“The idea is old: class separation as a form of distinction.”


I’m in class today (exam!), but here is a selection from one of my readings (emphasis in bold mine);

As Saskia Sassen has shown in the case of global cities, high-income gentrification requires an increase in low-wage jobs; yuppies and poor migrant workers depend on each other.


The multiplication of new services creates problems, including the spatial allocation of service areas. The solutions for this problem vary, but one of the most emblematic concerns the circulation areas. Despite many recent changes, the separation between two entrances – in buildings and in each individual apartment – and two elevators , one labeled “social” and the other “service,” seems to be untouchable; different classes are not supposed to mix or interact in the public areas of the buildings. Sometimes the insistence on this distinction seems ridiculous, because the two elevators or doors are often placed side by side instead of being in separate areas. As space shrinks and the side-by-side solution spreads, the apartments that have totally separate areas of circulation advertise this fact with the phrase, “social hall independent from service hall.” The idea is old: class separation as a form of distinction.

This is from Teresa P.R. Caldeira’s (gated) “Fortified Enclaves: The New Urban Segregation.” In this article she explores the reasons and consequences from the growth in walled communities within urban areas. In this effort she thoroughly examines the increasing prevalence of such fortified communities in São Paulo, Brazil, and compares this to the city of Los Angeles to determine if commonalities exist in the way public space is being altered in both areas. She determines that physical disruptions of public space can mirror deeper social inequalities, and these new demarcations reinforce, rather than address, the causal factors driving broader fissures in society. Finally, Caldeira argues that this contemporary outgrowth of spatial segregation will negatively impact city residents’ sense of common citizenship in an open democracy.

In my response paper I partially recounted one my job experiences with a fortified enclave. It was in a semi-regular service area, and is a highly exclusive gated community with a separate entrance for service workers. To even take appointments for this place required a private background check and an unique I.D. card. Eventually they required fingerprints for their private database. At least once I was stopped to confirm my business there and eventually escorted out. The residents were, to be charitable, equally aloof. There was no part of my experience inside those walls that wasn’t an exercise in being implicitly and explicitly told I didn’t belong there. I could have refused to work this area, but then I probably would have lost my job, which wasn’t an option at the time. Stuck between an unemployment rock and a socially segregated place, I ‘chose’ the latter.

Caldeira later contends that these places by their very nature tend to make social inequalities more explicit. It was starkly evident in her analysis of São Paulo, and to a lesser, yet still meaningful, extent in Los Angeles. Whatever the particular severity of any one socioeconomic gap in an urban environment, spatial segregation along class or ethnic lines is most certainly projected; and in my experience most certainly felt. Although we assign different meanings to such places, and justify them in several different ways, they nevertheless “form the stage for public life,” according to the author. In the past I’ve written about being on the bottom-half of a class-based relationship, but in urban areas social distances are often built into the infrastructure itself.


4 responses to ““The idea is old: class separation as a form of distinction.”

  1. Pingback: Speaking of “class separation as a form of distinction” | Punditocracy·

  2. Pingback: “The question of who can occupy public space…” | Punditocracy·

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