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On the Spatiality of Segregation and the Governance of Change

Sur la spatialité de la ségrégation et la gouvernance du changement
Nancy Ettlinger


This article presents segregation as a fundamental, longstanding, and widespread problem that impedes democratic urban life, and further, a problem that is intelligible from a critical geographic perspective. Ignorance is spatially produced by segregation at multiple scales, in places and across space, thereby legitimizing and perpetuating silence about problems among marginalized groups. This spatialized understanding explains inequality along any of many axes of difference (not just class, as in conventional political economy perspectives). Understanding segregation in terms of the spatial production of ignorance prompts an agenda that forefronts the creation of new social knowledges. The focus here is on the everyday economy as a crucial but commonly overlooked context for developing such knowledges. I re-present a theory of knowledge creation developed for the pursuit of firm competitiveness and reconfigure it to mesh socio-political with economic goals, thereby dissolving an implicit binary that pervades academic scholarship.A central challenge is to change prevailing discourses that produce and reproduce ignorance by cultivating new practices that entail meaningful interaction among people otherwise segregated, namely the development of overlapping business networks constituted by diverse actors (by class, race/ethnicity). Efficiency becomes a means to social as well as economic ends, as respect and trust via collaborative experience (among people who might otherwise not interact) generate new social understandings. The possibilist framework developed here rests on the difficult coordination of processes operating at multiple scales.

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The problem: frictions of difference amid diversity, and the territorial tendency

1The United States, where I am from, has long been known both as a national site of diversity as well as a country where frictions of difference among different ethnic groups have festered in the context of a dramatically uneven landscape of constraint and opportunity. While diversity has been represented discursively in the United States as a reflection of democracy, in practice it has been a signpost of uneven development.

2In November 2005, France was catapulted into the international limelight as yet another context in which frictions of difference had festered to the point of rioting. The problem of the suburbs in France has been represented as a type of ghettoization of ethnic minorities similar to that in the United States, excepting a locational reversal: the relative location of spatial concentrations of ethnic minorities, unemployment, crime, and poverty in the US context traditionally has been near the physical center of US cities, yet it is on the outskirts of French cities. But more interesting perhaps than the locational difference between the US and French contexts are the similarities. Specifically, the incorporation of ethnic minorities as well as poor working class native citizens into civil society has been territorialized in both contexts. The result is a ghettoization effect whereby residence, schools, opportunities and jobs (or lack thereof) are spatially contained, precluding contact and integration with society outside these enclaves. And in both cases urban planning has devoted more attention to problems within these enclaves, than connection (including, concretely, efficient transportation) between them and the rest of the metropolitan regions (see Wihtol de Wenden, 2006 on the French context). Socio-economic and political disenfranchisement and marginalization in both cases have been materially territorialized in a system of segregation, while the democratic discourse in both contexts focuses on sameness, assimilation, and the denial of difference, as in the ‘melting pot’ in the United States, and ‘The French Citizen’ ideal in France.

3The solution to deep-seated problems of segregation would seem to entail processes of connection and integration. But this requires more than improved transportation. And ironically, the problems with realizing integration return us to the problem of segregation, a situation highlighted by problems encountered in relatively recent urban planning initiatives in the United States that may be instructive towards integration efforts elsewhere, such as France. Specifically, planned, mixed neighborhoods by class as well as race and ethnicity commonly have fallen short of goals because segregation becomes replicated within residential neighborhoods, schools, and the like.

4I suggest that segregation, as well as its multiplication at increasingly finer scales, can fruitfully be engaged with reference to the richness of geographic inquiry. At the outset, the Cartesian, locational understanding of context as a spatial container is useful in identifying and problematizing the boundedness and territorialization of poverty and difference. This locational understanding of context renders a locational solution, which entails physically moving people from one residential neighborhood or school to another, in another community. But this locational strategy anticipates integration as a result of locational change, when actually, tensions persist and sometimes are exacerbated as segregation multiplies at finer scales. As I will elaborate, the locational solution lacks mechanisms to insure that people physically close to one another actually interact, rather than reconstitute the boundaries of territory at multiple scales. The problem is more than spatial; it is socio-politically spatial – a matter more of spatiality than of location. The Cartesian view, which separates space from socio-political action in a cause-and-effect approach, is useful at the outset, but the ills of segregation require a complementary approach to geographic inquiry that recognizes the entwinement of socio-political action and space. Implicitly, planners and policy-makers in the United States and elsewhere have adopted a locational approach to integration that has not delivered the expected results.

5My paper offers a normative argument about the governance of society and space regarding how integration might be, should be, approached. More than a locational issue, integration is a political matter – not, as I will elaborate regarding laws and formal institutions, but rather in regard to power relations, rooted, as Michel Foucault (2000a, p.343) suggested, “deep in the social nexus,” “even if crystallized in institutions”.

6The remainder of this paper is organized as follows. I begin by elaborating segregation as a geographic problem of democracy, and clarify the logical corollary – the normative imperative towards establishing and conceptualizing a new agenda. This section draws attention to a Foucauldian proposition, specifically that material practices produce new knowledges, not the other way around. This view connects directly with the aim to design practices that insure meaningful interaction among people physically close to one another. Following the logic already developed, the goal is to inhibit discriminatory practices wrought of ignorance by designeing tactics to produce new social knowledges. And I suggest that the everyday economy, in which most people spend most of their time earning a living, is a crucial arena in which such tactics should be developed. Section III identifies and problematizes an implicit binary constituted by socio-political concerns and goals on the one hand, and economic interests and goals on the other; this binary pervades planning as well as academic analysis, and impedes the agenda forwarded here. Section IV briefly outlines how understanding inequality as a matter of spatiality can help guide new urban designs, and Section V offers a specific vision of urban life that is underscored by the proactive construction of overlapping business networks constituted by diverse membership.This section taps a provocative conceptual framework developed to understand how knowledge may be generated effectively towards innovation in business, and reconceptualizes it so as to reconfigure it to align with socio-political goals. The aim is to reverse the conventional approach that instrumentalizes social processes towards economic ends; at issue here are processes of learning in a business context to generate new social knowledges. Section VI clarifies: how such networks might be constructed, empirical precedents, and some of the problems. Finally, the conclusion (VII) comments on the possibilist nature of the framework developed here and the conceptual requirement to connect issues developed in apparently discrete literatures by way of reconceptualization and reconfiguration, as opposed to an additive exercise.

Framing segregation as a geographic problem of democracy in urban life

7Segregation is a longstanding, world-wide, and notably urban problem that ripples through society and gnaws at the heart of democratic life. Although most would agree that segregation is a serious problem, it is not, however, commonly forefronted or interpreted as a problem that is germane to democracy (for exceptions see Ettlinger, 2007; Morrissey and Gaffikin, 2006; Young, 2000). Apparent inattention to segregation as a fundamental obstacle to democratic processes might be explained in part with reference to considerable variation in segregation as well as poverty, inequality, spatial mismatch and the like across different contexts (see Musterd, 2002). My purpose is not to present segregation as occurring identically or to the same extent across contexts, but rather to suggest that to whatever extent and in whatever way segregation unfolds in a variety of space/time contexts, in principle it ought to be viewed as an obstruction to democratic life.

8In her last book Inclusion and Democracy, the late Iris Marion Young (2000) clarified that segregation is destructive because it perpetuates opportunities in resource-rich areas, while blocking opportunities for people in resource-poor areas; moreover, it precludes communication and thus deliberative processes among groups. If by ‘democracy’ we refer to inclusive, deliberative processes,1 then segregation indeed impedes democracy. Physical separation and indeed territorialization of groups reinforces social, political, economic, and cultural barriers and inhibits communication, which is the backbone of deliberation. Ignorance about people and conditions in different areas is spatially produced by segregation, thereby legitimizing silence and thus inaction about problems in resource-poor areas.

9That democracy is intrinsically geographic is somewhat unconventional. And interestingly, the geographic dimension in Young’s work on democracy remained implicit.2 And geography is germane, although it is important to differentiate types of geographic inquiry that connect with different types of assumptions, analyses, and insights. As indicated, the nature of geographic inquiry here moves beyond a locational, Cartesian approach, which highlights latitudinal/longitudinal positioning and boundaries, and frames space as a ‘container’ of processes. A locational approach to segregation without due attention to complementary geographic questions can actually mislead. For example, segregation is often studied within the confines of spatial containers such as government-defined census tracts and the like; one problem with fixed boundaries and the idea of space as a ‘container’ is that such analyses obscure processes underlying the rippling of segregation across scales, within so-called integrated neighborhoods, schools, housing complexes.3 As mentioned at the outset, planned, mixed residential neighborhoods, by class as well as race/ethnicity commonly remain internally segregated, 4 as do the schools and businesses in those neighborhoods. This irony unfolds because minority persons typically are relocated where majority norms are entrenched and practices are exclusive, often prompting those in the minority to leave or resulting in implicitly segregated curricula in schools and segregated living and rhythms of life. Meaningful interactions and shared experience are hardly the perfunctory results of shared location (Joseph et al., 2007).

10A critique of the conventional Cartesian view prompts questions as to the conditions under which segregation evolves across multiple scales, and moreover, how segregation unfolds differently at different scales. It is the persistently multiscalar character of segregation that has led critical race theorists in the United States such as Richard Ford (1992) and David Goldberg (1993) to clarify racialization as a spatialized phenomenon. Geographic questions can appreciate multiscalar processes, their relation, and also the relation among processes operating at the same scale in different places. ‘Place,’ which differs from the Cartesian concept ‘location,’ refers to the history of social, economic, political, cultural, and/or ecological processes in a context, which may be spatially circumscribed or may be symbolic or virtual.5 Attention to ‘place’ does not translate into advocacy for area-based policies that often neglect broader societal problems (e.g. see Anderson and Musterd, 2005), but rather to the grounding of social relations in local contexts in relation to social relations in other places and among individuals across space. Specifically in terms of segregation, an understanding of historical processes in places helps clarify why and how particular, dominant norms become entrenched and implicitly build walls around diverse groups that remain separated culturally, economically, socially, and politically; the production of segregation within in a particular place is re-produced by separation of diverse groups at multiple scales, even if in different ways.

11The rippling of segregation within and across places leaves little wonder that increased diversity within localities can lead to instability or alienation, as scholars such as Robert Putnam (2007) and Sally Merry (1981) have argued. Frictions of difference amid diversity are intelligible in terms of people’s reluctance to interact with those who are different – a matter of spatiality. The relation between ignorance and segregation exemplifies spatiality insofar as ignorance is produced by fear of Others (Ford, 1992), which is produced by an absence of communication and interaction via segregation, in turn producing fear, ignorance, and so on in a cycle of mutually embedded processes. This pernicious dynamic helps explain the assimilationist undertones of strategies to ‘mix’ that in practice devalue difference while holding sacred an exclusively conceived unity (Ford, 1992; Powell, 2002; Young, 2000). The relation between ignorance and segregation is central to the concerns of this paper, but this relation also requires sensitivity to place, space, and their relation.

12Cities are prime sites for negotiating diversity in the contemporary global political economy (Uttermark et al., 2005) and represent a vital context in which the longstanding problem of frictions of difference amid diversity unfold (Sandercock, 2000). In contrast to the relatively homogeneous ‘new urbanist’ image6 of the city region, which connects with elitist, creative class representations (Florida, 2002; see critique by Peck, 2005), the city region in most places is diverse and increasingly so, especially with ever increasing transnationalism and related flows of refugees, be they political and/or economic, documented or undocumented. The consequences and implications of increasing diversity are contested. Some, such as Putnam (2007) and Merry (1981) have called attention to the frictions that result from increasing diversity in localities, implying that segregation may have benefits. Yet others, such as Ford (1992), Goldberg (1993), Powell (2002) and Young (2000) have highlighted the long-run socio-spatial inequalities that result from segregation

13The view here is that following identification of problems with diversity, we ought to be uncomfortable with the long-run material and discursive consequences of those problems; otherwise we become comfortable with a democracy constructed by and for the elite. I concur with Richard Ford (2005, p.213) that “Ethnic enclaves and exclusive organizations might provide a safe haven in a heartless world, but if one wants to change society, ultimately one must engage it, ‘outsiders’ and all”. This normative sentiment echoes Frantz Fanon’s (1967, p.231) wish to achieve “authentic communication” by attempting “to touch the other, to feel the other,” and as he reflexively declared, “to explain the other to myself”. If increasing diversity in localities prompts problems such as social disorder or alienation and the dissolution of social networks, then the normative imperative is to develop mechanisms to counteract those tendencies so that fruitful social networks can persist and/or be constructed anew, while re-constructing the social, economic, political, and cultural urban environment to cultivate a more even landscape of opportunity. The aim is to specify an agenda to avoid replicating the errors of the past.

14But beyond identifying and theorizing segregation as an obstacle to democracy (Young, 2000), indicating its geographies, and specifying normative imperatives, it remains unclear how to approach the problem. As David Goldberg (1993, p.204) has pointed out, “… the world we find ourselves in is one we have helped to create, and this places constraints upon how we think the world anew”. The premise that segregation and ignorance are mutually embedded prompts the question as to the nature of conventional efforts to construct change. For example, in the United States where racial/ethnic segregation persists,7 the failure of relatively longstanding desegregation legislation to integrate diverse groups suggests the need to think beyond existing strategies.

15My approach takes cues from Foucault (e.g. Foucault, 1980a, 1980b, 2000a, 2000b, 2000c), specifically regarding his view that analysis should focus less on laws and more on practices in everyday life, and further, that change in consciousness is most effectively realized by changing practices, not the other way around. As indicated, desegregation legislation has been problematic, in part because practices in daily life reinforce segregation at finer scales, and are entwined with assimilationist thinking that aims to eliminate difference by pressing minorities to jettison their identities as they relocate in majority contexts. While the problem of ignorance suggests a need for new social knowledges, the problem of segregation suggests a need for constructive communication among people who might otherwise never interact. Accordingly, I call attention to the relation between daily practices and knowledge. From this vantage point, the challenge is to develop new social knowledges through shared experience in rhythms of daily life among groups of people otherwise segregated – to change prevailing discourses by cultivating new practices that entail meaningful interaction. At issue is not legislating civility, but in preventing the conditions that perpetuate exclusion (Goldberg 1993, p.227). The purpose is not to present a static utopian state, but to open discussion to the need to connect a discourse of meaningful social interaction to the design of material practices towards fostering democratic life.

16Especially from a multiscalar perspective, there are many types of segregated contexts that require attention – schools, housing complexes, businesses, virtual spaces, and the like. This paper focuses on ‘the economy’ as it touches down in specific places regarding the social content and associated knowledges of work routines and consumer culture. This is not to suggest that other spheres of life and contexts are unimportant, but rather that the economy is a crucial but nonetheless commonly overlooked sphere in which to construct change. Specifically regarding Otherness, it is often through consumer culture that identities are constituted and distinguished, and it is in the context of the production of goods as well as services that occupational segregation echoes segregation manifest in residential neighborhoods, schools, and the like (see Ford, 1992, p.126 and his citation of Fanon 1967 specifically regarding the relation between the economy and racial identity). Indeed, production and consumption constitute daily life, yet literature on democracy commonly sidesteps the economy.8 The orientation of this paper to the economy is intended to identify and begin to fill this gap, but note that the emphasis here is on the “ordinary economy” (Lee, 2006) of everyday life in an actor-based, bottom-up scalar logic. But prior to launching into ‘the economic’ towards engaging segregation as a geographic problem of democracy, the apparent discreteness of socio-political and economic issues requires critical attention.

Identifying and problematizing an implicit binary: towards a conceptual bridge between socio-political life and the everyday economy

17I want to identify and problematize what has evolved as a socio-political/economic binary in which critical social and political theories neglect issues of competitiveness, and economic theories neglect issues of inequities and social in/justice. I suggest that this binary implicitly constructs obstacles to change. I argue for reconceptualizing the economic and the socio-political so as to reconfigure them as mutually embedded rather than separate and bounded, and further, as possibly positively reinforcing.

18Competitiveness, as the mantra of neoliberalism, tends to be interpreted negatively in radical social theory in light of the context-insensitive, firm – not people– centered mentalities and severe negative impacts on people outside elite circles (Peck, 2006). And I concur with this critique. But rather than dispensing with competitiveness, consider how the evolution of competitive disadvantage impacts disadvantaged groups most severely. In this light, competitiveness requires critical attention. This is not to suggest that the benefits of competitiveness trickle down as mainstream economic theory predicts; rather, the main point is that competitiveness is a necessary, while insufficient, condition for the well being of people in capitalist society. Further, the usual divergence between the well being of firms and people, such that firms often thrive at the expense of workers, suggests daunting obstacles. One challenge, then, is to put both critical capitalist organizations and people ‘on the table’ – insert both these concerns into public discourse, develop an arena for debate and deliberation, and crucially, design strategies towards materializing such concerns.

19Yet economic theory is politically more powerful than social theory in explicitly capitalist arenas, such as the interface of urban planning and real estate. Moreover, economic theory engages the well being of people principally instrumentally, towards achieving competitiveness. Ironically, social approaches to the economy with reference to ‘social capital’ follow suit (e.g. Granovetter, 1985, 2005), commonly casting positive social relations of trust and respect instrumentally towards capitalist goals such as efficiency (see critiques of ‘social capital’ by DeFilippis, 2001; Ettlinger, 2007).9 At issue, then, is whether the goal of social justice can offer strategic value to an economic-oriented mentality (Ettlinger, 2001). Further, departing from analyses of social capital that tend to focus on organizations such as firms or civic organizations (e.g. Putnam, 1993) as units of analysis, more to the point here is relational capital (Kale et al., 2000), which focuses on inter-personal relations. ‘Relational capital,’ pitched at the scale of individuals rather than firms/organizations, was developed relative to economic not social goals, but it can be deployed fruitfully towards recognizing and problematizing which individuals are or are not interacting – crucial if we are to integrate concern for frictions of difference into designs for a better life (Ettlinger, 2007).

20Academe can have a role in changing discourses, or at least clarifying why and how urban design and planning ought to give voice to principles that have been ‘off the policy table’. And there are a variety of calls, notably those for participatory democracy, decision making ‘from below’, and geographies of care (e.g. Hardt and Negri, 2004; Popke, 2006; Staehli, 2003). What I wish to emphasize here is that at some point the economy must also figure in new visions, and furthermore connect in a meaningful way with new social designs. The idea of urban ‘liveability’ – lifestyles of the rich and creative – needs to connect with how most people, not just the elite, spend most of their days earning a living. At issue is whether the time, energy, emotions, and practices during days of work can be socially constructive and part of a learning process.

21The kind of learning to which I refer extends beyond work issues to those about the people with whom one interacts during the course of work. If we consider that most adults spend most of their waking time working, it seems sensible to think of work as a social, cultural, political, as well as an economic matter, and how work as a multidimensional enterprise might be a crucial part of transformational processes. The agenda here is to extend theory of knowledge creation in the context of firm-related innovation to social innovation via the development of people’s knowledges about each other through routine interaction amongst people who might otherwise not interact. This blurring of social and economic boundaries prompts questions about deep-seated impediments, such as inequality, and how the nature of inequality in economic spheres may translate into social and political spheres.

The spatiality of inequality as a guide for new urban designs

22In contrast to positions on inequality that privilege any one axis of difference stated in terms of economy (e.g. class) or society (e.g. issues of identity and recognition pertaining to race, gender, and the like), my concern for eroding ignorance about people and the groups with which they might be aligned is rooted in a spatial interpretation of inequality (see also Purcell, 2001). Spatial separation along any of many axes of difference, reflected in the uneven terrain of fragmented political jurisdictions10, explains ignorance, the problem of out-of-sight and out-of-mind, and ultimately silences in arenas that might otherwise host efforts to alleviate gross inequities. This approach helps explain the spatialized exclusions of different types of actors in a wide range of contexts, from New Orleans to Belfast, the Paris suburbs, and elsewhere throughout the world (e.g. Ettlinger, 2007; Gotham, 2000; Morrissey and Gaffikin, 2006; de Wenden, 2006). Further, beyond normative calls to mesh economically conceived problems of redistribution with socially conceived problems of identity and recognition (Fraser 1999), this approach helps clarify the commonality of inequality across allegedly different dimensions of life.

23The spatiality of inequality points to interrelated principles to guide a new imaginary for urban design. While immediate, material problems regarding housing, jobs, and so forth remain important rallying points for tactical changes, long-run, strategic change requires mixing, by choice, along multiple axes of difference – a bottom-up type of desegregation. To create spaces for such choices, desegregation must entail not just populations and their spatial restructuring, but also social practices and knowledges to cultivate mixing-by-choice as a possibility (Young 2000). Although mixed neighborhood planning has been implemented in the United States and elsewhere around the world, it has fallen short of designing practices to insure the development of new relationships among members of different groups, and the knowledges that come with such social relations. The spatial understanding of inequality embraced here suggests that social and political transformation depends on constructing arenas in which people otherwise segregated can routinely interact in rhythms of daily life to develop new social knowledges. It is towards the construction of such arenas specifically in the everyday economy that I now turn.

Creating new knowledges via practices: overlapping business networks constituted by diverse membership

24Ikujiro Nonaka (1994) developed a theory of the social creation of knowledge, which is intended to help explain how innovative activity is, and can be, generated in firms (see also Nonaka and Toyama, 2005). I suggest that this theory can fruitfully be applied to cross-group communication in cities – whether the groups are Black and White, Jew and Muslim, Catholic and Protestant, children of immigrants and children of native citizens, and more generally, diverse groups inhabiting contested space. Nonaka’s poststructural approach to knowledge creation considers combinations of tacit and explicit knowledge transfers in social relations, and injects issues of subjectivity pertaining to context, power, and values into discussion of innovativeness among firms. His sensitivity to context is especially interesting from the vantage point of the spatiality of inequality. Nonaka uses the concept ba, which translates from Japanese into English as ‘place’, with reference to multiscalar public arenas in which knowledges and values are created and exchanged. The continual exchange of knowledge depends on dialogue, narrative, and mutually shared practices to effectively communicate. Ba is convergent with the independently developed concept ‘communities of practice’ or CoPs (Lave and Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1998), which similarly refers to context-specific practices that foster innovativeness, specifically among entrepreneurs;11 my preference for using ba rather than CoPs owes to the rich conceptualization specifically of knowledge generation that frames ba.

25One important task here is to change the orientation of innovativeness from the generalized context of business life of firms and entrepreneurs, to the work life of people. While the change in language from business to work life may seem slight, the change in goals and fundamental concerns is, however, considerable, notably because here social relations become an end as well as a means. At issue is innovation in social relations to create knowledges of other people, as well as how social relations can contribute to innovativeness and efficiency in firms. The latter, social relations as instrumental to efficiency – the social capital approach – can be re-figured as a means to social ends because the process of shared experience amongst otherwise segregated people towards productive ends engenders trust in, and respect for, Others’ performances, as well as expenditures of, and investments in, personal capital towards a shared performance. The view developed here qualifies social and personal capital specifically in a mixed context to include both efficiency and new knowledges of, and respect for, other people who might not otherwise interact. More generally, departing from the more usual focus on goals that are social or economic, social and economic goals can be complementary and synergistic, contingent upon meaningful interaction through work practices among actors in mixed groups.

26One interesting dimension of Nonaka’s theory of knowledge creation is the call for public arenas for interaction and the reconfiguring of explicit knowledges. This is an interesting point of entry into social theory regarding the construction of publics and counter-publics towards agonistic democracy, as developed by scholars such as Nancy Fraser (1997). Yet social theory is suggestive but vague on how publics contribute to democracy. Nonaka instructs us that coordinated meeting spaces entail the exchange of explicit information – necessary but insufficient; alone, they are superficial. Meaningful exchange of explicit knowledges requires connection with everyday activities that permit the externalization of tacit knowledge so that people’s experiences can be communicated to other groups via narratives and dialogue. But the outcome in both the externalization of tacit knowledge and the reconfiguring of explicit knowledges will fall short of creating new tacit knowledges if it is understood statically as a ‘point of arrival’ or binding consensus. Thus what Nonaka calls the ‘spiral of knowledge formation’ – a continual, dynamic process – also entails the creation of tacit knowledges through learning and internalization, connecting with socialization via experience that is shared. These activities take people beyond public meeting spaces, in the variety of microspaces of daily work life. These critical entanglements of types of knowledges and their communication occur in bas, that is, contexts in which groups of people engage in practices that are shared and understood by virtue of the routinization of rhythms of activity and interaction. It is precisely the interaction through shared practices and exchanges of knowledge that helps overcome otherwise occurring inequities. This issue of the meaningful sharing of practices and knowledge exchange is crucial because the formation of a network is necessary but insufficient towards the goals of interest here. We know, at this point, that the cozy social relations often ascribed to networks are more of a discourse than actuality (Hadjimichalis and Hudson, 2006); moreover, there are different types of networks and different types of social ties (Grabher and Ibert, 2006). Specifically, the types of networks pertinent to knowledge creation are those in which members actively communicate with each other towards a shared performance.

27Grounding these ideas towards constructing cross-group interaction and shared tacit and explicit knowledges in cities requires the development of business networks in and across residential neighborhoods, each of which are designed as mixed by class as well as race and ethnicity. The type of critical planning envisioned here recognizes frictions of difference amid diversity, and seeks to engage them constructively by developing practices in daily life that require learning knowledges that others have developed, becoming socialized in those knowledges, developing respect and trust among individuals through learning processes, and externalizing and continually reconfiguring such knowledges in rhythms of work.

28To reiterate an earlier point, issues of scale are germane because discussion of networks in business life typically is pitched at the scale of networks and/or specific businesses that represent nodes in a network; individual people and their significance commonly are overlooked. People matter in part because dimensions of identity (e.g. gender, age, race/ethnicity, and the like) affect interaction, sometimes positively and sometimes negatively – a situation otherwise overlooked when analysis is fixed at the scale of an organization or network. Further, recognizing the microspaces of interaction illuminates that any one individual has multiple identities and most likely affiliates with a number of groups or networks, formally and/or informally. In turn, acknowledging individuals’ identities (plural), draws attention to multiple networks and their interrelation or potential interrelations. From a multiscalar vantage point, analysis should recognize the people involved in a multiplicity of networks within and across organizations, and within and across places or bas. Thinking about multiple networks and the multiple affiliations of individual people calls attention to network overlaps.

29Proactively tapping overlap among networks can accommodate a fluid view of difference to avoid reproducing segregation along multiple axes (e.g. age or sexuality, when discourse of difference may focus on ethnicity and class – see Uttermark et al., 2005, p.632). More generally, network theory from economic sociology instructs us that overlaps can, though not inevitably, function as strategic bridges among networks – conduits of new knowledges that can inform efforts towards innovation and competitive advantage (Burt, 1992). Accordingly, and thinking beyond distinctly economic goals, network overlaps can help avoid the boundedness of social knowledge that translate into ignorance about others, and concretely, segregated urban space. Yet here too, there is no inevitability; effective communication arising from network overlaps requires a proactive engagement with overlaps and their potential (Ettlinger, 2003, 2004).

30The spatial organization of the design of urban life envisioned here may or may not entail mixed residential neighborhoods at the outset. The issue is not locational or a matter of relocating people. Rather, a new culture of production via diverse memberships of overlapping networks across space can generate new experiences of new social relations that can produce new social knowledges, which in turn, may lay a foundation for a new set of locational choices as well as new cultures of consumption12.

Brokering new networks where none have gone before?

31If it seems naïve to imagine urban redesign with reference to the creation and brokering of new business networks where they have not previously existed, consider the accomplishments in the 1980s in the rural United States, orchestrated notably by Stuart Rosenfeld (1992) with grants from the US federal government. Rosenfeld helped create and broker business networks in rural areas with the assistance of community leaders and local government officials in the wake of regionalized recessions. Such network formation helped people to concretize their talents towards earning a living though cooperative networks. Implicitly, this approach is consistent with John Kretzmann and John McKnight’s (1993) ‘assets-based, community development’ planning framework, which permits a definition of local assets in terms of residents’ mix of skills – whether formally or informally utilized – in contrast to the more conventional terms of a pre-existing industrial mix, in the context of which many residents might previously have faced exclusions. For example, businesses can be formed on the basis of a wide range of informally developed skills – from various elements of house construction13 to gardening, child care, repair services, cooking, painting and design, writing, craft skills, and so on. Assisting people in concretizing their skills towards earning a living through cooperative business networks seems sensible in any context, rural and urban, while also recognizing context-specific differences.

32Yet there are several important differences between the framework developed here and Rosenfeld’s. One underlying difference pertains to goals. The aim here is to produce trust and respect through the knowledge spiral as ends in themselves, such that the experience of competitive and effective work is a means towards social ends as well as work performance. While trust is often achieved on the basis of personal relations over a period of time among people with strong ties (e.g. friends, neighbors, family members),14 it can be achieved among people with considerably less history of interpersonal relations on the basis of respect for capability or performance (Ettlinger, 2003). This approach turns the concept ‘social capital’ inside, out: rather than viewing social relations as instrumental toward efficiency, efficiency achieved through effective cooperative relations is instrumental towards respect and trust among people who would otherwise be segregated, without communication. Economic and social goals alike become satisfied.

33A second difference is that the agenda here entails multiple mixed networks that overlap and interact. The idea of interaction rhythms that give shape to bas is based on the development of group unity – a constructive notion, only if, however, we allow for the interaction and reconfiguration of knowledges within as well as among groups. Otherwise, knowledge becomes static within the boundaries of a group, reproducing segregation among groups. Although network theory in economic sociology is targeted to firms and their innovativeness, we can construe the dynamics as amenable to an agonistic model of social relations if we understand new knowledges to be a social matter that is concretized in economic practice. Practically, we can imagine interaction in and among business networks as occurring through input-output relations within neighborhoods, the city region, and elsewhere. We might also imagine incentives offered by a local government for networks to source goods and services at different scales to encourage and sustain specific types of interactions within and across scales.

34Finally, the composition of networks in the framework here is, in the first instance, mixed across axes of difference such as class, race and ethnicity. Thus, a network that has a business identity is constituted by people aligned with diverse social groups – an issue that either in actuality or normatively has been more germane to urban than rural contexts. The formidable challenge in constructing such networks as a matter of choice on the part of network members speaks to a chicken-and-egg problem; if as indicated, consciousness changes via practices, not the other way around, then how might initial steps towards the type of design envisaged here unfold? The types of choices entailed in an actor selecting an unconventional route towards social relations and earning a living require unconventional thinking on the part of that individual. At the outset, an ‘experiment’ in social and economic life suggests that willing participation is predicated on a reflexive questioning of existing mentalities – an engagement with what Foucault termed ‘practices of the self’ (Foucault, 1997a, 1997b, 2001, 2005). From this vantage point, the efforts of local community and government leaders to help broker networks are a matter of harnessing and ‘scaling up’ existing alternative consciousnesses on the part of different individuals. Materializing the vision developed here at the outset would likely be a small-scale matter in a place where there are enough individuals conceptually able15 and willing to participate – a beginning, towards a prototype, but certainly not an end. And indeed there is no ‘end’ or point of arrival in a system predicated on a continual, dynamic social spiral of knowledge generation.

35The appreciation in this framework of fluid, dynamic processes depends on a multiscalar strategy, notably connection between reflexivity on an individualized basis and efforts in local contexts towards mediating those consciousnesses towards collective action. Such efforts may exist in multiple forms among various groups – social, recreational, religious and the like – but they commonly are designed and operationalized separate from the economy. Whereas collective action is often understood in terms of formal social and labor movement organizations, here collective action is understood in terms of forging connections in the everyday economy among people informally engaged in a critique of existing systems, and formalizing that critique towards an alternative, fundamentally more democratic way of life.

36Concretely, as in Rosenfeld’s strategies, network creation and brokering requires financial and technical assistance from the government at various scales. One agenda for community organizers and local citizens is to proactively tap the neoliberal mentality of government to receive various forms of assistance towards reconfigured goals that include, but are not limited to, competitiveness.16 There are indeed a wide variety of types of industries, and thus the technical needs and specific practices of different business communities will vary; this situation was conceptualized and earlier engaged by Rosenfeld in his call for, and design of, industry or network-specific service centers in the rural United States. There is no blueprint for such facilitation; rather, the mix of service centers and assistance must vary depending on the nature of the networks that form, based on context-specific mixes of local skills.

37I have suggested taking cues from strategies in rural areas towards transforming urban areas, in combination with a reconfiguring of goals towards using effective and competitive work practices as a means to dissolve frictions of difference by constructively entangling tacit and explicit knowledges among diverse groups in cities. The call for heretofore rural strategies in cities challenges the so-called rural-urban divide, which arguably is a social construction and an artifact of social, economic, and cultural bureaucracies. This is not to ignore context-specific differences – such as larger, denser, and more diverse social environments in urban areas – but rather to recognize similarities as well as differences among different contexts and engage the variation. Implementation of this vision entails formidable challenges and would depend at least at the outset on harnessing the reflexive consciousnesses of those willing to participate in such as system. Helping people to make a living using their talents is a goal that is worthwhile in any context; in turn, recognizing the value of this experience towards eroding ignorance about so-called Others is especially sensible in diverse city regions where festering tensions over contested space threaten our democratic sensibilities.

Conclusion: on reconceptualization, reconfiguration, and possibilism

38Based on the premise that inequality derives from ignorance, which is spatially produced, I have underscored the need to develop overlapping business networks constituted by diverse people. The aim is to construct positive social knowledges via work relations that illuminate talent and performance and generate respect and trust. Work relations become the vehicle towards social knowledges, which enhance work relations; the idea is to cultivate a dynamic and synergistic relation between the economic and the social – a mutual embeddedness of dimensions otherwise conceived as mutually exclusive.

39The framework presented here is as much about creating new knowledges among academics and planners who study the city, as it is about new social knowledges among diverse groups in the city. However, the enterprise is not new theory, but rather a tapping of existing yet conventionally discrete conceptual frameworks followed by reconceptualization so as to reconfigure – not just add together – thoughts that might otherwise recede into segregated paths of academic life. One important problem is the compartmentalization of academe into separate spheres of study regarding the economic, the political, the social, and the cultural. But if we accept that these dimensions of life are mutually embedded, then goals as well as analysis require synergistic consideration. It is sensible to consider the capitalist context in which participatory democracy and the like might be imagined, and moreover, how for-profit enterprise might be used towards cultivating new social knowledges to erode pernicious imaginaries born of ignorance.

40The view towards the future here is neither about inevitability nor prediction, but rather one of possibilism – thinking about the practices by which positive processes might occur to set a critical agenda, while also thinking about how to obviate potential obstacles. And sensibilities regarding possibilities and obstacles are interwoven: obstruction of resistance to the status quo derives from inadequate attention to requirements for social change. Specifically, processes operating at multiple scales and among multiple actors are crucial towards achieving meaningful social change (Purcell, 2007). This perspective is consistent with Foucauldian thinking about power and its diffuseness – a matter of managing possibilities (Foucault, 2000c). A top-down versus bottom-up mentality is unhelpful because it overlooks the power of iterative actions at different scales (e.g. government, workplaces, schools, households, neighborhoods, formal and informal professional and non-professional organizations and institutions, individual actions, interpersonal interactions and performances). Also often overlooked by hierarchical conceptualizations, whether biased towards ‘the top’ or ‘the bottom’, is how structures of authority ‘at the top’ are constituted by actors who are part of civil society and engaged in multiple, overlapping networks. The interlinking of processes operating at multiple scales is, however, untidy because there is no grand scheme towards conscious, orchestrated coordination. From the vantage point of critical planning, the challenge is to develop new practices to open possibilities for independent actions at multiple scales relative to a transformational mentality.

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Nancy Ettlinger, « On the Spatiality of Segregation and the Governance of Change », L’Espace Politique [En ligne], 10 | 2010-1, mis en ligne le 15 avril 2010, consulté le 23 octobre 2020. URL : ; DOI :

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Nancy Ettlinger

Department of Geography
Ohio State University

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