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[Beijing Forum 2013] Professor Roulleau-Berger’s spatial perspective for urban segregation

Peking University, Nov. 5, 2013:  In the Panel V of 2013 Beijing Forum themed “Urbanization: Sustainable Planning and Diversity” on November 2, professors from all over the world shared their views on urban development and social diversity. Professor Laurence Roulleau-Berger from the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon gave her analysis over the issue from the perspective of space.


Professor Roulleau-Berger is a French scholar with expertise on urban sociology. She puts much emphasis on urban disparities with the emergence of new boundaries in globalized metropolises. In analyzing the different types of urban boundaries, i.e. the ethnic & colonial, the social and economic ones that caused diffracted inequalities in international cities, she suggests the possible and actual conflicts due to such segregation in urban space.


“I have done many social surveys concerning the unemployed and the poor in France and I have been focusing on the urban disparities and inequalities in France and other countries in Europe for a long time,” said Madame Roulleau-Berger. “I think there are the two important trends in large cities that need the special attention from sociologists: the socialization, or the integration, and segregation, the way some people are rejected and repelled.” Yet, as she further explained, these two tendencies could not cover the complexity of society in France, nor in China.


Given that, she started to work on the “hidden” spaces which she defined as “intermediate spaces”. “I put forward the concept of ‘intermediate space’ thirty years ago,” she explained, “for example, some of the youth live in small houses and rooms and they organize various activities like creative art, community work and so on.” These spaces contain discreet social forms and scattered creativities. More importantly, they are the spaces where the disadvantaged fight for their social recognitions. In this way, the “intermediate spaces” actually connect the upper spaces with high legitimacy and the lower spaces with weak legitimacy.


Despite the introduction of “intermediate spaces” in overseeing the issue of urban segregation and inequalities, Professor Roulleau-Berger is also interested in a number of relevant topics, such as the various forms of “intermediate spaces” in different countries nurtured in their unique historical and cultural contexts, the special case concerning the 1st and 2nd generations of migrant labors in China, etc.


As a French scholar herself, she has done a lot of research following the French traditions of Emile Durkheim’s “solidarity” and Pierre Bourdieu’s “field” concerning urban problems, and she’s yet eager to discover more sociological facts in China where urbanization is most rapidly on the go.


She has visited China several times either out of her passion on urban research or in response to the invitations from the Department of Sociology of Peking University. During her short stay in Beijing this month, she is busy in attending professional conferences and seminars including Beijing Forum. She is already a close friend of the Department of Sociology. It is manifest that she values the cooperation with professors from Peking University. With her impressive fluency in oral Chinese, Professor Laurence Roulleau-Berger hopes to look deeper into the interesting facts in Chinese society.


Reported by: Zhang Ruichen

Edited by: Zhang Jiang