English Summary, extract from Nihad Bunar’s PhD thesis Skolan mitt i förorten: fyra studier om skola, segregation, integration och multikulturalism, Brutus Östlings Bokförlag Symposion, Stockholm/Stehag 2001.

URL of this page is http://www.skeptron.uu.se/broady/sec/p-bunar-summary-01.htm




Chapter 1

The contemporary Swedish elementary school system is primarily organized on the so-called “proximity principle”, which means that children from a given neighborhood attend the school that is closest to where they live. Thus, schools mirror their local environment. Schools in middle-class neighborhoods where Swedish families predominate are seen to be more stable and of a higher status than schools in areas with many unemployed and immigrant families. Schools in areas with a high proportion of immigrants or socially marginalized residents, or in “segregated” areas are often associated with the same categorizations. The school’s status, reputation, and accomplishments are thus directly associated with the social and representational effects that characterize its catchment area. As “segregated” areas are the object of various integration policy visions and concrete efforts, their schools consequently are also part of these visions and efforts. In recent years the central role of schools in integration has been highlighted in state studies among other fora. The aim of this dissertation is first to bring into focus and analyze how relations between schools and the local community are affected when negative economic developments in combination with stigmatizing public representations or portrayals segregate the area. The second aim is to lift up and analyze what role schools are expected to, and actually do, play when an area with a large proportion of immigrants and socially marginalized residents is to be integrated via a set of political-ideological proclamations and concrete efforts. The empirical material that I analyze in the dissertation has been collected from spring 1998 – spring 2000 in the following districts of Stockholm: Jordbro, Rinkeby, Tensta, and Husby. The heart of the dissertation comprises of four independent studies (chapters 5-8), as well as an introductory section (chapters 1-4), in which the dissertation’s background factors, theoretical and methodological framework, and central concepts (segregation and integration) are delineated. Chapter 9 comprises of a concluding discussion of the central findings of the dissertation.


Chapter 2

This chapter sets out the basic theoretical framework of the dissertation. The same framework lies behind the theoretical perspective and concepts that are presented and used in the individual studies. My primary source of inspiration is the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s way of looking at the relations between individuals and structures. To a great extent Bourdieu’s sociology is about breaking the dualisms between abstract theorizing and theory-less empiricism, between “structure” and “agency”, and between “personal problems” and “social issues”. Bourdieu’s theoretical and empirical work is characterized by the central roles he ascribes to social and economic conditions, even when his investigations reach down to the individual and subjective level. Structural conditions and power relations all impact everyday occurrences and furthermore impact the formation of the individual’s habitus, that is to say a sort of cognitive or mental map with which the individual comprehends, makes sense of, and evaluates the world he or she lives in. Other important concepts in Bourdieu’s sociology are field, capital, and symbolic power. Within a given more or less autonomous field (such as the educational field) struggles take place between various institutions, individuals, and groups (for example, schools, the local political leadership, parents, etc) for various forms of capital (economic, cultural, social, and symbolic). In order to study, understand, and explain the origins, developments, and outcomes of these processes we must at the same time study the relations between structures, habitus, and the logics of symbolic power. Against the background of these premises I contend that: 1) we cannot understand why individuals act as they do in various settings, in relations and interaction by solely studying concrete forms of self-understanding and practices, such as, for example expressed individual motives; 2) we cannot understand how power relations between various positions are recreated in a field solely by orienting our analyses towards studies of the internal logics of institutions, such as schools’ work routines and practices; 3) we cannot understand how the conditions of social structures are internalized as dispositions and lead to tangible consequences through practices solely by studying the discourses and ideologies of symbolic power, for example, how the media or the rest of society represents areas with high proportions of immigrants. It is first when positions, lived experiences, and representations are placed in relation to each other in a specific context – a field – that we can see the complexity that makes an explanation possible of why and how segregation of areas with high proportions of immigrants and their schools can be carried out and maintained. This is the framework that I operationalize in my empirical studies. The framework thus consists of a) “objective” socio-economic structures, or “objective” life conditions in suburbs with large immigrant populations; b) the forms of understanding, practices, and relations of the local actors, which in different ways are dependent upon these conditions and therefore contribute to their reproduction; and c) public representations of structural conditions and the lived experiences of local actors. And once again, the relations between these.


Chapter 3

In this chapter I discuss issues related to the dissertation’s methodology. The topic for my dissertation to a large extent was decided by the research project Partnerskap för multietnisk integration (PfMI) [Partnership for Multi-ethnic Integration] that I participated in. The project commenced in autumn 1997 and concluded in December 1999. The project was financed by what was then the Department of Domestic Affairs [Inrikesdepartementet]. PfMI was also sponsored by the UNESCO-MOST program and was part of the international network “Multicultural policies and modes of citizenship in European cities”. PfMI’s primary task was, as formulated in the project application, to study various efforts to promote integration and counter segregation in four suburbs of Stockholm (Jordbro, Rinkeby, Spånga-Tensta, and Kista). The dissertation’s ethnographic data-collection method was directed towards, naturalism, understanding (verstehen), and discovery. Most of the empirical material was acquired through direct contact with actors in the areas and schools studied. I have also continuously tried to illuminate the historical and structural factors that have impacted the life conditions of the actors. The most important aim of the fieldwork has been to understand and explain why people act as they do and what they say means against the background of their life conditions and representation. I have not sought to test the validity of strictly defined hypotheses. My ambition has been to “discover” or illuminate how neighborhoods and schools are impacted by worsening socio-economic conditions and stigmatizing representations on the one hand, and integration programs on the other. In this sense “exploration and discovery” must be woven together with theoretically oriented thought.


Chapter 4

This chapter delineates the meanings that the concepts integration and segregation have received in different contexts. The aim of this review is to show the complexity of the concepts, and show which dynamic processes lie behind their creation and perpetuation in society. At the same time I seek to show how society’s integration problems have, through a series of practical actions, become immigrants’ integration problems. In this dissertation, integration and segregation are neither a theoretical system to be applied to my empirical data nor analytical tools. They rather summarize the background precepts or “problem” that this dissertation treats.

In sociological theory and empirical research, integration has primarily denoted the processes and relations between various groups and structures that in functional cooperation create a society. The general Swedish welfare policy has, during the post-war period, via a series of actions attempted to facilitate integration between various social strata and the institutions of the emerging welfare state. Emphasis was placed on general welfare actions aimed at encompassing all citizens. The labor immigration of the 1960s and the refugee and family unification immigration of recent decades have increasingly diversified the previously ethnically homogeneous Swedish nation. At the same time that immigrants came to be encompassed by the general welfare policies (and thereby also general integration processes) due to their formal status, the responsible authorities also pointed out these groups’ particular needs. To meet these needs “integration policies” (in various guises) have been produced from the 1970s onwards for immigrants. The difference between today’s integration policy and general welfare policy is the former’s ethnic dimension. One could say that today’s integration policy is the ethnified component of Swedish welfare policy. It is primarily this particular and ethnified welfare policy and its practical implementation (I choose to call this practical integration policy) that is analyzed in this dissertation. The school has been made into an operative for this practical integration policy and its implementation. Besides giving pupils with a different cultural background (that is to say other than Swedish) pure factual knowledge, schools are also to be natural meeting places, in the forefront of developing these primarily immigrant suburbs, and to change the image of the local community in the wider society and thereby indirectly contribute to strengthening the local community (the school at the center of the community).

Most theoretical approaches focus on segregation’s socio-spatial character, that is to say on the prevailing physical, social, and mental distance between ethnic groups and classes in an urban context. The primary explanations of physical segregation’s origin and maintenance in the sociological literature appears to have changed little since the Chicago school launched their theories nearly a century ago. Socio-economic status and discrimination of ethnic minorities are the two most common explanations. In recent decades more attention has been paid to the segmentation of the housing market and the desire of immigrants and minorities to live near each other, as well as the attitudes of the majority which lay behind “white flight”. Even these explanations are often basically socio-economic and ethnic in nature. Changes in society’s conditions for reproduction, internal and external migration streams (immigration) and fluctuations in the housing market have contributed to make some of the Swedish “million program” housing areas into socio-economically and ethnically segregated areas. The “million program” was the Swedish governmental project in the 1960s of building one million new housing units to improve the housing conditions of the population. The basic operations in these segregation processes take place on society’s macro level. But these segregation processes are dependent upon a more fundamental dynamic that, through everyday practices on the micro level, creates and maintains differentiation and separation. Much of this dynamic is highlighted in the dissertation. School segregation can take many forms. External or outer segregation is an expression of segregated housing. Most children attend the school that is nearest their residence, which means that the neighborhood’s social structure and ethic composition is reflected in the school. A negative attitude towards housing areas with a large immigrant population thereby almost automatically afflicts the local school, regardless of the results that the school achieves. Inner segregation can arise as a consequence of dividing pupils into groups, the division between practical and theoretical lines of study, and the creation of different profiles for different classes. With regard to results, segregation can arise as a consequence of students achieving lower grades.


Chapter 5

The first study – Economics, Rhetoric and Reality – examines the relations between schools and their local communities (as represented by parents, institutions, associations, etc) in the largely immigrant communities from the perspective that these relations are strongly impacted by the negative representations and economic changes in the 1990s as well as the new integration policy goals and visions. The question is how and with what consequences? The aim of the study is first to show what the relations between schools and their local community look like in Jordbro, Rinkeby, Tensta, and Husby. The second aim is to analyze similarities and differences in these relations against the background of the integration and segregation processes that take place in the nexus between economics, rhetoric, and the real actions taken.

In certain housing areas, such as Husby, unemployment at the end of the 1990s reached 40%, and in others, such as Rinkeby, nearly half of the population received welfare relief payments. As such, many of the residents of these areas are separated or segregated from the labor market and the opportunity to economically provide for themselves, something that not only decimates the economic situation of the individual families, but also the whole of the local social life. This brings with it everything from difficulties in offering positive role models for youths to being placed in a relationship of dependence on the bureaucratic apparatus and institutional network. Through negative representations the residents, architecture, and institutions of the area are labeled “different”. This stigmatization also affects the schools. In many schools the effects of the symbolic identification with the poor and stigmatized neighborhood in which it is located is felt to be the greatest problem. The most tangible effect is flight from the majority of these schools. As a result of these representations the schools are ascribed various characteristics. The representations (formed by the media and various actors within and outside of the local community) are based on average grades, the number of students who have passed all subjects and graduate, and the percentage of students with immigrant heritage and thereby conveys a grossly simplified picture of a complex social whole. Both categories of problems and programs of remedies are created in response to these representations, while the totality, the preconditions, efforts, positive results in certain areas and the views of teachers and students remain overlooked.

The conclusion reached in this study is that the structure of all the schools reflects their respective catchment area’s structure, with regard to socio-economic conditions and the composition of the population. However, the schools deal in different ways with the effects of the segregated and stigmatized space, and with different results, something that to a great extent is associated with the relations developed between the schools and their local communities. Although the socio-economic conditions in the areas studied have not changed, the local actors are not entirely locked into space’s structural effects. Bredby school in Rinkeby, for example, shows that a school doesn’t necessarily have to reflect its catchment area’s status and reputation, even though the area harbors structural and stigmatizing elements (such as many unemployed, welfare recipients, immigrants, etc). To achieve this certain things are required:

It is however important to underscore that the positive results of changed relations in themselves cannot change the structural bases of the problems that these “immigrant” areas and their schools struggle with – the socio-economic position of the population and powerlessness in relation to the public sphere and the market. These are not “immigrant issues”, but rather social phenomena, the creation, maintenance, alteration and eradication of which involves the whole of Swedish society, every day and in all arenas, from the kitchen table to the national parliament, from public sector institutions to market actors.


Chapter 6

The aim of the second study – Borders, Trouble, Reputations and the School – is to analyze at a deeper level how changed socio-economic conditions and negative representations of two areas impact the relations between actors who directly or indirectly have to do with the local schools. The analysis focuses on three questions which figure large in the way schools where pupils with immigrant backgrounds are in the majority are portrayed, namely trouble in terms of unruliness, badly functioning relations between schools and parents, and cultural differences. Some of the questions I discuss are: Who is it that causes trouble or is unruly? Why don’t relations work between the schools and parents in predominantly immigrant areas? How are cultural differences dealt with in teaching?

 The study’s framework comprises of the concepts of configuration, figuration, and representation. As a consequence of socio-economic changes, reproduction processes and the nature of power relations in society create within an area a certain configuration characterized by the population’s characteristics such as class, age, ethnicity, gender, the local architectural design, etc. These characteristics provide the foundation for the formation of figurations, that is to say the relations, power orders, and the legitimizing actions within an area. Configuration in turn lead to the creation of external representations of a space, for example in the media, film, or academic research, that create a given image of an area or gives an area a certain reputation and status. This also leads to the space’s internal representations, that is to say, the way the residents of an area symbolically deal with the space’s configurational structure and the eventual negative and stigmatizing images that proliferate about the area as whole. This study observes how the tension between configurations, figurations, and representations impact the situation in two Swedish suburbs, Jordbro and Tensta, and the consequences on the residents and local schools. The study shows that stigmatization and segregation cannot be understood entirely unless the basic socio-economic conditions, actions, relations, and power hierarchies as well as external and internal representations of a social space is seen from a relational perspective. The trouble that is always portrayed as stigmatizing for schools and in general seen as creating problems for the area is conflicts between individual students or between different groups of students. When unruliness between students is seen as an action and a type of social relation on the social space’s configurational map, when it is placed in relation to other conflicts between different parent groups and the personnel of the school (also seen as actions and social relations), and when we look at the long-term significance and social consequences of the various sorts of trouble for the areas’ and schools’ reputations, status and daily work, we see that the trouble between students is accorded a disproportionately large role in the stigmatization of the area and school. The explanation as to why this is the case can be found in the exploitation of “student unruliness” in both the internal and external representations, which in turn is facilitated by the local power hierarchy, which in turn is associated with the local configuration. The same chain of reasoning can even be used in the field of the school’s relations to parents and how “cultural differences” are dealt with in teaching. Seen as an integrated part of the local configurations, figurations, and representations, these “pedagogical problems” become social problems between actors with varying access to power resources and with a lack of basic trust. The consequence of this is mutual accusations, stigmatizing representations, and cultural shame. The cumulative effect of these processes deepens the divide between “we” and “them”, further contributing to the maintenance of stigmatization and segregation. In the end, the social and cultural reproduction process is cemented. The theoretically informed model employed comprising of configurations, figurations, and representations also shows the basic ambivalence that can be embedded in the alternative spaces that are more or less consciously created by different social actors in an otherwise polarized social space. Paradoxically, these spaces which in terms of identity can be seen as boundary transcending, build new distinctions and stigmatizing representations. In practice even these boundary transcending meetings affirm the status quo. They tend to reproduce socio-economic and ethnic differences, distancing, division, stigmatization, segregation, negative external representations, and border-setting spatial practices into new distancing and divisions. Is this determinism? No, it is merely a sociological representation of reality, but undoubtedly a representation that is necessary not only in order to understand and explain a complex reality, but also to change it.


Chapter 7

The third study – When Jobs Disappear – is based on the fact that the areas with high proportions of immigrants were those hardest hit by unemployment in the 1990s. From previous research we know a great deal about what socio-economic changes took place and what their structural consequences were for the area residents. What we do not know very much about though is what consequences increased unemployment had on social life in the afflicted areas and how it impacts relations between actors in these residential areas. The ambition of this study is to bring to the surface a number of these complex patterns of relations and their consequences by way of international comparison. The reason for this is that a debate, what might even be called a moral panic, has begun to spread within established political circles in Europe that European cities are becoming just as segregated, or ghettoized, as the inner-city ghettos of large American cities. The metropolises of Europe are portrayed in this debate (or panic) as a single homogeneous block, comparable to American big cities. An increasing number of opinion-makers in Sweden have begun advocating the application of American models for solving the segregation problems of Sweden’s major cities. The primary question is whether Europe’s segregated housing areas are really comparable to American inner-city ghettos? This study has two aims. The first is from a comparative perspective to discuss and analyze relations between various actors in an American ghetto (Woodlawn in Chicago), a French banlieue (Quattre mille in Paris) and a Swedish residential district with a high proportion of immigrants (Tensta in Stockholm) with reference to three dimension that have bearing on people’s everyday lives: the presence of territorial stigma and “we” and “them” distinctions; the degree of crime and violence in public spaces; and the structure and actions of social institutions. The second aim is to discuss differences and similarities between these deprived areas in the context of three welfare state contexts. The comparison is based primarily on two sources. The first is Loïc Wacquant’s (1996b) work presented in a number of articles, but primarily “Red Belt, Black Belt: Racial Division, Class Inequality and the State in the French Urban Periphery and the American Ghetto”. In this article Wacquant compares two areas in Chicago (Black Belt) and Paris (Red Belt). The other source is ethnographic material from fieldwork I conducted in Tensta in the past three years. I augment these two primary sources with a number of secondary sources.

 In this study I argue that the deprived and segregated areas have:

  1.   been ascribed, (as a consequence of increasingly tense everyday representation forms in the United States as well as in Europe); 

  2.  structurally created (as a consequence of economic restructuring and tightening up); and

  3.   internalized from within (as a consequence of the residents’ powerlessness, the way the institutions present in these areas operate and division between different groups);

a specific set of real and imagined characteristics that operate as handicaps in times of economic recovery such that general positive trends in the rest of the country to an all too limited extent reach the residents of these areas. I call this set of characteristics, “objectively” existing and embodied, territorial hexis. The word hexis comes from ancient Greek and means “posture” or “strata”, “way of being”, or “way of composing oneself”. The term’s anthropological or sociological meaning is borrowed from Pierre Bourdieu’s analysis of Kabyl society in Algeria in the 1960s. In this work he speaks of a bodily hexis in terms of an embodied political mythology transformed into a particular disposition, a durable way of being and speaking, and thereby thinking and feeling. Territorial hexis is a set of characteristics, ascribed and/or real and existing, that reside in the socio-spatial sphere, that through various mechanisms such as embodied patterns of understanding and explanation, social actions, and representations, impact the residents and wider society’s dispositions and practices. The delimitation of space spans from the geographic to the social, from the administrative to the cognitive.

In comparing the three areas, some principle differences could be identified. These comprise primarily of the characteristics in Tensta and Quattre mille (in contrast to Woodlawn) not leading to certain consequences:

  1.  the majority of the population in these areas do not live in economic misery and far below the official poverty line;

  2. the illegal economy is not the primary economic and social motor in the local community;

  3. crime has not eroded the basic trust that people have to each other and in relation to public places;

  4. public institutions have not abandoned these areas, either as a consequence of increased crime or an ideology that deems the individual fully responsible for his or her life conditions.

One of the primary factors that leads to the residents in Tensta and Quattre mille living in conditions different from the residents of Woodlawn is the predominant ideologies in Sweden and France about solidarity and social justice, and the absence of such ideologies in public policy in the United States. Two other factors are the presence of institutional networks, and the practical actions of the welfare state in the deprived areas. Even though criticisms of the way welfare state institutions operate in Tensta have been voiced, in the three years of my fieldwork I have never met anyone who has said that these institutions and their extra efforts should disappear or desist. Most of the people I have spoken to have called for a new disposition, a new attitude, and a new way of relating to the area’s residents, their difficulties and possibilities. The differences between Tensta and Quattre mille largely have to do with the welfare state sphere. The question is not whether or not to initiate integration promoting projects and retain the institutional network or not. The question is rather what sort of programs should be initiated, what the local bureaucracy should be doing and how. Another difference of importance for the territorial hexis in the two European areas is the percentage (or density) of immigrants as a portion of the total population. Nowhere in Europe is the density as high as in Sweden, something that influences the orientation of the integration projects (such as language courses, information on democracy, etc) and the local bureaucracy’s attitude towards citizens with a non-Swedish ethnic background. However, as my analysis and comparison shows, an area’s territorial hexis does not need to be dominated by the ethnic aspect for it to be categorized as “different” and it inhabitants stigmatized as “the other”. One can though say that ethnicity makes categorization and stigmatization “easier”.


Chapter 8

The point of departure for the fourth study – Cultural Citizenship and the Multicultural School – is that multiculturalism is indicated to be a possible solution for many of the problems of schools in areas with high proportions of immigrants in numerous official documents and recommendations. The expectation is that by profiling (or marketing) schools with many pupils with immigrant backgrounds as “multicultural”, these schools can be made attractive, front-end schools. The primary argument is that the world is becoming more and more globalized, and that access to multicultural skills and language capacities accords a great advantage in the future. However, “the multicultural school” has in practice become linked to a number of negative and stigmatizing markers. I term the gap between the vision and practice “the official lie about multiculturalism”. The lie is that while there is conscious, pronounced official support for multiculturalism as an idea and vision, there is an equally conscious rejection of multiculturalism as a reality and in practice. The purpose of this study is to discuss how the gap between ideal and practice arises in the school and how it is recreated through the educational system’s social history against the backdrop of theories about the expansion of citizenship. I also name a few preconditions necessary for this gap to be bridged. I take my point of departure in theories of citizenship because a precondition for the multiculturalization of the school and the role such a school can play in increasing equality is that citizenship rights are respected on various levels. Recent developments in schools have two consequences for social citizenship. The first is that citizenship as an idea is hollowed out by a group that is in the process of attaining (formally) full citizenship is also in practice deprived of the right to an equal education. What is interesting in this context is that these persons on the way to attaining citizenship are excluded from future opportunities by reference to their ethnic belonging via stigmatization (“immigrant schools”); socio-economic marginalization (unemployed parents); isolation (growing up in segregated, predominantly immigrant residential areas); and prejudice (discrimination, racism and “culturalizing”). The other consequence is the paradox that the multicultural school today is built precisely on these grounds. That is to say, the same grounds (ethnic background and life experiences) that at the same time, through a number of social practices and mechanisms, are used to stigmatize and exclude the bearers of these characteristics. The civil, political and social dimensions of citizenship apparently lack the necessary instruments to deal with the multicultural paradox where representations of ethnicity and socio-economic conditions create new and deepen old rifts in society. Recognizing the dimension of representation via the rights of cultural citizenship and corresponding institutions can help us see what new instruments are required to dissolve the paradox. Cultural citizenship can be defined as every person’s right to recognition as a full-fledged member of the national community regardless of his or her ethnic or cultural background or lifestyle. Realization of this cultural citizenship in the first instance requires conscious and diligent efforts to change the existing norms and attitudes towards ethnic diversity that have their roots in a cultural hegemonic way of thinking. Among other ways, this can be guaranteed by non-stigmatizing symbolic representation of diverse cultural life forms in the public sphere and society’s key institutions. In the same way that social citizenship once was expanded and won support via the socially expansive education system, cultural citizenship today can be expanded and win support in part through a culturally sensitive education system. That is to say, through the creation of a new multicultural school. The new multicultural school promotes equality and equal respect. All students are afforded equal opportunities regardless of their social and cultural background. It is a meeting place for children from different social and cultural environments, a school in which all students feel valued for who they are and where all students see themselves in and attracted to the content of their school books. To attain this, altering schools in a multicultural direction must be coupled to the relationship between social (basic socio-economic conditions) and cultural citizenship (representations). Secondly, this process comprises of a comprehensive review and alteration of institutional constructions (catchment areas, choice, non-state schools), the ideological base of the school (multiculturalism as a goal worth striving after) and the pedagogical basis of the school (curriculum, schoolbooks, and the basic practices of teachers). It is through these sorts of changes that the official lie about multiculturalism can be transformed into a practically functioning multiculturalism.


Chapter 9

In this, the final chapter, I summarize and discuss in more detail the primary analytical points made in the dissertation. In this dissertation I have sought to put positions, lived experiences, and representation in relation to each other in order to make visible what it is that creates difficulties and opportunities in areas and schools that are labeled “segregated” and the objects of “integration programs”. Through the use of a multifaceted empirical material from predominantly immigrant residential areas and the schools in these neighborhoods, this dissertation attempts to bridge the gaps between micro and macro; individual and structure; material conditions and representations; individual difficulties and social problems; empirical research and abstract theorizing.


What have I found? I’ll begin by emphasizing the importance of socio-economic conditions. Many residents in Jordbro, Rinkeby, Tensta, and Husby are economically disadvantaged to put it mildly. Unemployment is very high. Many households receive various types of welfare transfers from both national and municipal programs, transfers which for some comprise their sole income. It is precisely this concentration of disadvantaged individual positions, with a generally lower rate of employment and income that separates these areas that I have studied from other areas in Stockholm, and from the city of Stockholm in general. The positions of the residents are weak, as are the social networks that they at best take part in. Unemployment doesn’t just mean that the population “merely” becomes economically poorer, but also that their power over their own daily lives is severely reduced. The futures of the residents can be planned and steered by how the local bureaucratic apparatus perceives various cultures, or the presence of various “integration projects”, their content and availability. Educational background, skills, and motivation can prove to be less valuable individual capital than ethnic membership or belonging. The weak social position of the parents, limited access to various types of capital, and tenuous influence over one’s own daily life is confirmed and deepened in relation to school. Schools tend more and more to take over the role of parents in the child’s development (surrogate parenthood) as parents are defined as almost incapable of raising their children as a result of social marginalization. Thus parents are even marginalized in relation to their child’s schooling.

Many residents in the areas studied are not just unemployed, but also immigrants, something that plays a large role in this context. In an area with many unemployed and immigrants the existing social conditions and negative representations catalyze along with a number of other factors a tendency for the area to develop and harbor a number negative characteristics. When a school is plagued by a bad reputation and begins losing students, and thereby also economic resources (as a consequence of lost “school money”), it is quite easy for the headmaster or principal and teachers to point to the effects of specific aspects of the area’s hexis (unemployment, many immigrants, stigmatization, reorganizations, etc) as the cause of the problems. Their reaction thus is to further distance themselves from the problem’s source. Precisely this distancing conveyed via accusations about who is to blame for the situation creates further problems, makes changes more difficult, and lays further negative characteristics on the area.

Another solution to the segregation problem that is often proposed in various official documents is the role of the school in integration. In more concrete terms, this role implies continuous efforts in internal pedagogical change (increasing the quality of teaching, strengthening the self-esteem of the students, treating all students equally), creation of natural meeting places for young people from different social and cultural environments, and the creation of “the school at the center of the community”. The latter concept connotes a more active role for the school in local social and cultural life. All headmasters and teachers I have been in contact with have pointed out the importance of schools actively working with these three integration goals. The extents to which the standard of teaching is high, and that teachers actively work at improving their pedagogic skills is hard to discern from my material. I have not looked at classroom teaching as such. All headmasters and teachers however claim that the teaching at their schools is of very high quality. These contentions are substantiated to an extent by external official commendations of merit, positive articles in newspapers and commendations from headmasters and teachers from other areas and schools that I have been in contact with. I have however been able to show that culturalization, and as a consequence of this, negative special treatment of students with immigrant backgrounds takes place, and that this has negative consequences on the students’ self-understanding. Whether the school functions as a meeting place or not, is to the greatest extent dependent on the area’s housing, social and ethnic structure. The process I have seen in some of the schools studied witnesses to a degradation rather than strengthening of the vision of a meeting place. As a consequence of the stigmatization of the school, strained relations between teachers and parents, and in some cases even between the school’s leadership and its administration has led many parents to begin withdrawing their children from such schools and placing them in schools that they believe to be more stable, with more Swedish students, and better reputations. But not necessarily better instruction. Very few of the parents, politicians, headmasters, teachers, and students interviewed spoke of the pedagogical skills of the teachers. In contrast, everyone spoke of the reputations of schools.

The vision of the school as a meeting place can even be eroded as a consequence of strained relations between groups of parents in an ethnically and socially heterogeneous area with heightened internal divisions. In such cases Swedish parents claim that the school is unruly and turbulent and should be closed. That there is a value in itself in the school’s role as the divided community’s only meeting place weighs negligibly when the socially stronger group’s social and cultural capital is deemed to be at risk. I have shown that fighting between a few fourteen year-olds on the school playground is not unique enough to lead to a bad reputation for the school until it is linked to some deeper background factors in society, such as different groups’ uneven socio-economic conditions, the fact that different ethnic groups are concentrated in certain housing areas, and the relations between them. Again, the analysis employs the theoretical model of positions, relations and representations; from the individual to the general, from the macro to the micro, from “immigrants’ integration problems” to society’s social and structural integration problem. In the cases where the school, through various programs, has attempted to get students from different districts of the city to meet, this has been understood as a picturesque boundary-transcending vignette in an otherwise strictly segregated daily life. I will not moralize over such laudable, small individual attempts to break the consequences of housing segregation, but my analysis shows that this is not really where the problem lies.

When it comes to the idea of “the school at the center of the community”, or “the school at the center of the suburb”, I show that this goal is far from attained. The following have been shown to be some of the reasons for this. First, schools have classically been closed institutions that vest all their available human and financial resources in everyday school activities. The consequence of this is that all too little room is left for the necessary expansion of activity that the idea of “the school at the center of the community” demands. Secondly, the local community in these predominantly immigrant areas are often seen as the primary source of the problem, rather than its solution. The solution is thus to sever ties with the surrounding environment, not to expand cooperation. Thirdly, from the school’s side there are few ideas about what the school can contribute to the local community beyond teaching. The dominant conception is instead, “what can the local community do for us?” Fourthly, the local community increasingly sees the school as an instructional institution, not as a potentially potent instrument in the integration process or in social change at the local level. Most of the extra resources that accrue to schools as part of “integration promoting” projects are channeled into teaching-related activities. Fifthly, parents, especially in areas with strong social and ethnic differentiation are at best moderately interested in participating in working for change. In some areas, parents have actually actively combated various integration efforts. Sixthly, these changes and the school’s search for its own role in a rapidly changing world have meant a rethinking of traditional activities for many teachers. An unrefined media debate about the deficiencies in schools can in some cases be felt to be an unfair attack from people who don’t really know that much about how the inner world of schools functions. A consequence of this can be a latent resistance to change and falling back to old, established routines – “the way we always have done things”. In some cases, attempts at change are dismissed as “loony pedagogy”, where students are taught everything other than the essentials of the subjects they are supposed to be learning – precisely what it is believed they most need to learn. Opposition hits disadvantaged and predominantly immigrant areas hardest. In the Department of Education’s (Skolverket) studies it has been shown that parents with shorter periods of formal education tend to be less inclined to take personal strides to impact a school. This means that the impetus for change in many cases comes neither from the school nor parents, which naturally complicates the picture of engagement and renewal, not the least for disadvantaged young people.

The role in integration that schools are officially expected to play in the local community, and that is accepted as legitimate and worth pursuing by the leadership in schools has, for the most part been unsuccessful. In some respects it never really started. The reason for this is the way that the negative socio-economic conditions and representations have impacted the relations between various actors in the schools and local communities. I have also been able to show that when these relations work relatively well, there can be positive benefits for both the school and its socio-economically deprived, predominantly immigrant catchment area. The positive effects for the schools are marked, with regard to reputation, status, an improved economic situation, pedagogic development, and higher grades among the students. The positive benefits for the local community come primarily in the form of higher status and reputation.

The way and extent to which “the school at the center of the suburb” can contribute to integration or segregation processes at various levels in predominantly immigrant and socially deprived districts of big cities is dependent upon what material conditions, lived experience, representations of the area, institutions, and various social actors are present and comprised of; as well as how these interplay with political visions and concrete goals about what must be done to change their negative impact, and how conditions, experiences, and representations and visions are dealt with in each individual case (whether institutional or individual) in each area, and each school.

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This HTML version created by Donald Broady. Last updated 11 Aug 2011