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.

 

Géographie des Inégalités

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

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

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

 


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


 

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

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

 

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

Great American City. Chicago and the enduring neighborhood effect

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

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

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

 


 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 


 

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

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

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

 

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

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