I wanted to open up a discussion about the role of ethnicity in urban
studies, and specifically how ethnicity is understood and leveraged as a
tool for access to resources and political representation. Here in
Dallas, it seems like everything someone does politically is
automatically rendered through the filter of ethic tension, and it's
done so in a purposeful way.
In anthropology there's a lot of work done on tribal or ethnic ties in
more rural places, but I haven't seen a lot of recent stuff in the larger cities of the US. Has anyone else looked at this issue?
That actually, expands the discussion from ethinicities based on racial types, or national identities, to urban geographies.
This is something I've also noticed in my work. In places marked as being dangerous, where residents live with fear, a neighborhood becomes like a defensive area where strangers are immediately noticed. In this situation if someone from a different ethnicity from the majority moves to the neighborhood, they often become more included than strangers living in another neighborhood of the same ethnicity. In popular culture in the US this tends to expand to whole cities set apart from other cities. In the case of Texas, it's usually the entire state.. Here's a little documentary about this process in Houston.
In other words, the 'insider-outsider' boundary is much more important than any ethnic or racial boundary. I would suggest that such a distinction is important in any close-knit kind of neighbourhood, whether it is marked as dangerous or not.
The fact that many people would be surprised at this kind of finding strikes me as an example of the 'over-ethnicization' or 'over-racialization' of everyday and scholarly discourses on urban neighbourhoods. That is, we do need to go 'beyond the ethnic lens' - and that kind of deeper exploration of the issues is exactly what anthropology is good at doing.
we do need to go 'beyond the ethnic lens' - and that kind of deeper exploration of the issues is exactly what anthropology is good at doing.
Anthropologists may be good at this, but we are not alone and may want to consider what other disciplines have to say. Having, over the last few years, become deeply engaged with social network analysis, I now see ethnic clustering as a subtype of the broader "birds of a feather flock together" phenomenon that sociologists call homophily.
Homophily, the clustering of like with like as defined by some attribute, can, it has been observed result from two processes: selection and social influence. Selection is based on what we anthropologists would call ascribed attributes; race and gender are two commonly cited examples. These are supposed to predispose the individuals in question to associate with others like themselves. Social influence (what people in immigration studies might call assimilation) begins with achieved, i.e., mutable, attributes. Here frequently cited examples include such things as drinking, tobacco or other forms of drug use, but also obesity and sexually transmitted disease. Here the notion is that if an individual's friends share a particular habit, the individual in question is likely to acquire that habit, too. (I say "habit," but beliefs, opinions, values, tastes in fashion, music, cuisine, etc., might also be examples.)
Anthropological considerations do, of course, complicate the phenomenon network models purport to describe. The multiple, embedded, and shifting identities often described in ethnographic or historical accounts and realistic fiction enormously complicate the network analyst's task. One thinks, for example, of the identities available to Rick's informants: U.S. citizen/non-citizen, Texan, Mexican, Hispanic, non-White, UT or A&M fans.....Sorting out which become salient when and how they affect political and other processes is a problem of epic proportions. Which could make this problem one for which cross-disciplinary cooperation is particularly important.
I think you're right Martha. The reason I stated that dangerous neighborhoods are more prevalent towards this tendency is simply how I've been able to make my data fit in with relevant social network theory and previous urban studies. The fear of the "other" tends to compartmentalize social networks. There hasn't been a lot of neighborhood level research in these kinds of neighborhoods in the US, but the one's I've found seem to all agree on this point. E.g., Sally Merry's, "Urban Danger," or Achor's, "Mexican Americans in a Dallas Barrio."
That last ethnography was an area that I was able to work in recently, and I consider my work a continuation of Achor's, because we have a very similar research strategy. I found that people in the neighborhood still remembered her fondly. It really helps when an anthropologist has been to a field site previously and build good relationships with people.
Anyway, I think you're right that there has been an over-racialization in the social sciences. I think this has to do with the available data. As you say, most social scientists aren't equipped to gather neighborhood level data, so they generally work with city, county and state level data. I took human geography courses specifically to learn how to use this type of data, and I found that too often conclusions are made that aren't explained by the data. People use ethnic and racial variables, because they are available in meta-level data, not because they have strong theoretical reasons to do so. Like the drunk that looks for his keys under the lamp, because the light's better. So, someone will look at a map of Texas counties and look at mortality records. Because, race is available they will always use the data, but it's almost impossible to control for income with race at the state level, and it's hard to generalize to the state level from the city level, where many records aren't used. This also has to do with the continued reliance of statistical significance scores, without much understanding of what statistical significance even means.
Unfortunately, this has had real consequences to policy decisions. I took a city planner the City hired from Vancouver through areas of Dallas so he could see what he was working with. He assumed that all of the areas were in decline, but I informed him that they have only improved since they were annexed into the City. He was utilizing a theoretical "broken windows" theory of decline and white flight, which didn't fit these areas. I think more understanding needs to be made of individual areas.
I'm doing a preliminary ieldwork in Jakarta, Indonesia in rural-urban migrants and localities. In such mega city of the third world, I turn to localities in terms of the politics of everyday life as the closely knit social networks go beyond kinship and ethnicity. [ Erhard Berner and Rudiger Korff's paper 2005. Globalization and Local Resistance: The Creation of Localities in Manila and Bangkok. Working Paper No. 205]