distinctive and diverse, and that urban studies need to reflect this diversity. She adds a warning about the scientific status quo: “Facing a world of ever-expanding cities, more likely than ever before to be home to poor people, urban studies cannot continue to base its theoretical insights on the experiences of a few wealthy cities: this would doom it to irrelevance.” (p.167).

 

Towards the end of the book, I must admit I was a little disappointed by the gap between the ambitious program set in introduction and the resulting implementation in the last chapters. The book is more of a manifest in my opinion, and I completely adhere to the core ideas of ordinary cities as the diverse material of a diverse urban studies. However, I found that the applications seemed too restricted in their scope to adequately prove the author’s point rather than just claim it. The message I take home is that we need to keep in mind, while we are studying cities, that they and their residents are diverse, connected and contested. This does not make a recipe on how to actually study cities, let alone design inclusive policies, but it is a significant step forward. A second point of critique I have towards the author’s method is that, although she acknowledges and celebrates diversity in cities and within cities, her resources remain very biased towards the dominant model when it comes to academic and theoretical references on the one hand, and to the type of city considered here on the other hand (. Regarding references, it is a pity that the only theories which are discussed (and criticised) are the dominant paradigms originating from prestigious US and UK scholars (the Chicago school, the GaWC, Louis Wirth, Jane Jacobs, Scott & Storper). Non-english writers are left entirely out of the schope, and so are less well-known scholars who have advocated for diverse urban studies before 2006. It leaves a false impression that ordinary cities are a theoretical greenfield emanated exclusively from an opposition to dominant english-speaking western references, which is probably not true. Regarding cities themselves, I wondered if it was a choice to restrict the analysis to large metropolises and national capitals (New York, Rio de Janeiro, Kuala Lumpur, Paris, Johannesburg, Chicago, Singapore, Saint Petersburg, Mexico city, etc.), or just an ambiguity related to the fact that nowhere are cities defined. It seems however that smaller cities have a very important role to play in the promotion of the ordinary in urban studies. To paraphrase Robinson: “urban studies cannot continue to base its theoretical insights on the experiences of a few [large] cities: this would doom it to irrelevance”.

With respect to my project about the scales of urban inequality, I have found interesting ideas about the relationship between industrial clusters and social segregation in chapters 4 and 6, which is mediated by J. Robinson through scale: “The benefits of proximity for networks of learning, cooperation and competition in dynamic clusters and specialised concentrations in some cities would be very relevant examples of innovation through single-use neighbourhoods, a kind of ‘segregation’. But, in many cases, strong concentrations of certain kinds of activities in cities do not translate into close spatial clustering, or into close interactions amongst similar firms, or even into stable ongoing interactions with actors […]. So, in economic terms, Jane Jacobs’s ‘ordinary city’ is perhaps best thought about at a city-wide scale where the diversity of activities that she identified as crucial to economic expansion and innovation coexist and have opportunities for the interactions she saw as crucial for generating new activities.” (p.160). I also keep her overall message about diverse, connected and contested cities in mind to draw inspiration, examples and illustrations from the most diverse pool of cities possible, large and small, from across the world when approaching urban studies.

 


 

Here I share the type of file I use to document my readings and book reviews. It is composed of citations from the book which I considered important while reading.

Other reviews of this book have been published in Belgeo, the Journal of Planning Education and Research, Justice Spatial / Spatial Justice (in French), the Journal of world-systems research, Research in African Literatures and Cultural Geographies.

Les transclasses ou la non-reproduction

Jaquet C., 2014, Les transclasses, ou la non-reproduction. Presses universitaires de France, 238p.

Cet ouvrage traite de la reproduction sociale en interrogeant son contraire (la non-reproduction) par la figure des transclasses, c’est-Ă -dire les individus ayant changĂ© de position sociale au cours de leur  vie (le nĂ©ologisme de transclasse Ă©voquant le transfuge sans lui attacher sa connotation nĂ©gative). Chantal Jaquet, professeure de philosophie Ă  l’UniversitĂ© Paris 1, reprend dans ce livre les Ă©lĂ©ments d’un sĂ©minaire organisĂ© Ă  la Sorbonne entre 2010 et 2013 pour interroger la thĂ©orie de la reproduction sociale par ce qui lui Ă©chappe. Elle prĂ©sente un registre de causes possibles (qu’elles soient personnelles, familiales, institutionnelles ou sociales), pour expliquer les destins individuels de passage d’une classe Ă  l’autre mais aussi la complexion du transclasse, sa position philosophique vis-Ă -vis de la sociĂ©tĂ© et le regard portĂ© sur en retour sur lui/elle. Elle le fait au moyen de concepts scientifiques issus de la philosophie, de rĂ©fĂ©rences sociologiques mais aussi d’Ɠuvres littĂ©raires (autobiographiques ou de fiction).

L’apport principal de l’ouvrage selon moi est de rĂ©concilier le modĂšle gĂ©nĂ©ral de la reproduction sociale avec les trajectoires individuelles singuliĂšres qui dĂ©vient du cas gĂ©nĂ©ral, non en les considĂ©rant comme (statistiquement) exceptionnelles voire accidentelles mais en les rĂ©intĂ©grant dans une nĂ©cessitĂ© et une fonction issue du modĂšle lui-mĂȘme afin de se maintenir. L’analyse des affects et de la complexion du transclasse invitent Ă  mieux comprendre les questions d’identitĂ© et de recherche de reconnaissance qui concernent l’ensemble des individus en sociĂ©tĂ©, de maniĂšre plus ou moins prononcĂ©e.

 


 

L’ouvrage se compose d’une introduction, de deux parties thĂ©matiques et d’une conclusion. La premiĂšre partie vise Ă  balayer plusieurs registres d’explications avancĂ©es pour rendre compte du passage d’une classe sociale Ă  une autre par des individus dans un contexte gĂ©nĂ©ral de reproduction sociale, en scrutant leurs caractĂ©ristiques individuelles, les institutions qui orientent leur ambition et leur Ă©ducation, ainsi que les relations interpersonnelles qui affectent leurs dĂ©sirs et leurs choix de changer de milieu. La seconde partie s’intĂ©resse Ă  la “complexion du transclasse“, c’est-Ă -dire aux “traits mobiles de sa personnalitĂ©” plutĂŽt qu’Ă  son identitĂ© (un concept qui reprĂ©sente mal l’adaptation et le changement qui caractĂ©risent le transclasse).

L’introduction de l’ouvrage pose la question traitĂ©e (et Ă  laquelle la conclusion viendra rĂ©pondre clairement, c’est Ă  noter!), Ă  savoir: si la thĂ©orie de la reproduction sociale est juste, pourquoi certains individus Ă©chappent-ils Ă  cette reproduction et comment gĂšrent-ils la dissonance entre leur habitus d’origine et les codes de leur nouveau milieu social? Autrement dit, l’exception infirme-t-elle ou confirme-t-elle la rĂšgle? En termes Ă©pistĂ©mologiques, cette question en appelle d’autres sur le traitement des  cas gĂ©nĂ©raux, particuliers et singuliers: « comment la philosophie, qui entend penser par concepts, pourrait-elle saisir les cas singuliers et rendre raison de la particularitĂ© ? Le concept doit recueillir le divers et l’unifier en synthĂ©tisant ce qu’il a de commun avec les autres cas d’espĂšce, faute de quoi il s’éparpille dans la multiplicitĂ©. Est-il vraiment possible de spĂ©culer sur la non-reproduction sans se perdre dans les nuĂ©es de l’abstraction ou les marais de l’empirie ? Peut-on Ă©laborer un concept du singulier, de l’individuel dans ce qu’il a d’irrĂ©ductible, viser une essence intime, saisir une libertĂ© dans son incarnation individuelle ? » (p.14). Les modĂšles mĂ©thodologiques proposĂ©s par Chantal Jaquet pour tenter de rĂ©soudre ce paradoxe proviennent principalement de trois sources: la philosophie (Spinoza, Pascal), la sociologie (Norbert Elias, Pierre Bourdieu, Louis Althusser) et la littĂ©rature: « il conviendra de privilĂ©gier des rĂ©cits auto-socio-biographiques, comme ceux d’Annie Ernaux, de Didier Eribon, ou Richard Hoggart, qui visent Ă  penser la vie ou le destin d’un individu en relation avec leur milieu comme une production du social et non comme l’avĂšnement d’un moi coupĂ© de toute dĂ©termination extĂ©rieure » (p.19).

DiffĂ©rentes explications sont avancĂ©es pour rendre compte des causes de la non-reproduction dans la premiĂšre partie de l’ouvrage. Bien que non-exclusives, ces explications sont prĂ©sentĂ©es par ordre apparemment dĂ©croissant de pertinence dans le propos de C. Jaquet. En premier lieu, et Ă  contre-courant des discours populaires sur la mĂ©ritocratie et les self made men, l’auteur Ă©voque mais rejette rapidement l’hypothĂšse de l’ambition comme “reine de la non-reproduction“. En effet, selon C. Jaquet l’ambition est la consĂ©quence plutĂŽt que la cause de la non-reproduction, puisqu’elle prĂ©suppose la connaissance, la reprĂ©sentation et le dĂ©sir d’un modĂšle diffĂ©rent de celui auquel la reproduction social promet l’individu. L’individu qui “se fait lui-mĂȘme” serait donc dĂ©jĂ  lui-mĂȘme diffĂ©rent lorsqu’il entreprend sa transition, puisqu’il dĂ©tient dĂ©jĂ  la combinaison d’une “dĂ©termination cognitive, l’idĂ©e d’un modĂšle, fĂ»t-elle confuse, et une dĂ©termination affective, le dĂ©sir de l’accomplir” (p.31), ce que n’ont pas forcĂ©ment les autres membres de son milieu d’origine. Pour expliquer l’Ă©mergence de modĂšles alternatifs chez les enfants devenus transclasses, l’auteur Ă©voque le rĂŽle de la famille et de l’Ă©cole. Ainsi, chez les enfants d’agriculteurs ou d’ouvriers, la prĂ©sence dans la famille de personnes ayant poursuivi leurs Ă©tudes avec succĂšs amĂ©liorerait la perception des chances de rĂ©ussite par rapport aux statistiques globales. De mĂȘme, la rencontre d’instituteurs, de professeurs ou de camarades d’autres classes sociales par l’Ă©cole fournissent des modĂšles alternatifs aux enfants. Toutefois, C. Jaquet rappelle qu’il “serait illusoire de croire que la non-reproduction serait entiĂšrement liĂ©e Ă  l’existence de clercs et de modĂšles scolaires imitĂ©s par les individus qui s’identifient Ă  eux par une sorte de phĂ©nomĂšne transfĂ©rentiel et qui suivent leur exemple pour se frayer leur propre voie. Elle repose en effet sur des conditions Ă©conomiques et politiques, et en particulier sur la mise en place d’un programme d’instruction pour tous au sein d’écoles gratuites, laĂŻques et obligatoires, faute de quoi les Ă©tudes sont rĂ©servĂ©es aux seuls hĂ©ritiers. » (p.53). L’influence potentielle des institutions est toutefois mĂ©diĂ©e, selon l’auteur, par l’ensemble des rencontres et relations interpersonnelles qui orientent et magnifient le dĂ©sir d’un enfant de suivre l’un ou l’autre des modĂšles qui lui sont proposĂ©s. Le concept d’affect chez Spinoza permet ici Ă  la philosophe de traduire l’action des forces complexes qui font surgir dĂ©sirs et choix au cours de la trajectoire du transclasse. Enfin, l’auteur propose de voir dans la non-reproduction un stratagĂšme du milieu pour se reproduire lui-mĂȘme:

L’ordre social est prĂ©servĂ© par l’expulsion d’un Ă©lĂ©ment qui le menace, qui introduit le dĂ©sordre, car il n’est pas conforme au modĂšle ambiant. […] La non-reproduction est [aussi] la forme singuliĂšre que peut prendre un refus collectif de la reproduction. En l’absence de rĂ©volte ouverte ou de rĂ©volution collective, c’est un cri sourd de protestation du corps familial dont un individu se fait l’écho et qu’il prend en charge parce que c’est la place qui lui a Ă©tĂ© assignĂ©e dans la fratrie. L’un des moteurs de la non-reproduction, c’est donc la volontĂ© de justice, enracinĂ©e dans l’humiliation subie et le dĂ©sir de la venger, volontĂ© de ne pas rĂ©pĂ©ter la mĂȘme vie de gĂ©nĂ©ration en gĂ©nĂ©ration. » p.78-84.

Au terme de cet inventaire de causes possibles, Chantal Jacquet plaide pour une conception relationnelle des transclasses avec leur milieu d’origine autant que de destination, mais aussi pour une conception intĂ©grĂ©e de la non-reproduction dans la thĂ©orie de la reproduction en concluant: “Il n’est d’exception que dans un environnement qui le permet, de sorte qu’un parcours atypique ne constitue pas une dĂ©viation ; il s’opĂšre avec le concours du milieu, Ă  la croisĂ©e de ses impulsions et de ses rĂ©pulsions. Il n’est pas le fruit d’un dĂ©rĂšglement, mais d’une combinaison de rĂšgles autres que celles qui prĂ©valent gĂ©nĂ©ralement. Le transclasse est moins un hĂ©ros solitaire qu’un hĂ©raut porteur d’aspirations personnelles et collectives, que ce soient celles de la famille, du village ou du quartier, de la race ou de la classe, du sexe ou du genre » (p.95). L’intĂ©gration des causes fait ici le pendant Ă  l’intĂ©gration du singulier dans le gĂ©nĂ©ral au niveau du processus analysĂ© dans l’ouvrage, ainsi qu’Ă  l’intĂ©gration des milieux dans la complexion du transclasse, qui fait l’objet de la seconde partie.

La complexion du transclasse est abordĂ©e sous deux angles opposĂ©s vis-Ă -vis de l’identitĂ©: elle traduit une perte avec la dĂ©sidentification autant qu’un excĂšs dans l’entre-deux. Dans la sous-partie consacrĂ©e Ă  l’identification, C. Jaquet rappelle que le transclasse Ă©tant dĂ©fini par sa mutation et sa mobilitĂ©; il est donc malaisĂ© de lui reconnaĂźtre un moi fixe et figĂ©, et donc une identitĂ© personnelle et sociale. En effet, reprenant la pensĂ©e de Pascal, l’auteur montre que les qualitĂ©s du transclasse Ă  un moment donnĂ© ne peuvent ĂȘtre et apparaĂźtre que comme “empruntĂ©es”, voire fictionnelles. « Plus que tout autre, le transclasse Ă©prouve le sentiment de n’avoir pas d’identitĂ© fixe et figĂ©e, mais d’ĂȘtre d’une complexion flottante et flexible. [
] Le passage d’une classe Ă  l’autre ne se rĂ©sume donc pas Ă  une simple assimilation thĂ©orique des us et des habitus, il requiert leur incorporation dans la pratique, ce que Bourdieu nomme l’apprentissage par corps » (p.124-32). L’emprunt du concept de passing Ă  la culture Ă©tasunienne – dans laquelle il dĂ©signe le processus par lequel un individu mĂ©tis se disposait Ă  se “faire passer” pour Blanc pour Ă©chapper Ă  la sĂ©grĂ©gation – permet de faire l’analogie avec les transclasses qui, dans leur nouveau milieu social, font l’expĂ©rience d’un passage par lequel ils adoptent et s’approprient de nouvelles habitudes, codes et signes, tout en adaptant et se dĂ©sadaptant des habitudes, codes et signes de leur milieu d’origine. Ce passage provoque Ă  la fois une perte d’identitĂ© et la crĂ©ation d’un rĂ©fĂ©rentiel double: « A la croisĂ©e des deux mondes, ils font l’épreuve d’une double distance, par rapport au milieu d’origine et par rapport au milieu d’arrivĂ©e » (p.140). L’introduction par la sociĂ©tĂ© de jugements de valeur entre ces deux points de repĂšre induit le transclasse Ă  pouvoir ressentir honte ou fiertĂ©, selon que le milieu d’origine qu’il quitte est dominĂ© ou dominant, et selon la composition des affects auquel il est soumis. La rĂ©solution du conflit inhĂ©rent Ă  la complexion du transclasse passe, pour C. Jaquet, par la rĂ©appropriation de son passĂ©. “Cette rĂ©appropriation implique l’acceptation de ses origines et leur reconfiguration pour qu’elles apparaissent non plus comme une marque indĂ©lĂ©bile d’infamie, mais comme un moment historique de constitution de soi. La tentative d’unifier sa complexion passe donc par la transformation du dĂ©chirement en intĂ©gration, au double sens du terme, intĂ©gration dans le milieu d’évolution, intĂ©gration de l’origine dans la trajectoire d’arrivĂ©e » (p.196). Cette unification peut passer par la reconnaissance des dĂ©terminations qui prĂ©sident Ă  la sĂ©lection du transclasse, Ă  son orientation vers un autre monde et au passage lui-mĂȘme. En prime, l’unification de la complexion du transclasse ouvre des possibilitĂ©s crĂ©atives (Ă  la maniĂšre de Bourdieu dans sa sĂ©lection “d‘objet et d’approches inĂ©dites“) et dĂ©montre la plasticitĂ© du modĂšle de reproduction sociale.

La conclusion du livre de Chantal Jaquet insiste sur “l’interconnexion des causes” et l’interconnexion des individus qui Ă©voluent s’influençant les uns les autres. Elle rĂ©concilie ainsi la rĂšgle avec ses exceptions, qui la contrarient plutĂŽt qu’il ne la contredisent.

C’est pourquoi l’analyse de la complexion n’implique pas la rĂ©cusation des habitus sociaux, mais leur inclusion dans une logique combinatoire plus vaste et plus complexe oĂč l’enfance, l’histoire familiale, la place dans la fratrie, l’orientation sexuelle, la vie affective, les relations amicales et amoureuses, sont intĂ©grĂ©es dans l’examen de la trajectoire. Le changement de classe sociale ne se rĂ©sume ni Ă  un transfert des habitus d’une classe dans l’autre ni Ă  leur troc ou leur transplantation, car les dispositions premiĂšres sont parfois mises en sommeil ou restent au contraire au travail, sont modifiĂ©es et refondues au contact du milieu d’évolution » (p.220). 

 

J’ai particuliĂšrement apprĂ©ciĂ© la logique combinatoire de la pensĂ©e exprimĂ©e dans cet ouvrage, pour qui les causes de la singularitĂ© de certaines trajectoires ne sont pas uniques et exclusives mais plutĂŽt le reflet unique d’une combinaison particuliĂšre de facteurs explicatifs. Ainsi, l’auteur suggĂšre une voie entre la thĂ©orie gĂ©nĂ©ralisante et l’ethnographie singularisante pour reprĂ©senter les diffĂ©rences de trajectoires sociales. Le transfert de cette voie Ă  la modĂ©lisation des inĂ©galitĂ©s Ă©conomiques et urbaines me semble particuliĂšrement prometteur tant la multiplicitĂ© des causes et de leur combinaison s’applique. En revanche, un aspect de l’ouvrage qui me semble nĂ©gligĂ© est celui de la non-symmĂ©trie des passages entre classes sociales. En effet, bien que le parti-pris annoncĂ© de l’auteur soit celui de traiter les trajectoires sociales “ascendantes” autant que “descendantes”, les exemples dĂ©veloppĂ©s dans l’ouvrage sont exclusivement ceux de transclasses socialement ascendants, ce qui amoindrit lĂ©gĂšrement la gĂ©nĂ©ralitĂ© du propos sur le passing comme processus symĂ©trique. En effet, les causes et mĂ©canismes dĂ©crits pour expliquer les affects des transclasses (la honte sociale issue de processus de domination par exemple) ne fonctionnent pas de maniĂšre symĂ©trique.

 


 

Ici, je partage le type de document sur lequel s’est appuyĂ© mon compte rendu. Il est constituĂ© d’un recueil de passages du livre que j’ai considĂ©rĂ©s comme importants.

D’autres comptes-rendus de cet ouvrage ont Ă©tĂ© publiĂ©s, dans La Nouvelle Revue du Travail et le blog La philosophie au sens large. 

 

Géographie des Inégalités

George P., 1981, Géographie des inégalités, Paris, Que Sais-Je, Presses Universitaires de France, 127p.

Alors que je dĂ©marrais un projet Ă©ditorial sur le thĂšme de la gĂ©ographie des inĂ©galitĂ©s, j’ai cherchĂ© les ouvrages existants (en français) sur le sujet et trouvĂ© en premiĂšre place ce petit volume de Pierre George datant de 1981. Je ne connaissais pas le travail du gĂ©ographe sur ce sujet, ayant plutĂŽt cĂŽtoyĂ© ses Ă©crits sur l’URSS, les villes et la gĂ©ographie Ă©conomique. Au moment oĂč je cherchais ce Que Sais-Je devenu rare (seuls 15% de l’ouvrage peuvent ĂȘtre lus sur Gallica), Denise Pumain en trouvait une copie dans une bibliothĂšque familiale et m’envoyait un scan de la conclusion, sans concertation mais Ă  point nommĂ©. J’ai depuis empruntĂ© le volume et lu ce texte datant de presque quarante ans. Il me conforte dans l’idĂ©e de renouveler l’exercice aujourd’hui, car certains faits et processus ont changĂ©, mais j’ai Ă©tĂ© aussi Ă©tonnĂ©e de son actualitĂ© et de la prĂ©sence dĂ©jĂ  ancienne de questions toujours non rĂ©solues dans la gĂ©ographie des inĂ©galitĂ©s, et en premier lieu celle, sur laquelle je reviendrai, de l’importance de l’Ă©chelle gĂ©ographique dans la prĂ©sentation, la comprĂ©hension et la reprĂ©sentation des inĂ©galitĂ©s.

PubliĂ© chez PUF dans la collection Que Sais-Je, cet ouvrage est vu par P. George comme une actualisation de son opus GĂ©ographie de la Consommation dans la mĂȘme collection vingt ans plus tĂŽt, et qui abordait les diffĂ©rences nationales en termes de niveau de consommation, contrastant des espaces de sous-consommation et des espaces de sur-consommation. “Il a paru plus conforme aux circonstances de reprendre la question en amont et de proposer Ă  des recherches plus approfondies une prise en compte des facteurs de diffĂ©renciation des consommations Ă  l’Ă©chelle de la gĂ©ographie gĂ©nĂ©rale, mais aussi des espaces plus concrets de la vie quotidienne, Il en est issu l’idĂ©e d’une GĂ©ographie des InĂ©galitĂ©s.” (p.4). Cette approche des niveaux de vie par les conditions matĂ©rielles de leur rĂ©alisation est un point important de l’ouvrage et n’est pas Ă©tranger aux propositions d’A. Sen sur les capabilitĂ©s, mais il peut surprendre dans le contexte actuel oĂč la majoritĂ© des ouvrages sur les inĂ©galitĂ©s Ă©conomiques prennent pour acquis l’usage des variables de revenus, de salaires et de patrimoine pour dĂ©crire les inĂ©galitĂ©s. Dans cet ouvrage, l’auteur aborde aussi bien les niveaux de production agricole que ceux de la consommation alimentaire pour dĂ©crire les inĂ©galitĂ©s entre groupes sociaux situĂ©s sur des espaces diffĂ©rents (diffĂ©renciation internationale, opposition urbain-rural) mais aussi les inĂ©galitĂ©s entre groupes sociaux d’un mĂȘme espace (les grandes villes notamment).

 


 

L’ouvrage se compose d’une introduction et d’une conclusion, sĂ©parĂ©es par trois chapitres : un premier chapitre est consacrĂ© au “pays industriels”, un second Ă  “la pauvretĂ©” et un dernier (“une nouvelle donne?”) au dĂ©veloppement Ă©conomique et ses consĂ©quences en termes de nouveaux Ă©quilibres mondiaux des inĂ©galitĂ©s.

DĂšs l’introduction, la question des Ă©chelles gĂ©ographiques dans la perception, la comprĂ©hension et l’analyse des inĂ©galitĂ©s apparaĂźt comme centrale. Selon P. George, “l’espace est fait d’unitĂ©s prĂ©sentant certains caractĂšres d’homogĂ©nĂ©itĂ©, emboĂźtĂ©es les unes dans les autres. A l’intĂ©rieur de chacune d’elles se diffĂ©rencient des secteurs d’inĂ©galitĂ©s. Une gĂ©ographie des inĂ©galitĂ©s, comme toute gĂ©ographie, s’articule donc suivant diverses Ă©chelles. Il y a autant de nĂ©cessitĂ© Ă  prendre en compte dans une ville ou dans une rĂ©gion les diffĂ©renciations sociales de l’occupation et de la maĂźtrise de l’espace qu’Ă  mesurer les Ă©carts entre de grands ensembles continentaux.” (p.8). La dĂ©finition des inĂ©galitĂ©s est ici rendue par l’idĂ©e de diffĂ©renciation entre zones homogĂšnes. Le parti est pris dĂšs le dĂ©but de l’ouvrage de s’intĂ©resser avant tout aux inĂ©galitĂ©s (et donc aux diffĂ©renciations) de niveau de vie Ă©conomique: “Quel que soit le caractĂšre choquant des discriminations liĂ©es Ă  la naissance ou Ă  l’appartenance Ă  une collectivitĂ© ethno-culturelle, les grands contrastes de conditions de vie et mĂȘme, Ă  la base, de chances de survie, reposent sur la rĂ©partition des moyens d’existence. [
] ConcrĂštement, les clivages les plus perceptibles des inĂ©galitĂ©s Ă©conomiques et sociales se projettent sur l’utilisation de l’espace.” (p.7). L’objectif de cette gĂ©ographie des inĂ©galitĂ©s est donc de prĂ©senter les inĂ©galitĂ©s Ă©conomiques mondiales Ă  travers la lecture des diffĂ©renciations spatiales produites par les sociĂ©tĂ©s Ă  diffĂ©rentes Ă©chelles.

Le premier chapitre brosse une gĂ©ographie de la richesse et des inĂ©galitĂ©s des pays industriels – c’est-Ă -dire principalement de l’Europe, du Japon, de l’AmĂ©rique du Nord et du bloc socialiste de l’Ă©poque – en deux Ă©tapes. La premiĂšre partie du chapitre dĂ©crit le niveau de richesse absolu des Etats concernĂ©s, en se rĂ©fĂ©rant Ă  leur niveau de vie et de consommation, mais aussi Ă  la structure sociale de la sociĂ©tĂ©, qualifiĂ©e “de classes moyennes”. L’ouvrage a cette qualitĂ© de ramener systĂ©matiquement la distribution des richesses Ă  leur projection dans l’espace. Par exemple:

“En France, l’Ă©cart officiel est de l’ordre de 1 Ă  7 entre le salaire minimum garanti et les Ă©moluments d’un cadre supĂ©rieur. La hiĂ©rarchie des revenus rĂ©els et sa rĂ©partition sont en fait toutes diffĂ©rentes – autant du fait des inexactitudes Ă  la base que des sous-Ă©valuations au sommet – et se projette sur une Ă©chelle beaucoup plus Ă©tirĂ©e et gĂ©nĂ©ralement dĂ©calĂ©e dans l’ensemble vers le haut. En premier lieu, les conditions d’une famille peuvent varier sensiblement suivant qu’il est possible ou non dans un mĂȘme lieu de rĂ©unir plusieurs salaires par mĂ©nages. Les rĂ©gions ou les villes qui n’offrent qu’un type d’activitĂ©, et notamment que des activitĂ©s masculines, sont pĂ©nalisĂ©es par rapport Ă  celles oĂč tous les Ă©lĂ©ments d’Ăąge actif d’une famille peuvent exercer un emploi rĂ©munĂ©rĂ©. C’est notamment le cas des pays miniers ou des rĂ©gions d’activitĂ©s industrielles Ă  forte majoritĂ© d’emplois masculins (sidĂ©rurgie en particulier).” (p.24)

L’auteur opĂšre ensuite une dĂ©clinaison scalaire de ces niveaux de vie au sein des pays industriels. “On doit prendre en compte toute une hiĂ©rarchie de situations qui se projette dans l’espace Ă  des Ă©chelles diffĂ©rentes: inĂ©galitĂ©s entre villes et campagnes qui engendrent l’exode rural, inĂ©galitĂ©s entre petites villes et grandes villes, inĂ©galitĂ©s entre rĂ©gions rurales Ă  forte productivitĂ© (et Ă  population relativement nombreuse) et rĂ©gions rurales Ă  basse productivitĂ©, inĂ©galitĂ©s entre rĂ©gions Ă  intĂ©gration industrielle multiforme assurant diversitĂ© et relĂšve d’emplois et rĂ©gions mono-industrielles exposĂ©es aux crises conjoncturelles et techniques” (p.34-5). La seconde partie du chapitre Ă©voque les dĂ©fis de ces Etats pourtant privilĂ©giĂ©s relativement Ă  l’Ă©chelle mondiale, au travers de l’injonction Ă  la croissance illimitĂ©e et des crises successives. Une mention est faite aux pays socialistes, qui ne sont pas pour autant fondamentalement distinguĂ©s des pays industriels dans cette gĂ©ographie des inĂ©galitĂ©s. “Le principe organique de la sociĂ©tĂ© [socialiste] est une rĂ©partition Ă©galitaire des revenus sectoriels modulĂ©e en fonction de la qualitĂ© de l’activitĂ© exercĂ©e. Dans la pratique, des avantages non comptabilisĂ©s privilĂ©gient la ‘classe politique et administrative’, communĂ©ment appelĂ©e la Nomenklatura, mais ils ne se transposent pas dans le paysage comme les diffĂ©rences sociales des pays d’économie libĂ©rale. Les structures urbaines sont uniformes, et discret l’impact gĂ©ographique des privilĂšges de fonction – dans les zones de ‘datchas’ ou les aires rĂ©servĂ©es aux loisirs des hauts fonctionnaires et des responsables politiques.” (p.43).

Le second chapitre est dĂ©diĂ© Ă  la pauvretĂ©, que P. George aborde par sa mesure, discutant tout d’abord les indicateurs les plus appropriĂ©s, notamment aux Ă©conomies agricoles d’auto-subsistance. L’auteur distingue ainsi les indicateurs (PNB par exemple) des rĂ©vĂ©lateurs (espĂ©rance de vie, Ă©tat de santĂ© et d’Ă©ducation notamment). “Dans la mesure du possible, il est souhaitable de dĂ©passer [la] premiĂšre approximation [du quotient de PNB] en Ă©valuant des revenus rĂ©els Ă  partir d’enquĂȘtes locales. La difficultĂ© majeure est que cette Ă©valuation ne peut se faire en signes monĂ©taires que pour des populations urbaines qui ne reprĂ©sentent que des minoritĂ©s, et dont une partie au moins est dans une situation relativement favorable par rapport Ă  la masse de la population qui est une population rurale. Or, la transposition de quantitĂ©s de produits agricoles en valeurs monĂ©taires, quand il est question de produits qui ne sont pas commercialisĂ©s, n’a guĂšre de sens.” (p.55-6). La seconde partie du chapitre met en relation les succĂšs apparents du dĂ©veloppement avec les preuves du maintien de la pauvretĂ©, notamment dans les pays de forte croissance dĂ©mographique. Cette discussion introduit l’importance de considĂ©rer les inĂ©galitĂ©s intra-nationales, par exemple dans le domaine de l’alimentation: “Ces donnĂ©es d’ordre gĂ©nĂ©ral ne fournissent qu’une image imparfaite des insuffisances alimentaires, en ce sens qu’elles ne font pas apparaĂźtre les privations affectant particuliĂšrement certaines catĂ©gories et certaines classes d’ñge de la population, et confondent dans une mĂȘme moyenne, mĂȘme gravement insuffisante, la succession de pĂ©riodes au cours desquelles elles sont susceptibles de varier dans des proportions importantes. Une grande partie des disponibilitĂ©s alimentaires est absorbĂ©e par les minoritĂ©s privilĂ©giĂ©es rĂ©sidant en ville et consommant les nourritures les plus riches souvent fournies par l’importation. Les moyennes recouvrent de sensibles diffĂ©rences d’un lieu Ă  l’autre.” (p.57-9).

Le troisiĂšme chapitre enfin Ă©voque la situation des Etats intermĂ©diaires. Ces Etats incluent les pays pĂ©troliers (“la fortune sans richesse”) ainsi que ceux que l’on qualifie aujourd’hui d’Ă©mergents (Chine, BrĂ©sil, Mexique par exemple). A propos des sociĂ©tĂ©s des pays pays pĂ©troliers et de leurs disparitĂ©s sociales et spatiales, P. George note que “le contraste est probablement un des plus forts qu’on puisse observer dans le monde” (p.88). A propos des pays Ă©mergents, caractĂ©risĂ©s par la vitesse de leur dĂ©collage tout autant que par leur niveau de vie intermĂ©diaire, l’auteur tente d’identifier les conditions gĂ©ographiques et historiques communes qui les diffĂ©rencient des Etats restĂ©s pauvres ou en dĂ©veloppement. Selon lui, et sans dĂ©terminisme, “les Ă©lĂ©ments principaux peuvent ĂȘtre ramenĂ©s dans une approche prĂ©liminaire au nombre de quatre : la dimension, les facteurs naturels de production, la maĂźtrise de la dynamique dĂ©mographique, les structures de production. […] Les conditions gĂ©ographiques et historiques favorisent, sinon imposent, certains choix. Ceux-ci incombent Ă  la classe politique gĂ©rant les affaires d’Etat et qui se confond, sous des formes variĂ©es dans la structure et l’idĂ©ologie retenues, avec la classe Ă©conomique. Il en rĂ©sulte des clivages dĂ©cisifs Ă  l’intĂ©rieur de la sociĂ©tĂ©, dont il sera fait Ă©tat au titre des inĂ©galitĂ©s dans le dĂ©veloppement.” (p.93-8). Si la situation moyenne des Etats dĂ©crits ici est intermĂ©diaire Ă  l’Ă©chelle mondiale, P. George consacre la fin de ce chapitre Ă  montrer Ă  quel point cette moyenne masque les inĂ©galitĂ©s les plus extrĂȘmes entre classes aisĂ©es et dĂ©munies, entre quartiers riches et quartiers pauvres, entre capitales nationales et villes secondaires notamment. Loin d’ĂȘtre un effet secondaire, ces inĂ©galitĂ©s font partie selon lui du processus mĂȘme de dĂ©veloppement de ces pays. « Les grandes Ă©conomies libĂ©rales en voie de dĂ©veloppement rapide sont les plus inĂ©galitaires du monde. Les inĂ©galitĂ©s se projettent sur deux plans, celui de l’échelle sociale globale et celui de l’espace gĂ©ographique dĂ©multipliĂ© Ă  son tour en unitĂ©s rĂ©gionales et en subdivisions locales. Le fondement de l’inĂ©galitĂ© est l’armature mĂȘme du dĂ©veloppement. » (p.105-6).

Dans la conclusion, P. George retourne Ă  son argument de l’imbrication des Ă©chelles gĂ©ographiques dans la lecture des inĂ©galitĂ©s au travers des diffĂ©renciations spatiales: “les ‘disparitĂ©s rĂ©gionales’, l’inĂ©gal dĂ©veloppement des Ă©conomies urbaines et des Ă©conomies rurales, la hiĂ©rarchie des villes, les sĂ©grĂ©gations intra-urbaines sont les thĂšmes gĂ©ographiques de l’inĂ©galitĂ© Ă  l’échelle des Etats, des rĂ©gions, des agglomĂ©rations. » (p. 122-3). Il met en relation les sociĂ©tĂ©s mondiales analysĂ©es sĂ©parĂ©ment durant l’ouvrage, en notant par exemple que les inĂ©galitĂ©s des pays en dĂ©veloppement au moment de l’Ă©criture sont incomparablement plus Ă©levĂ©es que celles qu’ont connu les pays industrialisĂ©s, sur lesquels sont pourtant fondĂ©s les figures typiques de la sĂ©grĂ©gation en gĂ©ographie (l’opposition ‘beaux quartiers’ / ‘quartiers ouvriers’ dans les villes par exemple). Le rĂŽle des indicateurs statistiques, utilisĂ©s tout au long du livre pour prĂ©senter les ordres de grandeur de la richesse et de la pauvretĂ© des pays, rĂ©gions, villes et quartiers, est relativisĂ© par l’auteur qui  les traite de “moules vides” et recommande de leur adjoindre des Ă©lĂ©ments d’explication issus de l’observation et du dialogue. Enfin, il plaide pour une gĂ©ographie “utile” qui dĂ©crit les inĂ©galitĂ©s pour dĂ©noncer leurs consĂ©quences nĂ©gatives et contribuer Ă  “la prise de conscience de la nĂ©cessitĂ© d’une certaine forme d’action rĂ©paratrice” (p. 123).

 


 

L’analyse critique de cet ouvrage trente huit ans aprĂšs sa publication a la tache impossible de distinguer les incongruitĂ©s dus aux parti-pris de l’auteur de celles rĂ©vĂ©lĂ©es a posteriori par les changements advenus dans le monde en gĂ©nĂ©ral depuis 1981 et dans celui de la gĂ©ographie en particulier. Notons donc simplement quelques faiblesses de l’ouvrage pour le lecteur contemporain, notamment liĂ©es Ă  la prĂ©-Ă©minence de l’Ă©chelle des Etats, malgrĂ© les efforts importants de l’auteur pour offrir une analyse multiscalaire. Ainsi, les Etats Ă©tant l’Ă©chelon premier qui divisent le monde dans cette gĂ©ographie des inĂ©galitĂ©s, il n’est fait usage nulle part (ou trĂšs peu) des ensembles territoriaux plus larges (tels que l’Union EuropĂ©enne, l’URSS ou l’ALENA) qui non seulement permettrait une classification plus homogĂšne des espaces au regard des inĂ©galitĂ©s (au lieu de la dichotomie pays industriels / pays en dĂ©veloppement) mais aussi constituent pour certains des espaces de redistribution de la richesse (le Fond EuropĂ©en pour la Politique RĂ©gionale par exemple, crĂ©Ă© en 1975, qui existait donc dĂ©jĂ  au moment de l’Ă©criture de l’ouvrage). Cette absence de considĂ©ration pour les institutions supra- ou sub-nationales s’accompagne d’une faible attention portĂ©e aux politiques de rĂ©duction des inĂ©galitĂ©s en gĂ©nĂ©ral. Enfin, la description des niveaux de vie par pays et de leurs disparitĂ©s gĂ©ographiques telle qu’elle est mise en oeuvre dans le livre de P. George masque un aspect important des inĂ©galitĂ©s et de leur dynamique, Ă  savoir les interactions entre espaces (par le commerce, la finance ou les investissements, mais aussi les relations politiques et militaires dans un contexte post-colonial).

La prioritĂ© donnĂ©e aux Etats et au processus de dĂ©veloppement face aux relations internationales reflĂšte peut-ĂȘtre l’anachronisme d’une lecture biaisĂ©e par l’idĂ©e actuelle de mondialisation, mais suggĂšre que l’actualisation de ce travail doit dĂ©sormais incorporer cette dimension. Ce petit Que Sais-Je mĂ©rite toutefois d’ĂȘtre lu aujourd’hui, ne serait-ce pour son attention au caractĂšre multi-scalaire des inĂ©galitĂ©s et pour sa projection systĂ©matique des diffĂ©renciations sociales dans l’espace gĂ©ographique.

 

Ici, je partage le type de document sur lequel s’est appuyĂ© mon compte rendu. Il est constituĂ© d’un recueil de passages du livre que j’ai considĂ©rĂ©s comme importants. Chaque citation est accompagnĂ©e d’un ou plusieurs mots clĂ©s (ou tags), prĂ©cĂ©dĂ©s d’un # afin d’effectuer des recherches thĂ©matiques dans le document. Les passages en gras ne le sont pas nĂ©cessairement dans la version originale.

A short history of inequality

Alacevich M., Soci A., 2017, A Short History of Inequality, Agenda Publishing, Newcastle upon Tyne, 232p.

I have purchased this book in the hall leading to a Regional Studies Association conference in London last year. The promising title and the short format (232 pages including a 50-page appendix on the measures of inequality) suggested a quick read and a useful textbook to keep at reach for future reference. It has kept its promises and also delivered some surprises.

The first surprise is that the book is more a history of the economics of inequality than a history of inequality itself. Indeed, the title suggests that the reader will find at some point a collection of historical evolutions of inequality indices. There are some of such graphs, but they do no make the core of this book. Instead, the place of inequality within economics as a discipline and its main contributors are exposed and explained. This history of economics includes accounts of how measures of inequality came about and how they were used to support theories about the social distribution of economic resources. This approach can be explained by the profile of one of the authors, Michele Alacevich, who is an Associate Professor of Economic History and the History of Economic Thought at the University of Bologna. His collaboration with Anna Soci, Professor of Economics at the University of Bologna, dates back from their concomittant stay at Columbia University  in the early 2010s.

The second surprise of the book is an additional focus on dialectic relationships (inequality and globalisation in chapter four, inequality and democracy in chapter five) which brings insightful reflexions about the causes and consequences of inequality, even though it is sometimes detached from the main narrative. The biggest contribution of this book in my perspective is its general information on the history of inequality studies (for example the biographies of Lorenz, Pareto and Gini which were new to me) as well as the wide (yet digest) presentation of how inequality can be approached, in terms of scales (global, international and national accounts), of content (income, wealth, production, capabilities) and of rationale (equity, welfare, democracy). Obviously, some aspects and discussions (especially on data sources) are missing but the authors have compensated this by deeper analyses in the dialectic chapters, so that the small book does not cover only superficial categories. I think all in all, the book falls short of telling the history of inequality (which is fine since other books had done it already anyway), yet it provides an original and reflexive contribution well worth the (quick) read.

 


 

The book is structured around an introduction, six chapters and an appendix. The introduction and chapter one set the frame and incentives for studying inequality, recalling why it is a social issue that economists should address. Chapter two and three present how and why inequality has been sidetracked from mainstream economics until very recently, because of its object (individuals) and methods (distributional statistics). Chapter four deals with inequality and globalization, and chapter five with inequality and democracy. The last chapter opens on the future of inequality, including sectoral politicies expected to reduce economic inequalities. The appendix details the statistics of inequality through a more in-depth presentation of the main measures of inequality (Gini, Theil, P10/P90, etc.).

 

As the introduction recalls, despite the sizeable place that economics of inequality hold in the public debate in recent years, it has long been an issue relegated to the side of mainstream economics, which were far more interested in the dynamics of growth and production than in the individual distribution of income and wealth. This is especially true for early industrialised countries. “Whereas economic inequality per se cannot be said to be a new issue, its catalytic power in terms of political discourse is indeed novel. […] While we have been used to consider inequality as a basic characteristic of many less developed countries (except perhaps the very poor countries, whose low inequality is mainly attributable to everybody being poor), only in recent years have pundits, the economics profession at large, and public opinion awakened to the fact that inequality has become a fundamental problem in countries that have long considered themselves immune from it – mainly the advanced countries” (p.4). What has changed to push the issue of inequality to the forefront of political economics, according to the authors, is the post-crisis increase of domestic (within-country) inequality in ‘advanced economies’ as well as a bigger focus on individuals (in part through democracy) and their capabilities. The  processes of globalisation and democratisation are intertwined with inequality at various geographical scales, and according to the authors: “Wether we succeed in giving globalization a human face and keeping democracy a credible and truly representative political system will depend in greatest part on how we resolve the problem of inequality” (p.10).

The first chapter is entitled “Why inequality is the real issue”. It aims to show how inequality differs from the related issues of poverty and growth, and why it should have precedence in this book. This take opposes the views of scholars like Nozick, Toqueville and Mc Closkey, for whom poverty is the real issue to resolve, for example by fostering a general enrichment of society (of the like of industrialisation), regardless of the further enrichment of the already rich. By contrast, the authors argue that the gap between rich and poor is important itself, on an economic as well as political level, because “while poverty may be smoothed as a nonantagonistic question, inequality will always, sooner or later, trigger a discussion about the structure of power and social disparities in a given society” (p.15). In this first chapter, inequality is also related to its counterpart: equality, a much bigger subject in social philosophy and the first contributors to classical economics, whereas it became a strong deterrent in neoclassical economics, increasing the acceptability (and even desirability) of inequality in this body of work. For the authors, inequality is everything but a desirable outcome: “not only does structural inequality undermine the functioning of global and national economic systems, its disruptive power in the economic sphere also merges with other dimensions of inequality in a society, such as racial and gender inequality; inequality in education, opportunities, and other social attributes such as class and status; inequality in life expectancy; and, in less lucky countries, inequality in access to much more basic necessities, such as food and potable water. These inequalities reinforce each other (though not always in a linear ways) to produce visious circles, through a process called “cumulative causation”, that entrap most disadvantaged individuals or groups and make them increasingly behind the privileged ones. Social scientists have insisted on ‘self-reinforcing mechanisms’, ‘critical thresholds’, ‘dysfunctional institutions’ and other forces that perpetuate existing stratifications and work against social mobility” (p.22). One further argument against inequality in this chapter is that “Inequality deeply penetrates the social fabric, shapes it, and remains engrained in it, possibly for generations. Inequality, in other words, is inherited. […] It imperils the mechanisms of a healthy democracy” (p.23-4).

In view of this opposition of arguments, the second chapter contextualises “the long neglect of inequality” within the history of economic thought. The inter-individual inequality of wealth and income has been neglected in mainstream economics until recently for three reasons according to the authors. Firstly, “whereas a theory of personal income and wealth distribution, which is vital to the study of inequality, has been prominently absent from the economic literature, another kind of distribution has played a very important role, name functional distribution. […] Thus the distribution of production, central to the classical economic thought, is ‘functional’ since it pertains to the distribution of the product to the groups that contribute to production.” (p.27-31). The groups in question (workers and capitalists, or producers and consumers) are taken as homogenous units, leading the way to the ‘representative agent’ of neoclassical economics. This way of thinking excludes the possibility and necessity for a “complete theory of personal distribution because there are no person” (p.36). Secondly, the lives of individuals were not viewed as legitimate objects of economic analysis until recently. “Even during the French Revolution, the bourgeois favored political equality but not social or economic equality. The time was not ripe for a social revolution that would make the individual its center. Much time would elapse before the individual became the true focus of societal studies” (p.32-3). Thirdly, the study of inequality to inform the opportunity of state intervention lies on normative grounds, and presupposes the adoption of an idea of social justice, which mainstream economics (including the New Welfare doctrine) have rejected, focusing instead on “the problem of efficient allocation of resources in the form of so-called Pareto optimality, according to which an allocation is Pareto optimal whenever it cannot be reorganized so to improved the condition (utility) of somebody without worsening that of other” (p.38). Finally, the authors note that as a result, a complete and consistant theory of the personal distribution of income does not exist in the discipline. “Regrettably, at least for the construction of a theory of size distribution of revenues, twentieth-century economics has been occupied in diatribes between the two competing Keneysian and neoclassical theories, leaving no space for other ideas or for contamination from other disciplines, such as sociology and politics” (p.44).

Chapter three complements the picture by describing “the statistical drift of inequality studies”. Indeed, as a consequence of the absence of theory, the authors suggest that economics of inequality resorted instead to present factual observations and to design ever more sophisticated ways of summarising them (i.e. statistics and inequality measures). They review in details the landmark measures of inequality (Pareto’s alpha, Lorenz’s curve, Gini’s coefficient), highlighting their strength and weaknesses. For example, compared to the descriptive fitting of Pareto to a power law distribution, Lorenz introduced the idea of concentration of wealth/income with respect to the share of population holding it. “As Lorenz put it, the purpose of his 1905 article – apparently his only publication in a scientific journal – appeared to be rather humble: to discuss some techniques used thus far in distribution analysis, and to suggest ‘an additional one’ in order to ‘take account simultaneously of changes in wealth and changes in population’. In particular, Lorenz insisted on the benefits that a graphical representation of distributional data would offer” (p.51-2). By integrating over this curve to produce a bounded index, Gini popularised Lorenz’s curve and allowed for the scale- and population-independent comparison of spatio-temporal units with respect to inequality. “Contrary to Pareto’s outcome of a uniform distribution of wealth across countries and time, he found that total income distribution differs geographically” (p.53). The drawbacks of the Gini index are well-known (uni-dimensionality, low sensibility to extremes, non decomposability). The latter one was alleviated by Theil’s entropy index, which allows to measure “how much of the inequality is due to difference showed by the groups of observations in relation to each other and how much, conversely, is due to differences within each group of observations.” (p.55), distinguishing for example the within-country and between-country inequality. The presentation then turns to Kuznets’ theory and the inverted-U-shape curve that bears his name (although he never traced it apparently). The authors recall the principle of this theory: “During the process of economic development – that is, as the society as a whole comes richer – inequality rises, but eventually it reaches a plateau and starts to decrease while economic development proceeds” (p.61), its reliance on between-sectors processes (agriculture and industry in the original version) and how it might have been misinterpreted as an explanation for the differences in inequality between countries (non-ergodicity). The final developments detailed in chapter three regards Atkinson’s work of translating the Lorenz curve into welfare functions and vice versa and Sen’s introduction of the capabilities approach.

Chapter four dives into the relationships between inequality and globalisation. It starts by illustrating the relation with the phenomenon of international migrations: “the current Mediterranean migration underscores that migrations are a fundamental factor directly affecting and affected by inequality dynamics at the global level. People’s ability to migrate is not only an unmistakable sign that globalizing forces are at work; it is also one of the principal mechanisms for individuals to raise their standard of living and increase their position in the global income distribution” (p.73). The analysis is then split into within, between-country and global inequality. Within-country inequality is shown to have decreased after WWII, then reversed to increase again after the 1970s. “The downward trend of the Kuznets curve [in a number of countries] was due to a number of factors, some positive and some negative, such as the closing gap between rural and urban wages; the reduction in return on capital; destruction of capital; higher taxation, and inflation caused by the two world wars; and major political shifts in favor of inclusive and redistributive policies” (p.92). Since then, between-country (or international) inequality has increased and stagnated while population-weighted between-country (or global) inequality has decreased, especially thanks to the economic development of India and China. Thus, between-country is  becoming a less prominent contributor to the levels of global inequality (i.e. population-weighted between-country inequality). Therefore, to which family one is born is becoming more important than a few decades ago to explain their level of wealth and income, compared to which country they were born in (which explained the bulk of global inequality between WWII and 1980). To summarise “the combination of diminishing within-country inequality in large Asian countries and increasing within-country inequality in a number of rich countries, especially the United States, has important global consequences. The richest 1 per cent of any country’s population has obviously benefitted everywhere, taking an increasingly larger slice of the pie. Among the beneficiaries of this beneficiaries of this phenomenon, however, is also the emerging middle class in China, India, Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia, where, of course, the middle class would be considered poor if compared in absolute terms with the middle class of Western economies. The great losers, in this global reshuffle, are those belonging to the lower middle class of rich countries, whose real incomes, in the last tweny-five years, have grown slowly or remained stagnant” (p.103).

In chapter five, the authors address the ‘open issue of inequality and democracy’. They recall the absence of univocal causal links between political equality and economic equality beyond the obvious: “the absence of political equality makes the issue of economic equality irrelevant” (p.109). However, the authors present arguments as to how economic inequality threatens democracy. For example “A substantial degree of economic inequality may corrupt political equality or slow the realization of its potential, even in a democratic regime. […] There is evidence that the rich have great influence on the behavior of elected officials while people in the bottom third of the income distribution seem to have no impact, and, in general, political leaders apprear to react to what middle- and upper-income citizens prefer.” (p.109-16). Economic inequality is shown to have negative consequences on other social features praised by democratic societies, such as health,  education opportunities, and intergenerational social mobility.

The ‘future of inequality’ concludes the book as a sixth chapter. It presents policies aimed at reducting inequality at different scales, based on four arguments: “first, inequality, though present in nature, is not inevitable in human societies. Second, values, ideologies, and institutions play an fundamental role in how and to what extent a society adopts policies that curb inequality. Third, excessive inequality is socially disruptive and lowers the standard of living of all members of a community, including the well-off. Fourth, policies are needed to redress inequality [
 because] the market alone is unable to address complex social issues like inequality” (p.130). To curb within-  ‘advanced’ country inequality, the authors recommend fiscal policies (inc. tax rates, brackets and thresholds), corporate institutional reforms (transparency of financial operations, anti-trust legislation, minimum wages, social security), educational policies (in touch with the current technological needs) and social mobility programs. To curb within- ‘developing’ country inequality, the authors advocate for economic, social and institutional reforms, yet “gradualist and selective reforms, consensus building, the creation of an institutional infrastructure (which cannot happen overnight), phased restructuring, room for policy latitude – in sum, a sensitivity to the dynamics of change and transition – are equally as important if not more important” (p.140). To curb between-country inequality, they push for growth (to help alleviate international poverty) and between-country redistribution through international aid and a substantial contribution of rich countries towards ecological sustainability.

 


 

“As Nobel laureate Jan Tingergen noticed more than fifty years ago, the statistical description of income distribution was much more advanced than its economic interpretation. [
] Today the situation is not substantially different, notwithstanding a flourishing new body of research. Some ‘building blocks’ – such as skill-based technical progress, human capital formation, and wealth accumulation – are recognized as among the main mechnisms operating on economic inequality, but a complehensive theory is still lacking” (p.60). Despite this brief in-passing note of the authors about building block mechanisms, I have not found this book to provide a comprehensive account of the dynamics of inequality. Similarly, despite some elements in the appendix, I found that the authors brushed aside the data question very quickly. However, what type of data is available, curated and used to apply the measures of inequality is a strong determinant of the quality of resulting analysis (especially when increasing/decreasing trends are not very stark). When crude and ‘dirty’ data is thrown at slick and sophisticated statistical apparatuses, unfortunately it tends to produce crude and ‘dirty’ rather than slick and sophisticated results. A deeper inquiry around data sources and quality could have also raised some questions about collection boundaries and the meaning of expressing inequality only in terms of between- and within-country. Inter- regional, continental, urban, local inequality are almost absent in economics of inequality, and potentially so because of the dominant use national accounts data (i.e. individual data aggregated at the state level). Survey data or other aggregations of individual data could offer a renewed vision of the state of inequality in the world, distinguishing the class (within-) and place (between-) terms for different types of spaces (and accessibility between them).

All in all, this small book does a good job at providing a thorough summary of the main contributions to economics of inequality, of statistics and scales involved, on policies proposed to curb inequality. It constitues a perfect introduction to the subject and points to a diversity of potential paths to explore further.

 

Here I share the type of file I use to document my readings and book reviews. It is composed of citations from the book which I considered important while reading.

Another review of this book has been published in the Journal of Economics.

Great American City. Chicago and the enduring neighborhood effect

Sampson R. J., 2012, Great American City, Chicago and the enduring neighborhood effect, The University of Chicago Press, 534p. Foreword by William Julius Wilson.

This book was advised to me by Serge Paugam after I presented my research project at the Centre Maurice Halbwachs in April 2018. Robert Sampson is a sociologist from the University of Chicago, and this book gathers the work he has been leading on neighbourhood effects in Chicago over the two decades prior to the publishing date of 2012. In my opinion, the title could do better justice to the content of the book by being read in reverse, as the investigation revolves mainly around the analysis, observation, measurement and understanding of neighbourhood effects, Chicago being the case study from which the data are drawn in order to generalise some results to (American) cities. In one sentence, the ambition of the book is to demonstrate that local communities are still of relevance in XXIst century Chicago (and cities more generally), against recent claims in sociology about the processes of individualisation/disorganisation/globalisation of society. Neighborhood differentiation remains strong and stable because of durable mechanisms of reproduction of spatial inequality which affect urban dwellers on many aspects of social life such as “crime, property, child health, protest, leadership networks, civic engagement, home foreclosures, teen births, altruism, mobility flows, collective efficacy, or immigration, to name a few subjects” (p.6). According to the author himself: “at the broadest level, the present study is an effort to show that neighborhood are not merely settings in which individuals act out the dramas produced by autonomous and preset scripts, or empty vessels determined by ‘bigger’ external forces, but are important determinants of the quantity and quality of human behavior in their own right. It is, in other words, an effort to specify the structural and cultural dimensions of neighborhood effects. […] This book shows that a ‘kinds of people’ or compositional explanation of neighborhood disparities and social processes that turns on individual selection fails to answer the questions” (p.22).

Altogether, it fits my enquiry about urban inequalities by providing empirical material documenting the neighbourhood effects in Chicago, and theoretical explanations as to how and why this process happens in cities in general. The analysis explores the link between the individual, the (spatial) community and the city as a whole in their contemporary trajectories of change. “While important, the ways in which neighborhood networks are themselves tied into the larger social structure of the city in nonspatial ways are not well understood and rarely studied” (p.61). A quality of the book to mention already is the diversity of methods and data deployed to shed light on the complex object that is neighborhood community. Indeed, the author goes from field work (involving observation, walks, interviews, filming, dropping letters) to statistical and network analysis of various sources (newspapers, census data, questionnaires) in order to extract as much information as possible in support for his claims. This is a merit that is well served by the single-authored nature of the discourse, which allows the various elements to fit in a strong narrative. According to Sampson himself, “this book is at once an intellectual history of an idea, the story of a major research project, the tale of an iconic city, a systematic theory of neighborhood effects, an empirical account of community-level variations in a range of social processes, an analysis of competing approaches to social inquiry, and a sustained empirical analysis that was designed to uncover new facts while adjudicating and integrating existing hypotheses” (p.357-8).

 


 

The book is structured around five parts of unequal length. The first part exposes the thesis of the book and recalls the history of the concept of neighborhood effect, going back to XIXth century European statisticians and students of society (Guerry, Quetelet, Durkheim, Mayhew, Booth). However, the main sociological influence of the author is the Chicago School of sociology and their work around the notion of social ecology: “the Chicago School proposed that cities were divided into numerous ‘natural areas’, which exhibit distinct physical and cultural characteristics. [
] In this way the Chicago School theorists attempted to trace how macrolevel forces worked their way down to the local level in terms of community-level processes of social control and regulation.” (p.35-8). This theoretical paradigm and heritage is taken upon by the author and justified as follow:

What makes the Chicago School framework of the pre-World War II era of continued relevance to the study of neighborhoods is less its emphasis on disorganization (or, later, social capital) and more (a) its general emphasis on places rather than people, (b) its emphasis on neighborhood-level structural differentiation, (c) its notion of what we now call ‘mediation social mechanisms’, (d) its focus on the concentration of multiple and seemingly disparate social phenomena, (e) its emphasis on the importance of dynamic processes of social reproduction over time, and (f) its recognition of larger macrosocial forces” (p.39)

Combined with later literature on the ‘urban growth machine’ and William Julius Wilson’s notion of the ‘concentration effects’, this part draws the historical scene for the main concept of the book, along with some ‘facts’: “first, there is considerable social inequality between neighborhoods, especially in terms of socioeconomic position and racial/ethnic segregation. Second, these factors are connected in that concentrated disadvantage often coincides with the geographic isolation of racial minority and immigrant groups. Third, a number of crime- and health-related problems tend to come bundled together at the neighborhood level and are predicted by neighborhood characteristics such as the concentration of poverty, racial isolation, single-parent families, and to a lesser extent rates of residential and housing instability. Fourth, a number of social indicators at the upper end of what many would consider progress, such as affluence, computer literacy, and elite occupational attainment, are also clustered geographically” (p.46). The rest of the book is devoted to trying to unveil the mechanisms by which these facts come about, using the city of Chicago as an experimental laboratory. “Social mechanisms provide theorerically plausible accounts of how neighborhoods bring about change in a given phenomenon. Mechanisms are by and large a theoretical claim about explanation […] the goal is to develop indicators of the sets of practices, meanings, and actions that reflect hypothesized mechanisms” (p.46-7).

 

The second part of the book, dealing with ‘principles and method’, presents the analytic approach and overall project which supported the research. A first step is to define what is understood as ‘neighborhood’ in neighborhood effects. “I begin […] by conceptualizing neighborhood in theoretical terms and as a geographic section of a larger community or region (e.g., city) that usually contains residents or institutions and has socially distinctive characteristics. This definition highlights the general characteristic of neighborhoods from ancient cities to the present – they are analytic units with simultaneous social and spatial significance” (p.56-7). This definition differs from the ‘community’ concept by the fact that although neighborhoods have social significance, they do not necessarily involve “shared values and tigh-knit bonds”. In terms of methods, Sampson “argue[s] that we need to treat social context as an important unit of analysis in its own right” (p.59), therefore requiring something which he and S. Raudenbush call ‘ecometrics’, i.e. the development of standard measures of neighborhood level properties, in reference to psychometrics at the individual level. “In this book, I therefore focus on a key aspect of selection – neighborhood location or choice – and treat the neighborhood outcome achieved by the individual as problematic in its own right. This approach allows me to examine the sources and consequences of sorting for the reproduction of social inequality in the lives of individuals, and for the reproduction of the stratified urban landscape” (p.64). Ecometrics are to be used along with other eclectic methods which enable the author to connect with previous contributions to the subject.

The second chapter of this part presents the chronology and organisational making of the Chicago Project, along with the various databases tapped into of produced by the various contributers.

 

The third part of the book is dedicated to the identification of the community-level indicators and processes which make neighborhood effects persistent in cities. In chapitre 5, the dynamic stability of poverty traps and inequality are looked into. This is done by analysing the individual characteristics which tend to be over-represented together in residents of disadvantaged neighborhood. For example, “the data thus confirm that neighborhoods that are both black and poor, and that are characterized by high unemployement and female-headed families, are ecologically distinct, a characteristic that is not simply the same thing as low economic status” (p.101). In addition to the categories of income, race, employment and household structure, Sampson brings incarceration and crime to expose further the conundrum of neighborhood effects: despite change in the life of individuals (through social as well as geographical mobility), the spatial concentration of disadvantage in a selection of neighborhood remains and so does the overall inequality between neighborhoods in the city.

The second chapter of this part examines the theory of ‘broken windows’ and disorganization. More precisely, the author shows that perceptions of disorder play a strong role in shaping the identity of a place, even when ‘actual’ signs of disorder (broken windows, littered streets) are no more visible. Instead, according to the author, people tend to rely on priors and social representations to take the concentration of visible minorities as a proxy for disorder level: “the human tendency to quickly categorize racial and other groups, our ability to easily observe skin color, and our sensitivity to the opinions of others in the form of reputations or identities that stigmatize areas, makes for a potent combination. […] Racial and immigrant concentration proved more powerful predictors of perceived disorder than did carefully observed disorder” (p.125-37). This in turn forms neigbhorhood stigma which shapes attitudes towards neighborhood perceived as disordered, in terms of decisions regarding residential mobility, as well as political and economic prospects. “Shared perceptions of disorder rather than systematically observed disorder appear to be a mechanism of durable inequality” (p.146). The proposed inhibitor of both disorder and crime (linked together in the dynamics of poverty traps) proposed by Sampson in the following chapter is ‘collective efficacy’.

The concept of collective efficacy draws together two fundamental mechanisms – social cohesion (the ‘collectivity’ part of the concept) and shared expectations for control (the ‘efficacy’ part of the concept)” (p.152-3). Collective efficacy is therefore shown to be favoured by residential stability (building ties takes time, therefore it is higher among home-owners and areas of low turnover) but is hindered by “alienation, exploitation, and dependency wrought by resource deprivation” at the neighborhood level. Statistical analysis of Chicago data is then used to show that “neighborhoods high in collective efficacy consistently had significantly lower rates of violence” (p.157). More generally, collective efficacy as a neighborhood-level ecometric and as a concept turn out to be fundamental to the rest of the book’s analysis.

Chapter 8 focuses next on collective action, by first contrasting it to recent research on individual engagement in social behaviour. “Individuals (the micro level) are the necessary conduit, but individual civic endowments and levels of participation are not a sufficient driver” (p.184). By considering collective mobilization very broadly as events that ‘bring people together’, from blood drives to neighborhood watches and fundraisers, Sampson (and D. McAdams) show that the number of these events has not dropped since the 1970s. However, the spatial distribution of these events is uneven. It statistically relates to the distribution of disadvantage and collective efficacy more strongly than to that of more formal organizations (such as non-profits or churches).

Chapter 9 finally introduces the concept of social altruism to qualify neighborhoods at the collective-level. Social altruism refers to the acts of other-regarding behaviour. One way of estimating it in Chicago was by dropping 3000 stamped letters in the street and counting how many arrived at destination. Overall, one third of them were returned, but large variations between neighorhoods exist. The second hand data of CPR gift was also considered by the author. Sampson concludes that “altruism systematically varies across neighborhoods in ways that conform to theoretical predictions: behavioral altruism is positively related to independent measures of collective efficacy from the PHDCN, negatively related to concentrated disadvantage and moral cynicism, and independently predicts important indicators of later wellbeing” (p.211-2) and that “acts of behavioral altruism are higher in contexts of community trust and shared expectations for public interventions” (p.227), that is in communities with high collective efficacy regardless of their income or racial composition.

 

The fourth part of the book is the one where all the concepts introduced so far come together. ‘Interlocking structures’ are revealed through a study of spatial association models, residential migrations and political networks. Chapter 10, dealing with ‘spatial logics’, focuses on the proximity effects between neighborhoords. For example, confirming M. Pattilo-McCoy’s ethnographic work, Sampson shows that “the black middle class is economically disadvantaged compared to the white middle class because of its spatial proximity to the ghetto. The PHDCN data show that this extends across the entiry city – even white working-class areas do better than the highest-income black neighborhoods when it comes to the economic status of near neighbors” (p.249). Neighborhoods would tend to have violence and disorder levels which correlate with their neighbors’ level besides their own levels of collective efficacy and altruism, and because of this spatial influence, African American neighborhoods appear additionally disadvantaged, being surrounded by neighborhoods with generally lesser levels of collective efficacy and economic advantage compared to their white counterparts, extending the racial invariance thesis at the community level (p.251). A strong point is also made that neighborhoods of concentrated immigration show lower levels of violence.

Chapter 11 borrows its title to the film ‘Trading Places’. The trade produced by the Moving To Opportunity programme, which is at the core of the chapter, is not as starck as Eddie Murphy’s, but it is a unique social experiment of subsidised residential migration for the families who became eligible to housing vouchers redeemable in low-poverty neighborhoods. Instead of just reworking the MTO data once more to try and show that its results were not mixed or negative, Sampon questions the limitations of the experiment design itself. His points are threefold. First, he argues that the baseline population of the experiment, instead of being representative of poor families, consisted rather in very poor families, predominantly black or Latino and female-headed, living on welfare in inner-city public housing. This demographic was thus harder to bring out of poverty by the sole action of relocation. Second, he argues that “neighborhoods exert long-term effects on individual development” (p.263), and that the previous environments the family lived in could be cause for lower education and health measured after relocation. Third, Sampson suggests that families chose to relocate to neighborhoods which were not necessarily so much better-off in terms of social support and education. Therefore the comparison before/after cannot be taken as a robest test of neighborhood effects. Because of the fractal nature of inequality in Chicago, they tended to choose the poorer areas of low-poverty tracts, close to other participants in the experiment. Instead of moing to opportunity, “poor people moved to inequality” (p.278), or did not move at all. The author concludes, introducing the next chapter, that “selection is a social process that itself is implicated in creating the very structures that then contain individual behavior” (p.286).

Chapter 12 and 13 examine sorting in the residential context, by looking both at movers and stayers. The analysis shows that “stayers do not gain much, for example, and the trajectories remain parallel by race. Movers gain more by contrast, particularly those exiting to the suburbs, but in a way that just shifts the race gap in parallel fashion” (p.295), that perceived disorder is a statistical predictor of moving out of Chicago, especially for black families, along with home ownership and caregiving for all racial groups. Within Chicago, ‘upward mobility’ in the sense of moving to a better-off neighborhood is “rare, and, when it does happen, whites are three times more likely to have experienced it than their minority counterparts [
] The most common outcome is to stay in one’s original neighborhood, a crucial ingredient in reproducing the system of place stratification. Moreover, the next most common transition leads movers into neighborhoods of the same subtype” (p.301-5). Finally, social and spatial distances are found to deter pairwise migrations between neighborhoods, leading Sampson to conclude that “neighborhoods choose people rather than the common idea that people choose neighborhoods” (p.327).

Chapter 14 closes the ‘interactional’ part of the book by looking at leadership connections across neighborhoods in Chicago, using social networks analytic tools (connectivity and cohesiveness metrics mostly). “The data tell a simple but powerful story. Namely, the sociodemographic and poverty composition of communities does not determine the kind of leadership configurations […]. Concentrated disadvantage in particular is rather weakly connected to the cohesiveness of leadership and is only modestly predictive of the centrality of a community’s position in meadiating elite ties. Residential stability, median income, and percent black are weakly correlated as well. But […] the cohesiveness and shared expectations of residents is linked to the nature of leadership ties” (p.347).

 

Following the bulk of information and statistical results provided, a synthesis and update compose the final part of the book. The update of some analyses in 2010 shows more continuity than change despite the the subprime crisis. The main takeaway messages that the author wants to leave us with is that there is and remains a “deep ecological concentration and marked variability by neighborhood across a wide range of how Americans experience life” (p.356), and that this spatial inequality might be a stronger marker of the American society than its individual inequality. This inequality matters because “neighborhood contexts are socially productive” (p.358), and persistent ones. Therefore it seems the way forwards in terms of collective and individual well-being needs to promote collective efficacy and the conditions for its improvement, but also drastic government measures when self-reinforcing processes are too far entrenched in communities (through zoning for example). Immigration is another option, as “inflows of first-generation immigrants reflect a classic example of a diffusion process with spillover effects, including lower crime and economic resurgence of formerly devastated poor neighborhoods” (p.373). In general, “rather than simply move people out of targeted communities, the idea is to renew what is already there while simultaneously investing in communities on the edge of critical need but not yet deemed policy-relevant. [
] Properly done, intervening at the community level is not only feasible but more cost effective in the long run than targeting individuals. Predicting individual behavior is notoriously difficult and inefficient, whereas as I have shown that community social structures are highly patterned over time.” (p.420-4).

 


 

The contribution of this book to urban sociology and social geography is important, especially in the way R. Sampson does not give up in the face of the multidimensional, multilevel, temporal and complex object that is spatial inequality and neigbhorhood effects. Instead, the author brings together multiple empirical materials, theories and methods to try and manage the fact that ‘things go together’ in and across places. Furthermore, this book shows a very labour-intensive attempt at providing measures and quantified accounts of community-level processes, without sacrificing the qualitative work of interpretation of statistical results and their theoretical framing.

Notwithstanding the great qualities of the book, this ubiquitous focus on statistical associations can sometimes seem limited. Firstly, I suspect that the author (or the editor?) did not want to congest the book with numbers and figures, therefore all statistical results are narrated rather than presented in numerical form. A few tables would have saved a lot of words but also would have enabled the reader to have a go at interpretation by themselves with all the information in hand. Without this information, they can only trust the narrator. Secondly, apart from the spatial models of chapter 12, the models seem to be systematically linear and single-level, despite the use of variables such as income and population (which tend to scale nonlinearly) and despite the common use of multilevel models to assess neighborhood effects in the literature. We do not know why these models were not considered here. Thirdly, despite a lot of attention to not take correlation for causation, it seems that the accumulation of statistical models leads the author to suggest that there must be some causation in the process. As a geographer, I would also add that maps could make a stronger case to the argument if they were rearranged into small multiples and used less coarse categorization.

With respect to my project on urban inqualities, this book has given me precious insights into sociological mechanisms of spatial inequality and neighborhood effects (especially the ones related to perception and representation), as well as an idea of the enormous complexity that urban inequality are made of, especially through their multidimensional and multiscale properties.

 

Here I share the type of file I use to document my readings and book reviews. It is composed of citations from the book which I considered important while reading.

Other reviews of this book have been published in Urban Studies, the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, an LSE blog and Sociology Lens.

Le capital au XXIe siĂšcle

 Mon incursion dans l’Ă©tude des inĂ©galitĂ©s Ă©conomiques a commencĂ© avec la lecture de l’ouvrage de T. Piketty, Le capital au XXIe siĂšcle, paru en français au Seuil en 2013 puis traduit et publiĂ© en anglais par Havard University Press en 2014 avant de connaĂźtre un succĂšs mondial.

Ma lecture de l’ouvrage a donnĂ© lieu Ă  un compte-rendu “de gĂ©ographe” publiĂ© par la revue Cybergeo en 2014.

Ici, je partage le type de document sur lequel s’est appuyĂ© mon compte rendu. Il est constituĂ© d’un recueil de passages du livre que j’ai considĂ©rĂ©s comme importants.

Chaque citation est accompagnĂ©e d’un ou plusieurs mots clĂ©s (ou tags), prĂ©cĂ©dĂ©s d’un # afin d’effectuer des recherches thĂ©matiques dans le document. Les passages en gras ne le sont pas nĂ©cessairement dans la version originale.

 

Hello World

On this blog, I share my reading notes around the geographical, economic, social and complexity analysis of urban inequalities.

Dans ce carnet, je partage mes notes de lectures autour de l’analyse gĂ©ographique, Ă©conomique, sociale et complexe des inĂ©galitĂ©s urbaines.