Pour la recherche urbaine

Adisson F., Barles S., Blanc N., Coutard O., Frouillou L., Rassat F. (Eds.). (2020). Pour la recherche urbaine. CNRS Éditions via OpenEdition, 441p.

Pour la recherche urbaine est un ouvrage de prospective nationale de la recherche urbaine, initiĂ© par Sabine Barles, Nathalie Blanc et Olivier Coutard, sous l’Ă©gide du CNRS, dans le but de rĂ©flĂ©chir Ă  l’avenir de la recherche urbaine en France, au sein d’un collectif pluriel en termes d’approches, de points de vue, d’affiliations et d’anciennetĂ© de carriĂšre. BasĂ© sur les dĂ©bats de six journĂ©es d’Ă©tude et d’une Ă©cole thĂ©matique entre 2015 et 2016, cet ouvrage livre une synthĂšse riche de ce qui se fait actuellement dans la recherche française sur les villes, des questions nouvelles posĂ©es par les villes contemporaines et les processus qui s’y jouent, et enfin les directions  de recherche esquissĂ©es par les travaux et dĂ©bats rĂ©cents. La ville et la recherche urbaine y sont considĂ©rĂ©es dans leurs dimensions sociale, gĂ©ographique, Ă©conomique, matĂ©rielle, politique et environnementale. Cinquante-deux auteurs y ont pris part. CoordonnĂ© par les trois instigateurs ainsi que FĂ©lix Adisson, LeĂŻla Frouillou et Fanny Rassat, il a Ă©tĂ© publiĂ© cet Ă©tĂ© par CNRS Éditions et est accessible gratuitement en ligne. Il couvre en quatre grandes parties et seize chapitres les grands domaines de la recherche française sur les villes et propose des pistes de recherche, des questions et des propositions (thĂ©oriques, mĂ©thodologiques et organisationnelles) pour le futur de cette recherche. 

J’ai trouvĂ© la dĂ©marche de l’ouvrage trĂšs intĂ©ressante et sa lecture m’a beaucoup appris (autant sur les sujets qui me sont familiers que sur ceux qui ne le sont pas). Je trouve qu’il s’agit d’un outil indispensable pour les chercheurs francophones en Ă©tudes urbaines, jeunes ou plus confirmĂ©s, et en particulier lors de l’Ă©criture d’un projet de recherche. En effet, l’ouvrage permet, grĂące Ă  l’apport de regards complĂ©mentaires et collectifs sur questions urbaines, de fournir un Ă©tat de l’art de nombreuses questions scientifiques posĂ©es par les villes contemporaines, mais aussi de confronter son idĂ©e avec les perspectives de recherche Ă©bauchĂ©es dans les diffĂ©rents chapitres. Pour ces mĂȘmes raisons, la synthĂšse de cet ouvrage n’est pas aisĂ©e. Je vais donc tenter d’en livrer les principales lignes directrices plutĂŽt que de faire une revue chronologique des diffĂ©rents chapitres.

 


 

Tout d’abord, la richesse de l’ouvrage s’exprime par la diversitĂ© de nature des chapitres qui le composent.

Certains se prĂ©sentent principalement comme une revue thĂ©matique de la littĂ©rature. Ils offrent au lecteur un panorama de rĂ©fĂ©rences classiques et contemporaines sur un aspect de la recherche urbaine. C’est le cas selon moi du chapitre 1 sur les approches critiques, ou du chapitre 7 sur l’Ă©cologie urbaine (considĂ©rĂ©e ĂĄ la fois comme Ă©cologie dans la ville, et Ă©cologie de la ville).

D’autres chapitres proposent plutĂŽt une forme de position de recherche collective. C’est le cas par exemple du chapitre 3, dans lequel les autrices plaident pour l’usage de l’expĂ©rimentation comme mĂ©thode alternative de recherche urbaine, c’est-Ă -dire la prise en compte des citoyens, de leurs visions diverses de la ville, de leurs ressources vernaculaires et d’une forme d’improvisation dans la conduite des projets urbains. Le chapitre 9 prĂ©sente aussi certains aspects d’une position de recherche, en l’occurrence sur l’approche de la ville “par la rupture”. Les auteurs soutiennent que les crises (Ă©pidĂ©mies, attentats, sĂ©ismes) permettent de rĂ©vĂ©ler – et de donc de mieux comprendre – le fonctionnement et l’organisation des villes. “Aborder l’étude du risque par la crise pousse Ă  l’approcher Ă  partir des enjeux et de la fabrique de l’urbain. De ce fait, l’approche est plus dĂ©cloisonnĂ©e et interdisciplinaire, car aborder le risque par les alĂ©as tend Ă  disciplinariser l’étude, Ă  la segmenter en fonction de la nature de ces alĂ©as. [
] En effet, l’étude des risques urbains Ă  partir du phĂ©nomĂšne perturbateur transforme gĂ©nĂ©ralement celui-ci en principe actif, extĂ©rieur Ă  la sociĂ©tĂ© urbaine, faisant de cette derniĂšre un objet subissant. […] Envisager la crise en ville, […] C’est interroger l’urgence Ă  la fois comme condition de la gestion et comme Ă©preuve servant de justification des pratiques politiques et sociales nouvelles. […] C’est Ă©galement insister sur la rupture comme une accĂ©lĂ©ration du temps qui faire Ă©vĂ©nement et s’interroger sur le sens de cet Ă©vĂ©nement pour la ville“ (Sierra et al., chapitre 9, §2-4)

D’autres chapitres sont plus directement orientĂ©s vers une Ă©criture prospective. Ils identifient explicitement les angles morts et questions ouvertes de la recherche urbaine contemporaine. Dans le chapitre 5 sur les hiĂ©rarchies urbaines par exemple, les auteurs se demandent “jusqu’oĂč les grandes villes favorisent-elles la crĂ©ation d’une richesse qui peut ensuite ĂȘtre redistribuĂ©e? Jusqu’oĂč ne sont-elles pas au contraire gĂ©nĂ©ratrices de surcroĂźt d’inĂ©galitĂ©s? (Bisson et al., chapitre 5, §32); “les modĂšles de politiques urbaines qui [dĂ©coulent des recommandations de R. Florida] sont-ils adaptĂ©s aux centre des villes moyennes? (§17) ou encore “Y a-t-il des forces politiques qui incarnent les valeurs de l’imaginaire mĂ©tropolitain?” (§13). Sur le thĂšme des services urbains et de leur provision par les acteurs publics, le chapitre 10 propose aussi de nombreuses interrogations et de pistes de recherche. Le chapitre 16 livre quant Ă  lui un travail prospectif Ă  propos de la circulation des modĂšles urbains.

Enfin, le chapitre 4 se distingue du reste de l’ouvrage par sa forme. PlutĂŽt qu’un exercice collectif d’Ă©criture sur un thĂšme donnĂ©, il rend compte de discussions ayant eu lieu lors d’une table ronde sur l’avenir de la recherche urbaine.

 

En termes de sujets abordĂ©s, il est intĂ©ressant de noter que trois fils rouges apparaissent dans la majoritĂ© des chapitres de l’ouvrage, que se soit comme objets, facteurs ou ressources de la recherche urbaine : la comparaison entre villes “du Nord” et villes “du Sud”, la problĂ©matique environnementale et la question du numĂ©rique. Ainsi, les villes du Sud sont Ă©voquĂ©es, non plus seulement en lien avec le dĂ©veloppement Ă©conomique, mais pour introduire l’importance des donnĂ©es massives dans la construction de politiques publiques de planification (Chapitre 2), pour insister sur les enjeux de mobilitĂ© durable dans les villes dont l’Ă©talement se poursuit (Chapitre 5), sur l’enjeux d’une notion floue comme celle de rĂ©silience sur les financements institutionnels dirigĂ©s vers les villes qui la promeuvent (Chapitre 9) ou encore Ă  propos des mobilisations citadines (Chapitre 12). Par ailleurs, les non-humains – animaux et vĂ©gĂ©taux – sont plutĂŽt bien reprĂ©sentĂ©s dans cet ouvrage, en ce qu’ils permettent d’envisager de nouvelles dĂ©finitions de la ville (Chapitre 6) ou de mieux comprendre son fonctionnement Ă©cologique (Chapitre 7). La dimension matĂ©rielle  de la ville est aussi mise Ă  l’honneur, notamment dans la deuxiĂšme partie du livre. Le chapitre 1 l’envisage comme un marqueur de certaines approches critiques, le chapitre 8 s’en empare pour dĂ©crire le mĂ©tabolisme urbain, le chapitre 9 s’en sert pour analyser les consĂ©quences des crises urbaines et le chapitre 13 pour rĂ©vĂ©ler les dispositifs sociotechniques de la production urbaine. Enfin, l’urban gĂ©nĂ©ralisĂ© et de la gestion des communs sont Ă©voquĂ©s Ă  plusieurs reprises mais plutĂŽt comme des thĂšmes problĂ©matiques ou non rĂ©solus de la recherche urbaine française.

En termes d’approches, l’ouvrage fait la part belle Ă  l’Ă©tude des acteurs (de la production et de la gestion urbaine [chapitres 13 et 14], des luttes [chapitre 12], du foncier [chapitre 15], de la transition Ă©cologique [chapitre 7], des services urbains [chapitre 10], de la circulation des modĂšles [chapitre 16], de la recherche [chapitre 4]), de leur trajectoire (notamment dans le chapitre 11 consacrĂ© Ă  la diversitĂ© ou dans le chapitre 12 consacrĂ© aux mobilisations) et de leur visibilitĂ© (mentionnĂ©es dans les chapitre 11 Ă  14 en particulier). La notion de visibilitĂ© est aussi mobilisĂ©e dans le chapitre 16 sur la circulation des modĂšles urbains : “Y a-t-il une concentration des Ă©tudes sur certains exemples emblĂ©matiques de logique entrepreneuriale (tels les mĂ©gaprojets, les waterfronts ou les business improvement districts) et une focalisation sur certains contextes gĂ©ographiques, notamment les grandes villes (du Nord et du Sud) au dĂ©triment d’initiatives moins visibles ou de certains contextes moins Ă©tudiĂ©s et moins mĂ©diatisĂ©s qui pourraient venir infirmer les hypothĂšses d’une hĂ©gĂ©monie des modĂšles nĂ©olibĂ©raux ?” (Lemaire et al., chapitre 16, §32). Les autres mĂ©thodologies abordĂ©es dans l’ouvrages sont diverses et complĂ©mentaires : des critical studies du chapitre 1 Ă  la mĂ©thode abductive pour analyses les donnĂ©es massives (chapitre 2) et Ă  l’expĂ©rimentation (chapitre 3).

En termes d’Ă©chelles gĂ©ographiques, la recherche urbaine passĂ©e, prĂ©sente et future est envisagĂ©e depuis l’Ă©chelon du bĂątiment (cf. les toits vĂ©gĂ©talisĂ©s dans le chapitre 7) Ă  celle du monde (cf., les marchĂ©s financiers globaux dans le chapitre 15), en passant par les quartiers (chapitres 11 et 16 par exemple), les municipalitĂ©s (chapitres 9, 13 et 15 par exemple) et les unitĂ©s fonctionnelles plus larges (chapitres 6 et 7 par exemple).

En termes de contexte institutionnel de la recherche urbaine, l’ouvrage insiste sur les effets nĂ©fastes des nouveaux modes de financement de la recherche urbaine sur les objets et terrains Ă©tudiĂ©s, notamment par les jeunes chercheurs (cf. chapitre 4). Ce sujet est convoquĂ© dĂšs l’introduction: “En premier lieu, nous souhaitons redire ici l’importance de s’attacher Ă  favoriser une plus grande pluralitĂ© des thĂ©matiques financĂ©es par les appels Ă  projets incitatifs. [
]. DeuxiĂšmement, et indissociablement du point prĂ©cĂ©dent, il convient de dĂ©velopper les financements non thĂ©matisĂ©s (appels Ă  projets blancs ou sur des thĂ©matiques larges) pour permettre aux Ă©quipes de sortir des sentiers battus et des sujets rebattus. TroisiĂšmement, une revalorisation importante des crĂ©dits de base des Ă©quipes et le dĂ©veloppement de formes de financement pluriannuelles, au-delĂ  du format typique (3-4 ans) des projets ANR, voire dĂ©barrassĂ©es de la logique compĂ©titive des appels Ă  projets, seraient plus cohĂ©rents avec le temps long de la recherche (surtout quand elle se veut interdisciplinaire) et des changements urbains.” (Adisson et al., introduction, §25). La collaboration interdisciplinaire avec les “sciences dures” (informatique, ingĂ©nierie, physique, biologie) est interrogĂ©e dans le chapitre 2, tandis que le chapitre 4 analyse l’importance de l’organisation de la recherche sur les production scientifiques. En particulier, “et c’est le […] paradoxe, les thĂ©matiques de la recherche urbaine sont foisonnantes et les Ă©vĂ©nements scientifiques sont nombreux, mais l’hyperspĂ©cialisation conduit Ă  un manque de dĂ©bats transversaux et thĂ©oriques ainsi que d’espaces et de temps pour les structurer.” (Adisson et al., chapitre 4, §37-8)

 

Cet ouvrage se rĂ©vĂšle comme un beau plaidoyer “pour la recherche urbaine” collective, plurielle, interdisciplinaire et critique. Il retravaille des questions trĂšs classiques sous des angles nouveaux (‘L’urbain par ses limites’ dans le chapitre 6 ou la sĂ©grĂ©gation par la diversitĂ© dans le chapitre 11) et propose des analyses de questions nouvellement classiques (comme celle des smart cities  dans le chapitre 2 ou celle des mobilisations citadines dans le chapitre 12). On pourrait  toutefois interroger le choix de mener une prospective de la recherche urbaine nationale sans questionner ou expliciter l’existence (ou non) d’une spĂ©cificitĂ© française de cette recherche.

Pour mon projet sur les inĂ©galitĂ©s urbaines, le chapitre 5 est venu conforter mon opinion que les inĂ©galitĂ©s Ă©conomiques dans et entre villes mĂ©ritent une attention plus grande et que la recherche urbaine reste encore largement Ă  faire sur ce sujet. Je souscris donc tout Ă  fait Ă  l’appel de B. Bisson et al. :

“Quelle est la contribution exacte des villes Ă  ces inĂ©galitĂ©s ? Les villes permettent-elles de maximiser la richesse collective et donc les revenus Ă  distribuer comme le soutiennent les thĂšses sur la surproductivitĂ© des mĂ©tropoles ? Dans ce cas, le problĂšme des inĂ©galitĂ©s pourrait ĂȘtre corrigĂ© par des mĂ©canismes de redistribution. Mais une autre hypothĂšse peut ĂȘtre faite : les grandes concentrations urbaines ne seraient-elles pas la cause du problĂšme ? [
] Piketty a prolongĂ© ses analyses en soulignant une dynamique de concentration spatiale d’un capital devenu patrimonial. Il a notamment appelĂ© dans un rĂ©cent article des Annales Ă  approfondir « […] les dimensions gĂ©ographiques et spatiales du capital et les effets d’échelle » (Piketty 2015, p. 132). Cet appel, qui esquisse de nouveaux champs de recherche, mĂ©rite d’ĂȘtre entendu par les Ă©tudes urbaines pour approfondir les connaissances sur les mĂ©canismes de production des inĂ©galitĂ©s, notamment monĂ©taires, au sein des villes et de leurs relations pensĂ©es Ă  l’échelle des systĂšmes urbains.” (Bisson et al., chapitre 4, §36)

 


 

Je partage ici, 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.

À ce jour, je n’ai pas connaissance d’autres comptes-rendus de cet ouvrage.

Segregation: A global history of divided cities

Nightingale, C. H. (2012). Segregation: A global history of divided cities. University of Chicago Press, 536p.

I came across this book repeatedly while writing the introduction for a book on the relationship between cities and inequality (edited with D. Pumain, 2021). I was reviewing the literature, looking for morphological and social details of cities divided on racial grounds during colonial empires and sanitarian waves. This book appeared to provide a chapter on exactly this subject regarding Delhi, with ample context and  illustration material. I later looked for other examples of institutional separation of cities and the book seemed to offer such a chapter on Johannesburg. In fact, it kept coming to my bibliographical attention even in unrelated articles dealing with contemporary linkages between economic segregation to economic inequality. Those were good enough signs to suggest a thorough read.

“Segregation, A global history of divided cities” is an impressing book published in 2012 by Carl H. Nightingale, a specialist of world and urban history as well as critical race theory, currently professor at the department of transnational studies at the University of Buffalo. The book sits precisely at the intersection of these three topics: it tells the story of how cities came to be divided by race, from the moment when race as a concept became central in world politics onwards. It also reveals how city-splitting techniques spread and interacted between cities all over the world, in particular within three key institutions: governments, intellectual networks, and real estate markets. C. H. Nightingale not only exposes the overall picture and its main logics, but also dives into a dozen of specific case studies to show the singular entanglement of individual motivations, interpersonal connexions, particular interests and local resistance at play in the city under study. This leads both to a global picture of synchronous segregation trends between 1700 and 1960, but also to nuanced portraits of urban histories from Asia, Africa, America, Europe and Oceania. It shows how the world urban history is full of connexions (intellectual, personal, political), borrowings (of idea, of methods, of legislation), imitations and exchanges. In doing so, C. H. Nightingale is able to compare cities from very different geohistorical contexts, and to conclude for example that colonial cities were never strictly segregated (because of the self interests of merchants and users of domestic servants for instance), or that Chicago could be considered even more segregated than Johannesburg in the 1940s, but that early experiences in city-splitting developed the segregationists’ toolbox by proof-testing the instruments which would make systemic division possible and effective in later contexts. The book has received the 2012 Jerry Bentley Prize in World History from the World History Association and the American Historical Association. 

 


 

It consists of twelve chapters distributed over five parts, a general introduction and an epilogue.

The book opens on a Baltimore preacher’s words in 1910, soon after the city passes its first segregation ordinance, i.e. a piece of legislation identifying areas for the residence of black people and areas of the residence of white people. This is a defining moment in the history of American segregation, but the premise of the introduction is that it is by no means a beginning in the history of urban segregation by race:

experiments with legalized urban color lines arose in the mid-1800s in cities in China and around the Pacific Rim; they were designed to keep Chinese people from living in the white sections of cities like Shanghai, Hong Kong and San Francisco. The word ‘segregation’ itself was first used for techniques of racial isolation in Hong Kong and Bombay (today’s Mumbai) in the 1890s. […] From there it inspired a nearly worldwide spread to what I call ‘segregation mania’ across Asia, Africa, and the Atlantic world. The mania even resonated in Latin American cities like Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires, where distinctions between black and white were typically murkier than elsewhere. Monumental segregated colonial capitals went up in places like Rabat, in French Morocco, and New Delhi, in British India, signalling new arrogant ambitions for urban planning based on separate racial zones. The most radical of all forms of urban segregation arose during these same years in two rapidly industrializing white settlers societies[: South Africa and the United States].” (p. 2-3).

Even earlier than the 19th century (or even the 18th when “black”, “white” and “race” entered the urban conversion in colonial parts of India), the author traces the history of city-splitting back to its non-racial origins in ancient civilizations. The first part is therefore dedicated to such earlier examples of merchants, foreigners, Christian rulers and jewish communities living in separate quarters according to local clan, class, craft, ethnic or religious principles of urban segregation. The introduction ends on a description of the three institutions within which racial segregation subsequently flourished: the government (as it gets to decide who gets rights and privileges and who is able to cross boundaries, in the  state as well as in the cities), intellectual  and scientific networks (responsible for the “invention” of race as well as its diffusion through dense networks of exchange) and the real estate market (complete with agencies, surveyors, registrars and financial institutions in their role to assess and protect property values). “This book attempts to bring all these political dramas of urban racial segregation [
] into a single, wide-ranging, always changing, and always paradoxical narrative. In a kind of geographical counterpoint, it asks us to watch the theater of segregationist politics on many stages at once, by continually switching from wide-angled lenses, to various kinds of telescopes and binoculars, to highly focused microscopes. Meanwhile the narrative also moves chronologically across time, retelling the sweeping story of human history with the politics of urban segregation at its center” (p. 14).

The first part of the book covers “seventy centuries of city-splitting“, starting in Eridu (Mesopotamia) with the separation of gods’ monumental quarters from humble human residence in 5000BC. According to C. H. Nightingale, this is one of the earliest instances of introduction of an inequality (in this case between humans in the service of the gods and the other mortals) which then translated into spatial forms, at a time where equality was pretty much the norm in urban societies. From Mesopotamia, the monumental division of cities spread and developed to ancient Egypt, Persia, Asia Minor, Greece and Rome. Another source of early segregation is identified in the “citadella” of Christian crusaders, initially defensive hilltop fortresses to protect new conquest in the Holy Land, later exported across the world to house and protect christian colonial settlers. A third type of ancient segregation is that of (foreign) merchants districts, present “throughout the ancient eastern Mediterranean” but also in West African cities and later colonial ports. Fourth, ancient segregation manifested itself in terms of religion, and the account of Jerusalem’s history (p.30) illustrates the complexity of some cities’ such splitting. Finally, the author identifies class and wealth segregation as a fifth driver of ancient segregation: “The story of class segregation – defined broadly as the impulse to separate those with power over a society’s economic resources from those with little power over those resources – is the most complex and widespread of these dramas and is connected to all the others. Sacropolitical districts, city walls, merchants’ quarters, and scapegoat ghettos all contain elements of class segregation” (p. 39). Once again, this dynamic of segregation is presented as a consequence of the large increase of wealth inequality in modern cities. To conclude this part, “for about seventy centuries – arguably since the invention of cities themselves – we have repeatedly committed acts of inequitable and forcible city-splitting. Along the way, we have justified our actions in the name of just about every other concept of human difference imaginable, marking off separate residential territories for different classes, clans, castes, crafts, nations, religions, civilizations and even sexes” (p. 19).

The second part of book tells the story of how colour and race entered the scene in world politics in general, and in city-splitting in particular. As such, the turning point is 1700 and it is linked to two main influences: the legacy of American slavery on the one hand and the productions of Enlightenment philosophers and ethnologists on the other hand. Indeed, prior to the 18th century, segregation was mainly based on religious or “national” grounds, as in Manila or Batavia (today’s Jakarta) for example, where Portuguese and Dutch colonial settlers separated Chinese, Japanese or Javanese dwellers in separate quarters or villages, distinct from European or “christian” towns and sometimes separated by a wall. In America at that time, segregation was scaled down to individual properties: “As New World cities became increasingly enmeshed in the Atlantic slave trade and the plantation economy, local officials had to institutionalize their suppression of what they saw as slaves’ nearly constant insubordination. [
] To control a ‘slave city’ internally, authorities preferred a technique that went back to ancient times: the forced slaves to live in the households or on the properties of their masters” (p. 52-3). The use of colour categories to refer to separate neighbourhoods appears in the city of Madras  (today’s Chennai) in 1711. “Black town” in this context, according to C. H. Nightingdale, refers to a derogatory representation of Indians by British colonial officials, rather than to the association between blackness and slavery which starts to appear in America. However, “white town” seems to derive from American circumstances, where the christianisation of slaves introduced a confusion in the former association between christianity and freedom, requiring a new term to refer specifically to  free european christians. “Race” itself came acquire its modern meaning in the 1680s in European erudite circles, providing “a system to categorize different strains of humankind based on their skin color” that would “soon arrive in Asia and Africa, whether through London, Paris and Amsterdam, or along the increasingly direct trans hemispheric connections between all colonial cities. In that way, divided colonial cities transformed from places where color lines largely arose from needs for defence and control to cities consumed by the grander ‘natural’ obligation to separate the races” (p. 73-4). Once of the most important routes through which ideas, practices, money and people used to flow is the “London-Calcutta connection” (chapter 2). “The innovations that arose within the London-Calcutta connection were due as much to the differences in the two cities’ politics as to their connection. Put much too baldly, the politics of urban space in London began with differences between classes. The city was the site for the world’s first use of government-protective legal instruments – restrictive covenants – to divide neighborhoods for the rich and ‘respectable’ (the West End) from the poor, the ‘paupers’, and the ‘unrespectable’ (the East End). In Calcutta, by contrast, color was the driving edge of the political theater, and after 1770, race” (p. 78). One of such “innovations” in the area of racial city-splitting is the introduction of institutions and ideologies of racial zoning, in the form of exclusive imported architectural style from London in the “white town” or the sanitarian ideologies aimed at tackling public health of the poor through urbanism. Their effect was limited in Calcutta itself but would later permit “the replication – and the increasingly coercive politics – of white and block town systems across the world” (p. 83). Finally, “London land speculators invented the driving intellectual principle of class segregation, the idea that having poor people as close neighbors brought down the property values of the rich. The same speculators also invented a tool to prevent the invasion of wealthy neighborhoods by unrespectable elements, namely the restrictive covenant in title deeds” (p. 96). This instrument would later allow racial segregation to reach heights in South Africa and the United States.

The third part of the book narrates the “surges of segregation in the colonies“, using the stations Raj in chapter 4 and the Pacific settlers cities in chapter 5 as archetypical examples, then extending the analysis of this “segregation mania” to the rest of European colonies in Asia and Africa in chapter 6 and 7. The stations Raj in India, and Simla in particular, represented the first instances of new cities designed with racial separation in mind: “Colonial authorities in India designed these strange quasi-cities – some one hundred seventy-five of them, from Afghanistan to the Malay peninsula – with spatial, social and even mental distance in mind. Part military base, part Victorian suburb, part resort, part provincial capital, part Indian market town, part open sewer […]. An important subcategory of stations, the hill stations, functioned as the Raj’s hot-season resort capitals and were meant to be even further removed from Indian life. Most of them were built in remote places in the mountains, precisely to distance themselves from their cousins in the Indian mufossil, as the dusty, hot, flatland districts and their teeming Indian cities were called” (p. 113). They provided precedents to colonial officials on which to pitch their next attempts at fuller urban segregation, developing for instance narratives around European children’s health and women’s purity to justify the separation of people from different races in space. These narratives were later reused and refined in Hong Kong, South Africa and America. In the case of the Pacific wave of segregation following the forced opening of the Chinese empire by the British empire, C. H. Nightingale explains that:

“As the tide of white imperial expansion crashed into the tide of Chinese migration in Asia and the Pacific, urban racial segregationist politics expanded to new shores and spawned two new variations. One of these variations played out in new colonial cities like Singapore, Shanghai, and Hong-Kong. [
] In some ways, segregationist practice in these cities resembled that of Calcutta and the stations of the Raj. But imperial and sanitary justifications for segregation grew more elaborate in East Asia, and they were supplemented by some of the earliest theories linking race and property values. [
] The second new strand of city-splitting politics arose in cities in Australasia and along the west coast of North America. There, urban populations were the reverse of those in Asia: white settlers were in the majority and their intention was to remain permanently in their new towns, to raise families and future generations. [
] The goal of the first race-based immigration-restriction laws was to prevent Chinese people from moving across the Pacific to the coasts of North America and Australasia.” (p. 135-7)

In all these cases, the color lines eventually became blurred under opposing interests (for example: benefitting from the economic contribution of Chinese migrants vs. keeping settlements all-white). In chapter 6, the author associates the “segregation mania” with the spread of the plague from 1894 in Hong Kong. The epidemic and how it was handled by colonial authorities meant that suddenly segregation became justified under the pretence of public health. “Race mattered: the main goals was to protect Europeans, and local Asian people got the roughest treatment. Tens of thousands of natives fled town, in part from fear of the plague, but more from fear of segregation itself” (p. 159). Once again, governments and intellectual networks (of doctors and epidemiologists this time) worked hand in hand to propagate techniques of isolation and segregation throughout the colonial world. “In the years between 1914 and 1923, segregation mania peaked across tropical Africa, signalling a slow end to the strategy of segregation based on plague and malaria worldwide” (p. 185). Meanwhile, a third institution came to the rescue of segregationists: the real estate market. In chapter 7 (“the outer limits of colonial urbanism”), the author traces the influence of Paris and London’s urbanists on the planning of two new colonial capitals: Rabat and Delhi, two cities telling “similar stories about the inequality of the races and the civilizations” (p.193). In Rabat for instance, the use by Lyautey of Haussmann’s principles of monumentality and beauty coupled with expropriation schemes and planning restrictions led to the building of a mostly dual city without even having to resort to explicitly racial restrictions. Yet, “unless Moroccans were willing and financially able to buy Torrens-title land and build European-style houses, they would not be permitted to live in the ville nouvelle” (p. 216). 

The fourth part of the book is dedicated to “the archsegregationists“, i.e. the usual suspects of racial segregation urban studies: South Africa and the United States, with extensive historical focuses on Johannesburg and Chicago. Interestingly, the author shows that most urban segregation tools which were used by archsegregationists from the 1930s onwards had already been developed (racial restrictive covenants, migration control, planning restrictions, narratives around the preservation of white women and children’s innocence and health, etc.). What archsegregationists introduced in South Africa during apartheid is a complete racist system, aimed at keeping black, indian and coloured workers in the city (to provide cheap labour in the mines and domestic services) while pushing their residence ever more at bay to limit encounters, but also fiscal separation, distinct welfare systems and mobility restrictions to enforce the coincidence between economic inequality and racial inequality (which was not that strong prior to the apartheid regimes, as Boer farmers tended to be much poorer than English settlers, whereas Black artists and entrepreneurs were able to buy property until they were forbidden to do so). In Chicago and the United States, the camouflaged introduction of racist considerations into the official machinery of property valuation and mortgage lending (through redlining and the selective dissemination of HOLC maps) had the same enduring consequence of creating wealth inequality from racial prejudice. Once again, C. H. Nightingale insists on the crossed influence of segregationists in the two countries. Both systems also used grass-root as well as state violence on top of the enabling institutions of segregation (government, intellectual networks and the real estate markets). In both countries, the peak in segregation coincided with the rise of the individual automobile, resulting in an additional way by which cities split into even more distinct parts: wealthy white suburbs relying on cars and publicly funded expressways on the one hand and black impoverished centres reliant on run-down public infrastructure and transportation on the other hand.

Part 5 of the book (“fragmented legacies“) first tells the story of the global revolution of de-colonisation and de-segregation, highlighting the role of high profile activists as well as ordinary residents. However, “we can map out three routes by which urban segregation outflanked the global racial revolution. First, though opponents of urban segregation achieved their greatest successes by attacking government-imposed residential color lines, they were unable to stop the worldwide diffusion of economic incentives for race and class segregation that were first built into capitalist land markets in the seventeenth century. Second, though the Cold War provided political room for the world’s racial liberation movements to fight against racial segregation in cities, it also severely limited the scope of the egalitarian revolution. [
] Third, and most important, beginning in the last 1960s and culminating in the years after 1980, a nearly all-white ‘New Right’ counterrevolution swept into power, most notably in the United States and Britain” (p. 386). The resort to discourse around the preservation of local prestige, school quality and property values provided new “color-blind” avenues for urban segregation under conservative governments in western Europe and the US, and so did the much less color-blind anti-crime and anti-immigration policies of recent years. The chapter closes with an overview of on-going segregation processes in Jerusalem and Belfast, noting the contemporaneity of the problem still.

The epilogue is dedicated to a review of policies and initiatives which reduce racial and class segregation (such as reducing inequalities, focusing on  affordable and sustainable housing, stopping slum removals), and to the activists which work relentlessly to push them to the front of national and international agendas.

 

The richness of ideas, details and stories of the book is reflected somewhat by the length of this summary. I have found it a most enjoyable, informative and thought-provoking read. One of its main strengths in my opinion lay in its study of the exercise and the contesting of power by urban actors with differing interests. One of the main ideas I take away from it are:

  1. the argument that segregation derives from inequality: “Even in the absence of major spatial changes, the fight for more just workplaces and for government policies that redistribute wealth more fairly across racial and class lines can create more equality between all urban neighborhoods.” (p. 423)
  2. that it is first a class-based phenomenon:Remember that the biggest problem with urban racial segregation is not that it separates different types of people into different neighborhoods. It is that it does so unequally – creating a maldistribution of resources that disproportionately disfavors those racial groups that the color line also helps to subordinate politically. Racial segregation, therefore, was not only dependent historically on techniques of class segregation. It is a kind of class segregation – and it nefariousness arises principally from that fact.” (p. 225)
  3. that it is maintained and amplified most effectively nowadays by the real estate institutions: “Land-markets are the one capitalist institution in which race-infused economic interests became consistently and increasingly important to the division of cities, even arguably becoming the single most important segregationist force in cities today” (p. 7).

A weakness from the book is, to me, its focus on and generalisation from only large and capital cities. There is obviously no human way to conduct a world history of urban division in all cities, but a few examples or trends from smaller and less connected cities could have provided an insight into the different spatiality and temporality of such places (too small to be divided? too late to enter the segregation mania?). Other reviews of this book have criticised this statement: “We should always hesitate before we equate the spatial tactics of antiracists movements with ‘voluntary’ segregation – let alone assert the ‘goodness’ of any form of ‘self-segregation’ – even if it creates successful cultural havens” (p. 11-12), referring to C. Peach (1996) for instance. I find however that C. H. Nightingale does a convincing job throughout the book to demonstrate the validity of this introductory remark. His analysis of San Francisco’s Chinatown for instance shows how the neighbourhood was created by white settlers’ intolerance and maintained by white mobs violence and then accused of separatism by the local press. The  allegedly ‘voluntary’ character of some subsequent segregation thus proceeds from an initially defensive strategy, a sequence also described by Yuan (1963) for New York’s Chinatown.

Finally, in relation to my project of modelling urban economic inequality, I was challenged with C. H. Nightingale’s argument that “real people, not mechanical processes, make segregation, and the ideas, interests, and practices people mobilize for or against segregation are complex. The political dramas that result never stop to rest in one spot; they are always dynamic, shape-shifting, unpredictable, and internally contradictory” (p. 10). While this is undeniably true, I think it can argue for an improvement of dynamic models of inequality and segregation, rather than their dismissal, in order to better encapsulate the qualitative processes highlighted in books such as this one, but also to pay attention to local variations and appreciate the status of singularities which will always remain out of the modelling scope.

 

  • Peach C., (1996) Good segregation, bad segregation, Planning Perspectives, 11(4), 379-398.
  • Yuan, D. Y. (1963). Voluntary segregation: A study of new Chinatown. Phylon, 24(3), 255-265.

 


 

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 Environment and Planning A, the Journal of Planning research and education, Urban History and the American Historical Review, as well as on an LSE blog.

 

City of segregation

Gibbons A., 2018, City of Segregation, 100 years of struggle for housing in Los Angeles, Brooklyn, Verso, 226p.

This review is slightly experimental, as it presents the work of Andrea Gibbons’s City of Segregation by relating it to three other books I have read alongside it over the past year, all of which explore, in complementary ways, the entanglement of space, race, class, gender, sex, family and the carceral system in American cities over the past century:

  • Shabazz R., 2015, Spatializing Blackness: Architectures of Confinement and Black Masculinity in Chicago, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 153p.
  • Wideman J. E., 2005, Brothers and Keepers: a memoir, 272p, Mariner Books
  • Wolfe T., 1988, The Bonfire of the vanities, Toronto: Bantam Books, 752p.

 


 

  • City of Segregation is the work of a geographer, Andrea Gibbons, who explores how the ideological values of white privilege were enshrined into spatial patterns of land values in Los Angeles, despite civil rights struggles and fights for integration. She aims to show how this relation affects the social and racial makeup of the city nowadays. I encountered this book at its launch during the Royal Geographical Society annual meeting in August 2019. This conference had Rashad Shabazz as one of its keynote speakers.
  • Spatializing Blackness, by Rashad Shabazz, sits at the intersection of human geography, Black cultural studies, gender studies, and critical prison studies. It focuses on the spaces of Black masculinity in Chicago at different points in time, using the carceral framework to understand the various ways in which Black men have been spatially contained (in the Black belt zone of the agglomeration from the end of the 19th century, in the space of their own kitchenettes during the 20th, and in actual prisons in the 21st) and the effects it had on this population.
  • Brothers and Keepers is the work of an academic in Africana Studies who is also a novelist. This book contains an account of his and his bother’s trajectories from their youth in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania to their adult life. The book tries to explain how and why a decisive divergence in life paths happened between them (John Edgar became a university professor and award-winning novelist, whereas his brother Robert served a life-sentence in prison for robbery and murder). Through Wideman’s reflections and conversations with his brother, we are offered a complex picture of the challenges faced by Black youth in 1970s Pittsburg, but also of the spatiality of humiliation during prison visits and of the geographical implications of social mobility. I learned about this book via C. Jaquet’s Les transclasses ou la non-reproduction, reviewed (in French) on this blog.
  • The Bonfire of the vanities is a popular novel of class and race inequality set up by Tom Wolfe in his familiar environment of 1980s New York City. After a wealthy white Upper East Side banker hits a young Black man in the Bronx and runs, the whole city (from the media to the justice system, from Wall Street to the Bronx) seizes this story to reveal its double standard towards race, wealth, gender and space. Over 30 years later, The Guardian reports that the Upper East Side “remains the same” whereas the Bronx is now experiencing social regeneration, gentrification and displacement.

Although the four books differ in their formats, goals and perspectives, I found an interesting relation between them which sheds a complementary light on different time periods (for example, the 1970s and 1980s from the last two are the missing decades of Gibbons’ temporality), different gender groups (Shabazz focuses on masculinity, whereas Gibbons uses strong female leaders and feminist actions to inform her work), different cities (LA, Chicago, Pittsburg, NYC), different points of view (Tom Wolfe clearly tells his story from the point of view of his white characters, whereas John Edgar Wideman’s book stems from his own reflections and his brother’s words on what it means to be a man in a Black family, in a city with a history of discrimination, in groups of Black peers and in groups of white peers, on basketball pitches and university campuses) and different approaches (from academic to auto-biographical to fictional). This diversity only hints at how a wide subject of broad significance racial segregation in US cities is, and how current an issue it remains: “These histories of centuries of racism and segregation have shaped urban geographies to insulate and isolate many whites from the realities faced by residents of poorer segregated communities, whose exploitation and abandonment have been central to a suburban prosperity driven by development and government investment. The opportunities of suburban living have become taken for granted and treated as normal in press and television, while residence in these same suburban neighborhoods insulates families from any kind of challenge to these commonsense feelings of entitlement. This is a key aspect of what I join others in referring to as white privilege. Segregation insulates whites from the knowledge of the ghetto and any disturbing views into poverty, as well as from their own complicity in its continued existence through their support of the status quo.” (Gibbons, 2018, p.9-10).

 


 

City of segregation originates from a double ambition: 1/ understanding how racial segregation survived the efforts and “victories of a vibrant civil rights movement” (p.1), and 2/ using this knowledge to fuel militant organizing work and finally put an end to this segregation. According to Gibbons, segregation “is assuredly nothing natural; it has been built in LA just like it has been built in cities across the US, year by year and decade upon decade, with immeasurable impact on equality, well-being and life itself. Shocking inqualities in wealth – much of it grounded in the homes people own – continue to haunt Angelenos: Mexicans have a median wealth of $3,500, African American of $4,000, and whites of $355,000.” (p.1). After an introduction which sets the context of racial segregation and urban development in Los Angeles, the book is divided into three chronological parts.

The first part of the book takes us from the early 20th century to the landmark year of 1948. It tells the story of the de jure segregation in US cities, whereby people of colour were refused the freedom to choose their place of residence by restrictive convenants, by active opposition from the likes of the KKK and white supremacists, but also by profit-seeking professionals of the housing market (who equated land value with homogenous white space). Black families were contained within the racial boundaries of the ghetto in Los Angeles or of the Black Belt in Chicago, in order to reduce the interactions between Blacks and whites (Shabazz, 2015) as much as to preserve the privilege and value of white homes (Gibbons, 2018). “African Americans and other groups forced the ghetto walls back in two ways: through an unorganized but constant pressure by individuals buying and occupying property against great odds, and through local attempts to organize wider campaigns against covenants” (Gibbons, 2018, p.20), at the risk of harassment, racist attacks, arson and even lynching (Shabazz, 2015). This first part of Gibbons’ book is investigated via a meticulous archive work through several decades of publication by the California Eagle and its editor’s autobiography. “For Charlotta Bass, as editor of the California Eagle, as well as the editors of a second Black-owned paper in LA, the Sentinel (founded in 1933), real estate transactions were a race matter worthy of front-page headlines.” (p.27). Besides acknowleging a feminine figure leading the fight against racial segregation in Los Angeles, this citation shows how much housing and restrictions imposed on Black families were central to the struggle for equality and respect. Indeed, at the start of the 20th century, when zoning became unlawful in the US, property owners “turned to private agreements – the desire for segregated white space being stronger than a court ruling.” (p.23). Within the deeds of their property, they included a clause restricting further sale and transfer to non-white people. Viewed as an act of good “neighborliness” and even patriotism, this provided white homeowners with a control over the makeup of their neighborhood and schools, thus preserving their vision of communities, the monetary value of their homes and white privilege. In the cases where non-covenanted properties were bought by racial minorities, “African American put pressure on [the contradictions of a market driven by white supremacist ideas that equates real estate values with the racial makeup of the neighborhood], but by paying exorbitant prices in areas in which whites had become so desperate to leave that they were selling to speculators at a loss.” (p.30). We find a similar mechanism in Shabazz’s account of the housing situation in pre-war Chicago, where cramped insalubrious kitchenettes rented to single Black workers contrast with the large rent income they bring to white owners profitiring from the housing crisis. “This articulation of race and class prejudice with the social value of space led to a heavy emphasis among practitioners, policy-makers, and academics on the ideal of creating neighborhoods homogenous by class and race as they sought to provide a sound foundation for a scientific and professional approach to real estate.” (Gibbons, 2018, p.25). The most striking consequence on this articulation lays in the constitution of colour-coded maps by the HOLC (Home Owner’s Loan Corporation) based on the racial composition and homogeneity of neighborhood, which informed federal credit lending after the Great Depression:

“By providing lenders with risk-free investments, it opened a floodgate of new credit to white first-time homebuyers. At the same time, it categorically denied people of color the same opportunities, defining them as a ‘permanent, calculable risk to stable property values’. HOLC maps were never meant for public use, yet they were accessible to lenders, appraisers, and government officials, and most real estate professionals would most likely have known their content. This could explain why so many realtors were in the forefront of efforts to organise protective associations, blanket neighborhoods with covenants, initiate lawsuits, and protect their own neighborhoods’ homogeneity at all costs.” (p.44-5)

As meetings, pickets and lawsuits by various organisations (such as the Negro Victory Committee or the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) secured small victories, the white reaction was as violent as the their fear of losing privilege along with economic value. Finally, “in spite of widespread grassroots opposition and horror, the Supreme Court ruled restrictive covenants unconstitutional on May 5, 1948, in the landmark case Shelley v. Kraemer. [
] It was the result of decades of litigation against restrictive covenants by lawyers nationawide, years of specific strategizing by NAACP attorneys, and of course mass action and pressure directed at the federal government through the war, challenging the US’s role as the defender of equality and democracy across the world.” (p.63). However, this end of de jure segregation did not repair the economic segregation it has enshrined in space, nor the sense of identity built by Black men and women in the contained aresa of the ghetto and the kitchenettes (Shabazz, 2015), “it did not remove […] the [white] desire for separation.” (Gibbons, 2018, p.71).

The second part of the book transports us to the post-de jure segregation Los Angeles of the 1950s and 1960s, with the civil rights activists of CORE (the Congress Of Racial Equality) fighting against the remnants of white supremacy and in favour of equality on an ideological and moral level, although by ways of physical direct action when needed. It was counting without a major reality: “Capital’s need for a ‘spatial fix’ – solving the problem of overaccumulation of capital through its massive investment in suburban development intertwined with the new strategies for defending white communities, driving new forms of control and privatisation.” (p.75-6). This part of the book focuses on the housing and testing campaigns of CORE against development Don Wilson, who tried to fragment its market by the skin color of its buyers, isolating/protecting white wealthy developments (as in Torrance) and “abandonning” less prestigious developments with integrated school systems (as in Compton) to Black and minority buyers. White residents’ reaction illustrates a sadly common dynamics in US cities in the 20th century: “they fought to ensure these immediately connected spaces of social reproduction remained white, and when this failed they fled. Neighborhoods became prey to familiar block busting tactics and panic selling, as African Americans moved into a neighborhood and whites became willing to take whatever they could get for their homes.” (p.89-90). This reaction, along with freezing of homeowner taxes and the development of gating and privatisation, ensured that the levels of amenity and public services funding remained unequal, that integration remained limited in schools and neighborhoods, and that urban space and form remained a vector for economic and racial segregation, despite civil rights and legal victories such as the passage of the Rumford Act in 1963. What is more, the white residents of developments being picketed by CORE members for their discriminatory practices against potential Black buyers “recast themselves as a beleaguered minority, their own rights under attack, without making any attempt to try and answer the question of why this might be. This […] shows how they worked to overcome the destabilization of the old ideological certainties of white supremacy that Torrance was founded upon to find new forms of discourse to justify their untroubled enjoyment of its exclusive (and expensive) space.” (p.108). Gibbons concludes that the moral gains of the period, which were tremendous, did not hide the fact that efforts to integrate the different sections of population in cities had failed, creating immediate (such as expressed in Watt’s 1965 riots) and long-lasting frustrations in the Black community. In urban terms, this failure is illustrated by the widespread usage of gated comminities and other privatisation initiatives, which reflected the channeling of surplus capital into suburban developments, still following “the model laid down by HOLC in the 1930s [equating profitable real estate with] new tracts of homogenous housing protected to the greatest extent possible from ‘adverse influences’.” (p.120).

Before we dive into the third and last part of A. Gibbons’ book dedicated to privatisation of Los Angeles’ downtown in the 2000s, Brothers and Keepers and the Bonfire of the Vanities should help illustrate the situation in intermediate decades.

In New York City, T. Wolfe narrates the separation between Blacks and Hispanics in the Bronx and white professionals in Manhattan, with a great deals of fear from whites as they crossed racial boundaries, especially at night or in the subway. The novelist depicts at length the sense of entitlement of a wealthy white banker and his absolute repulsion and sense of injustice when conducted to jail in the Bronx, creating some sympathy and favourable treatment from other whites in position of authority (when it doesn’t go against their self-interest), whereas the position of Black and hispanic youth in the same circumstances is brushed as common. As the Guardian notes 30 years later, “at the end of the Bonfire of the Vanities, Henry Lamb, the young boy injured in the Bronx, is forgotten by every protagonist. He dies” without much attention or publicity, being only a resident of a project in the Bronx, found not to be a criminal but apparently not very worthy either.

In Pittsburg, J. E. Wideman describes the life trajectories of two bothers. The trajectory of the eldest brother (himself) shows social and geographical mobility, through basketball and university although at the expense of a strong sense of belonging and legitimacy. The other trajectory is one of brilliance, drugs and imprisonment, that of the youngest son (his baby brother Robert). He explains the choices his brother made as a way of becoming someone in the shadow of successful brothers and sisters, by becoming rich and famous quickly selling drugs. The geography of street corners and the architecture of the projects play a significant role in this story, along with police partiality and brutality, which culminates with Robert’s experience of serving a life-sentence in prison for murder and robbery. John Edgar narrates the spatial tools of humiliation towards the prisoners’ families, which begins with the parking lot being far from the entrance (and John Edgar’s monthly acts of resistance by parking on the guards parking lot closer to the entrance), continues with searching and waiting in crowded places, unsure whether the visit will be allowed, and ends in solitary isolation of the prisoners themselves. Given the level of mass-incarceration and its very strong racial bias against Black men (corroborated by national figures in Shabazz’s book as well), the negative consequences of this organisation are felt, suffered and resented mostly by Black families.

The third part of Gibbons’ book also touches upon the misuse of mass-incarceration against the fragile population of Skid Row. Skid Row belongs to a part of Los Angeles downtown being redeveloped into luxury lofts after decades of disinvestment by public bodies. “While some of the marketing discourse has changed to focus on selling points such as ‘live where you work’ and the excitement of the big city, in both discourse and practice it has retained key features developed through decades of struggle over residential space: defensible exclusivity, homogeneity, security, narrow definitions of community and responsibility, and increasingly privatized control over public areas. Above all, it has tried to replicate the white spaces so necessary to the social reproduction of white privilege. Unlike the development of the suburbs, however, the creation of such exclusive spaces has entailed the mass displacement of the poor, primarily poor communities of color. What we see today is segregation through an active displacement.” (p.125-6). This development and displacement is achieved through the privatisation of public space, using BID (Business Investment District): “The idea behind the BID is simple: through the self-taxing of business and property owners, they provide a level of service such as trash collection, street cleaning, and secutiry that cash-stripped cities are unable to provide. In Los Angeles this occupation of the public realm by private interests has been greatly facilitated by the city’s financial straits caused by the success of a white homewoner movement in passing Proposition 13 in 1975, which preserved their own assets by freezing homeowner taxes at the time of purchase. This decimated municipal tax bases available for public services.” (p.133). The BID leaders and managers identified the 2000 to 4000 rough-sleepers of Skid Row (predominantly Black and make) as the main threat to the profitability of their investment, and tried to displace them by all means, including state powers (for instance, the Los Angeles Police Department and courts of law). It promoted the passing of bills to “criminalise the activities of daily life for those who find themselves homeless” (p. 156), such as food distribution, public urination or outdoor sleeping. It used private security to promote gentrification and mass displacement. This resulted, with the complicity of LAPD, in a surge in tickets for minor infractions, a surge in arrests for failure to pay tickets from a very poor population, and eventually in the use of prisons and jails as a short-term solution to homelessness in downtown Los Angeles, despite its outright unfaireness. Gibbons relates the organising work from the community group of LA CAN to fight the arrests, monitor and train private security guards, but also bring the dispossession of homeless people by the police to the Supreme Court. She concludes that “Race remains as central to the urban form” (p.177) and that “neoliberalism helped rearticulate a desire and strategy to preserve spatial and racial privilege with an ideology able to justify it in non-racialized terms. [
] When the BIDs and the private market proved ineffective in cleasing downtown of its poor, the business associations running them had little hesitation in once more mobilizing and promoting the power of the state. [She] would argue that neoliberalism’s importance as an object of struggle does not change the fact that it remains disposable if it ceases to serve white domination and preserve white privileged space.” (p.179).

 

 

This 200-page book has been very long and hard for me to read, as its writing is dense, intricate – sometimes extremely descriptive and precise -, it articulates very different levels of discourse, various information sources and methodologies, multiple angles and three distinct historical periods. It probably would not have comprehended its structure fully nor identified its main messages so clearly if I had not gone into the laborious task of reviewing it for this blog. However, I now realise how this book (and the three other books reviewed alongside it) forces me to admit that the study of economic segregation cannot overlook the dimension of racial or ethnic dimension of past segregations in western cities. The intertwining and intersection of land value with race and neighborhood composition challenges our models of the economic rationale behind urban segregation as well as our understanding of the spatio-temporal scales at which the housing market operates. Here and time again, schools seem to represent the ultimate reason to justify seeking exclusive and exclusionary urban spaces from privileged families’ residence. Finally, individual and collective activism is exposed and celebrated for its heroic contributions on the route to de facto equality, in an academic book on urban form and segregation.

 


 

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 the Journal of Urban Affairs, and in the Socialist review, as well as on the websites of Shelterforce and Counterfire.

 

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. 

 

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.