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Wacquant visits SFI


Intense rhetoric has created an increased stigmatization of the disadvantaged areas and its inhabitants, says Loïc Wacquant, Professor of Sociology at UC Berkeley. The renowned scientist gave a speech at The Danish National Centre for Social Research in May 2013.

The government is wrong when it believes that the problems in socially disadvantaged residential areas in Denmark can be solved by compiling a list of ghetto areas. There are no ghettos in Denmark and the use of this rhetoric in itself has created more problems for the tenants than benefits. Instead, the government should focus on specific problems such as unemployment, housing and crime. These were the main points put forward by the well-known professor of sociology Loïc Wacquant, who visited SFI in May 2013.

A self-fulfilling prophecy

Wacquant emphasizes that many residents often begin to believe the rhetoric used by politicians and the media, and start to think that other residents are causing the problems. In this way, the use of hardened rhetoric has added to the demise of the sense of community among residents.

Those who get jobs, rush to find a new home somewhere else. This means that the area as a whole loses potential economic expansion opportunities Moreover,the citizens left behind often struggle with a multitude of social problems.

Marked residents

Danish politicians and the media are doing more damage than good, when they try to solve the problems in the disadvantaged areas by labeling these areas.

"The ghetto list is not only problematic, it is also idiotic. There is no purpose served in labeling an area that is not a ghetto, a ghetto. The only effect this has is to stigmatize the area. To designate it as an area that is the source of the problems rather than the repository of problems whose sources maybe outside of these particular neighborhoods,” says Loïc Wacquant and continues,

"These neighborhoods are typically declining and dispossessed areas that suffer from either degradation of housing, a situation of high unemployment or precarious employment or sometimes a situation of street crime. What we should do is to call the problems by their proper name that corresponds to the reality of these neighborhoods,” explains Wacquant. In short, politicians should formulate specific policies for specific problems.

“But don’t use this very ambiguous term of ghetto, which seems to create a link between ethnicity or immigrant status and crime and housing degradation and unemployment. Seemingly making the residents of the areas responsible for the conditions under which they live,” says Wacquant.

There are no “ghettos” in Denmark

A ghetto is in Wacquants view a phenomenon that must be interpreted from a historical perspective. The Brooklyn area in the United States is an example of a former American ghetto whose residents primarily consisted of African-Americans in the period from 1915 to 1968. Wacquant stresses that people were not allowed to move outside the boundaries of the former real ghettos. In Europe, and in Denmark in particular, such restrictions do not exist. This means that people can live where they want, if they can afford it. Wacquant adds that the affected areas are home to many different nationalities today.

The tough rhetoric from politicians and the media has left its mark on both the residents and the surrounding community. Wacquant knows of many examples of residents, who hide information about where there live from people who live outside the “ghetto” for fear of being treated unfairly. And there are indications that residents have reason to be worried. Wacquant explains that studies show, that police officers in France are more heavy-handed in their treatment of citizens who come from disadvantaged areas. There are many examples of people who are arrested or detained solely on the basis of where they live. The political system also contributes to the increased stigma when it introduces policies that only affect people who live in the specified areas.

Jobs for all is the way forward

Wacquant’s solution to the social problems is twofold.

"Firstly the social services should be upgraded, so that they are as good as the social services in the best areas. It is important that the quality of service is in line with the needs of the residents. If the need is greater, the quality should be higher to accommodate the needs. Secondly there should be a policy to ensure full employment. If politicians did these two things, then my guess is that these areas would stop being a problem,"concludes Wacquant.

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