Social Polarisation

Topics: Sociology, Global city, Polarization Pages: 5 (1508 words) Published: April 21, 2012
With reference to specific examples, critically discuss the contention that cities are becoming increasingly polarised in the contemporary world.

Polarisation is a term that usually refers to ‘extreme of two extreme situations’. In this context, social polarisation is examined in detail. Social polarisation is an expression associated with the segregation within a society that may emerge from income inequality, real-estate fluctuations, economic displacements etc. and result in such differentiation that would consist of various social groups, from high-income to low-income (Moulaert, F. et al. (2003)). This essay will outline the two contrasting opinions that Sassen and Hamnett hold of the polarization thesis in the contemporary world. In addition, it will explore a few examples that provide empirical evidence of these theories occurring today in the modernized globalized world.

The social polarisation ideology was developed by Sassen (1991) and illustrated the connection between globalisation and social and occupational structures in megacities (Norgaard, 2003; 103). Sassen argues that there has been a polarization of income distribution and occupational distribution among the population, with a higher incidence of jobs at the higher and lower paying ends of the scale, and a decline in the numbers of middle-income jobs associated with the downgrading of the manufacturing sector (Woodward, 1995; 78). Sassen’s argument is based on two global cities; Los Angeles and New York, the empirical analysis displayed that New York’s employment structure has been restructured significantly mainly due to the decline of the manufacturing industry.

Hamnett focuses his article on the claims that Sassen has made and critically examines the thesis. One of the criticisms is the point that the term ‘social polarization’ is vaguely defined and points out there is a confusion as to whether polarisation is being referred to in absolute or relative terms. An issue with an ill-defined concept is that researchers often refer to several different empirical findings making it hard to come to a conclusion on the thesis because of difficulties when comparing. A variation of Hamnett’s main argument is Sassen’s ignorance to ‘ failing to address the wider literature on the changing occupational structure of advance capitalist societies’ (Hamnett, 1994; 405). Hamnett mentions that there is a growth of professionalization, the ideology is a reflection of Bell’s (1973) new middle-class; the idea behind this is that due to the shift from production of goods to production of services, there is an increasing development of a ‘knowledge society’ characterized by a professional and managerial workforce (Hamnett, 1994; 406). Sassen’s work is largely based on Los Angeles and New York and their high immigration rate. Only using the two cities can produce bias findings as it can be claimed that idea of social polarisation is exaggerated due to the high levels of immigration, whereby the influx of people are willing to work in the low-skilled, low-pay sectors. He criticizes that Sassen’s thesis ignores the issue of unemployment or any other factor that may change the sectoral composition of employment.

The original social polarisation theory was based on mega cities such as New York that play a large role in the global economy, it is important to also look at other cities that have undergone a similar deindustrialization but do not however play such a great role in the global economy such as Cape Town. While it has shown ‘minimal evidence of becoming a world city’ (Beaverstock et al., 1999; Taylor, 2001), it has seen a significant occupational restructure in the past twenty years. The general trend of the working force from 1980 to 2001 is that employment declined in absolute terms and there was a slow down of growth in the manufacturing sector (Borel-Saladin, Crankshaw, 2009; 653). In contrast, employment in service sectors has seen growth. (see Figure...
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