Applied Geography: Principles and Practice: An Introduction to Useful Research in Physical, Environmental and Human Geography

By Michael Pacione | Go to book overview

30

Segregation and discrimination

David Herbert


INTRODUCTION

Segregation and discrimination are key words in the lexicon of social geography. Whereas segregation is the more widely used word and concept, it has integral links with the process of discrimination and also with other key processes such as assimilation and prejudice. Over the longer history of social geography, studies have been dominated by the influence of race and ethnicity, but now include gender, sexuality, impairment and age. Race has dominated, but one thesis is that race and class are closely intertwined, and a key function of discrimination and segregation is to deny access to greater wealth and status. There are de facto separate residential areas as the products of discrimination and segregation. The ability of the suburb to maintain and enhance its separateness and distinctive character is as much a testimony to the power of these processes as is the persistence of the impoverished ghetto. In the social geography of the city, this mosaic of residential areas with its visible symbols of power and prestige on the one hand and disadvantage and poverty, on the other, offers evidence of discrimination and segregation as key social, economic and political processes.

Discrimination is defined variously as ‘to set up or observe a difference’, ‘to treat differentially’, especially on the grounds of sex, race or religion and is a set of values from which actions may flow. Banton (1994) argued that discrimination is an individual action but that since members of the same group are treated in similar ways, it is typically a social pattern of aggregate behaviour. Again, the sets of attitudes tend to be transmitted from one generation to another and are difficult to dispel or even to modify. The effect of discrimination may be to create or increase inequalities between classes of persons and make discrimination more frequent (ibid.: 8).

Segregation is the more common theme in social geography, probably because it has meaning both as a process and as an outcome or condition. To segregate is defined as ‘isolating’, ‘putting apart from the rest’, ‘the separation of one particular class of people from another on grounds such as race. Segregation has stronger behavioural imperatives than discrimination; it is more an action or activity that underpins the actuality of separate and different geographical spaces. The main such space is residential, but segregation also finds expression in education with segregated schools and in the workplace, reflecting real divisions within society.

Discrimination and segregation are common processes that underpin most of society, but recent geographies have tended to focus on the exceptional rather than the broad bases, and one aim in this discussion will be to maintain the kind of balance that the theme deserves. The chapter therefore begins with a summary of the proven significance of discrimination and segregation in the understanding of race and class and residential areas. It will take the opportunity to examine the value of new approaches, including those of cultural geographies, to our understanding of these well-studied schemes. Second, it will examine school segregation, which has been a powerful theme in the United States, especially during the

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