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.

 

A short history of inequality

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

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

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

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

 


 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


 

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

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

 

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

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