INITIATION INTO RESEARCH FONDECYT PROJECT (N° 11150426, 2015-2018): “External institutions and their influence on the creation of social problems in poor and excluded neighborhoods: An alternative perspective to the neighborhood effects thesis”. Javier Ruiz-Tagle, Responsible Investigator
This research aims to analyze poor and excluded neighborhoods in terms of the practices of powerful institutions, whose administration lies outside those areas, and its influence on the creation of social problems, in order to create an alternative perspective to the ‘neighborhood effects’ thesis. A large majority of urban scholars and public officials believe that the concentration of poverty creates harmful social problems (crime, unemployment, school dropout, teenage pregnancy, single-parent households, domestic violence, drug consumption and trafficking, etc.). This belief has an important empirical and conceptual base: the literature on ‘neighborhood effects’, which points to the social environment as a powerful influence over individual results. In the urban field, these beliefs have been particularly useful for the creation of urgent public policies of poverty dispersion (including demolition in critical cases), and social mix policies. But a vast amount of literature has shown that none of these policies has been effective in providing more social justice.
The ‘neighborhood effects’ literature suffers from an important problem: the intensive focus on the environment of neighbors conceals the intervening role of institutions that shape that environment. In fact, several scholars have questioned the research on neighborhood effects for assuming the consequences of segregation as mere products of ecological aggregations, and for obscuring the active role of powerful institutions in poor and excluded neighborhoods. In fact, critical authors affirm that neighborhood effects actually come from institutions whose administration lies outside poor areas. From an institutional perspective then, I assume that institutions not only force the segregation of poor population, but can also participate in the creation of further social problems, by their action and inaction. Although there are numerous arguments to demonstrate this influence, evidence is dispersed in unconnected studies, and there are no relevant studies that take the combined effect of all institutions participating in a poor neighborhood over the social outcomes shown by its residents. Then, in order to understand the creation of social problems, I hypothesize that a conglomerate of dominant institutions can affect the life chances of a poor neighborhood through three different mechanisms: i) investments and disinvestments, ii) inaction and inefficacy, and iii) symbolic branding and stigmatization. Then, the main question for this research is: How do the practices of external institutions influence the creation of social problems in poor and excluded neighborhoods?
To study this problem, I propose a mixed-methods case study of three poor and notoriously stigmatized neighborhoods in Santiago, mainly based on interviews to institutional actors and residents, and complemented with document analysis, descriptive statistics, short surveys, and regression analysis of neighborhood effects. Then, I expect to have impacts in three levels:
1) At the level of findings, I hope the research shows concrete evidence of the influence of specific institutions on the creation of social problems, and more generally, on the social, economic, political and symbolic degradation of poor and excluded neighborhoods in Santiago.
2) At the level of public policies, I hope to contribute with a more balanced discussion regarding policies that have been widely criticized.
3) At the level of scientific discussion, I expect to directly put into question the tradition of studies on neighborhood effects, from an epistemological, methodological and conceptual perspective.