The Role of Individuals in Socio-Urban Exclusion : A case study on the School Institution in Santiago de Chile

Campos Medina, Fernando GND

This is a work concerned with the increasing processes of social exclusion in cities nowadays. In approaching this phenomenon, the research highlights how people interact with their institutional environments. This is also, perhaps centrally, an investigation into the possibility to engage an individual perspective to understand the transformation in urban experience, which is orienting society to new uses and forms of exclusion. Following the perspective deployed by the so-called “sociology of individuals” in French sociology or “reengagement of agency” in the Anglo-Saxon world; I claim that individuals as well as collectives are gaining increasing power to question and re-organize institutions. This re-organization, in the case of socio-urban institutions, is no guarantee for major levels in integration, cohesion, and equality. Unfortunately, social institutions are becoming hard in its exclusionary capabilities under people intervention during the last four decades. I believe that urban sociology is a field of struggle between different perspectives competing to “make sense” of social phenomena in cities. The orientation supported in this research is just one on many and it follows the roots of people and their life experiences within cities and how they influence the processes that shape the city. The last formulation is possibly not the clearest, because as we all know, references to “inhabitants” are presented in every variant of urban sociology. Nevertheless, there are not many variants focusing on peoples’ capability to influence institutional environments and by this way affecting the urban condition in which they find themselves. The particular institution selected for this study is the “School”. This thesis is organized around two parts: part one includes the conceptual framework, methodological approach, and historical contextualization; part two describes three case studies produced to analyse the forms of and the relations between individuals and school institution. Part one starts from a premise: within the context of declining welfare State in the case of industrialized countries, an important part of urban studies focuses on economic and spatial restructuration. Confronted with the same situation, a part of social sciences shifts to the individuals’ agency and social uncertainty. This research is embedded in the last theoretical description presented above, thus, because it tries to observe urban processes from the perspective of the individual and outside of developed economies. In this sense, Latin America represents a fundamental reference because urban conditions are historically marked by weak institutional arrangements to integrating people and large levels of marginality and exclusion among population. In this scenario individuals’ practices around inclusion-exclusion have an essential meaning in everyday life. Part two offers three study cases in which the relation between individuals and school institutions has been analyzed for the Metropolitan area of Santiago de Chile (MAS). Using different methodological resources an exhaustive account on three levels is presented: i) geo-referencing State intervention in public policies connected with neighborhood and schools to understand the form and extent of socio-urban exclusion in MAS, ii) narrative biographies applied to parents with children attending primary school, in order to reconstruct the familiar process of school selection and describing its impacts on the stabilization of school as an exclusionary device, and iii) autoethnography to describe in detail the temporal dimension involved in stabilizing actions which reinforces social mechanisms of urban integration-exclusion during the last three decades in Chile. A key argument advanced by this research proposes that: the way in which the idea of integration is enacted by people in their biographical careers imprints changes on the institutional orientation and by this way, contributes to the reorganization urban life. The high level of social exclusion in Santiago de Chile is not accountable without considering transformation in all socio-urban institutions, especially the school. No family considers social integration with people from a low social, economical or cultural background as relevant orientation for school selection. This particularity of the Chilean social reality is not derivable from any big capitalistic or modernization processes impacting our cities. Within the light of the thesis findings, I conclude that socio-urban institutions logics must be reassessment under the influences of people actions and representations. I also propose a consideration to major complementarities between urban studies and urban-institutions analysis. The school institutions is not just a sectorial field reserved to the researcher in education, on the contrary, it represent a key entrance to address people’s experience in their institutional urban environments. The re-emergence of social and urban movements in 2010, under the “Arab Spring” or the “Chilean Student Movements”, is not only a demonstration in the public space as result of major global trends. These situations are in essence, for this research, individuals gathering together and calling for recognition and autonomy inside institutional environment that tends to reject them. Similar situation was the focus of the Latin American urban sociology research, within the focus on grassroots and urban social movements at the end of the 1960s and beginning of the 1970s. In both cases, socio-urban institutions, unaware of recognition requirements claimed by inhabitants, are not beyond individual or collective reach. My main concern is to show that socio-urban institutions are constantly re-shaped as a result of individual action, what makes the difference, is the spirit that we all, socially, imprint on the logics of our socio-urban institutions, moving them to inclusion or exclusion.


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Campos Medina, Fernando: The Role of Individuals in Socio-Urban Exclusion : A case study on the School Institution in Santiago de Chile. 2015.

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