The Rentier and the Lumpen by Basak Tanulku (Independent researcher based in Istanbul)

This blog post will discuss the logic and the factors behind the current dual class structure, characterised by increasing lower and upper classes and declining middle classes. In this class structure, the upper and the lower classes, i.e. the rentier and the lumpen tend to have similar aspirations of speculation and consumption. From a psychological approach, the relationship between the lower, upper and middle classes can fit into a Freudian framework of id, superego and ego. In this framework, id corresponds to the animal inside a person, which needs to be satisfied, like sexual libido, hunger and thirst. Superego is the human part above all, corresponding to the narcissistic personality, which sees the self above everything and separates the good from the bad. Ego is in between the two, the suppressed part of the human personality. In this current society, superego is the rentier, free to do anything; id is the lumpen, who is unable to control basic instincts and to be satisfied; and ego is those in the middle, pushed from all sides, living in constant debasement. In this context, it can be argued that the rentier (the superego) and the lumpen (the id) vote for the same political parties, and share the same political and ideological ambitions and sexual fantasies. However, the ego, those in the middle, is pushed from both sides, envied and debased at the same time:  ridiculed for being ordinary and conservative and isolated from mainstream life because of the power of the new rich and other parasitic forms of life that are seen to deserve the high life as the result of their material and symbolic wealth.

How have we ended up here? This psychosocial context fits into the political economy, which emerged in the 1980s, all over the world. This era has many names, such as “neoliberal”, “consumer”, or “global”, along with many more beginning with a “post-” prefix, although all these terms may have alternative meanings in different theoretical paradigms. During this period, particularly the developed countries restructured their economies through post-industrialisation, and shifted to service-based economies in which innovation and high technology became very important for any economy to be considered successful and competitive. The membership of the conventional working class has declined due to the impact of outsourced production to developing countries, a process accelerated by “globalisation”. In this process, the conventional working classes have transformed into people dependent on ‘ready’ money which prevented them from forming class consciousness. This led to the erosion of class solidarity among them, and the decline of trade unions and class-based politics. The offspring of the working classes became stigmatised through terms such as “benefit scroungers”, “chav”s or “asbo”s, which refer to the underclass or lumpen, or people with neither class consciousness nor solidarity who live in an era of consumption, celebrities, football superstars and tabloid newspapers. They become symbolised through long-term unemployment, low levels of education, and an attitude towards life which can be summarised as “no future”. Their situation is legitimised by political actors and those who profit from such a political context. In this new class structure, the conventional middle classes have also experienced a decline both in numbers and prestige, best represented by public sector workers stigmatised for their perceived “non-job” jobs. Their declining status corresponds to a declining sensitivity towards accumulation and planning for the future, since a more differentiated consumer market with many products necessitated a throwaway society, with an apathetic attitude towards the environment, people and the future. The middle classes correspond to an ordinary, conventional and boring way of life, restricted in 9-to-5 work shifts and two-up two-down households consisting of a married couple with two children and pets.

However, there are also the winners of this new economic system. Despite their small numbers in the workforce, they had a high social status and important symbolic power in society: they are the “new middle classes”, i.e. people working in financial, real estate or various service or creative sectors. Within the new middle classes, new groups emerged, such as “yuppies”, “bohos”, and “hipsters”. Their lifestyle is characterised by an urban buzz around nice neighbourhoods, independent cafes, boutiques, small restaurants, art centres, and luxurious retail, residential and business complexes. At the same time, the “new rich” emerged, corresponding to a lifestyle characterised by spending sprees, luxury brands, and seven-star hotels in cities like London, New York, Istanbul, and Dubai, which created by world-known architects became highly standardised. The new rich create money out of thin air and can be regarded as ‘rentiers’, people who derive income primarily from speculation.

These changes have created a more polarised and unequal class structure. However, many have become fascinated by the power of money and lifestyles of celebrities. And in this context, there is a symbiotic relationship between rentier (the upper classes or superegos) and the lumpen (the lower classes or the ids). In this relationship, the rentier eats most of the cake made of easy money based on a principle of profit. Meanwhile, the lumpen lives with a hope of one day catching up with the status of rentier. This continuous hope, fueled by the promise of continued consumption, kills the lumpen day by day without them ever noticing. In this relationship, while the rentier is free to do anything they want behind closed doors, the lumpen feels free to do so in streets. Because of that, we see people who we would never expect to find together in a photograph, such as aristocrats of various ranks, rentiers and celebrities who are regarded as national treasures in their countries.


By Basak Tanulku (Independent researcher based in Istanbul)

Why segregation studies are stuck in Chicago By David Manley (Univeristy of Bristol)

The way in which we study segregation hasn’t really moved forward since the 1950s. Much of the literature that we use and the measures that we employ owe their conception to the Chicago urban school of thinking.  The thing is, these traditional ways of understanding segregation do not fit the modern urban environment. Of course, they didn’t really fit the 1950s urban landscape in the United States either but that was not the point: a measure that described the proportion of people that wold need to move to gain an equal distribution of whatever characteristic was of interest was sufficient. In the US that characteristic was racial inequality, and there wasn’t really a need to debate how the segregation had come about or what drove it: what they needed to know was how much segregation was there. Recently, scholars have noted that the city of Chicago isn’t particularly representative of US cities (no surprise), but that it also isn’t particularly representative of the other rust belt cities either.  Given that our understanding of segregation comes from a unique place at a particular time frame in history it is perhaps time to rethink how we investigated segregation more generally.
The most common measure of segregation is known as the Index of Dissimilarity. The thing is, it is biased. Studies by economists which simulated urban data have demonstrated that the Index of Dissimilarity has a tendency to record higher values of segregation than actually exist – that is to say it is upwardly bias. Actually, more recent work has suggested that it is more complicated than that and that the bias in the Index tends to move values towards 0.5 (or saying that to achieve an urban landscape with no segregation around half the population would need to move home). This is troubling because it suggests that what we thought we knew about segregation is wrong – or at least not as clear as we thought. However, even if the index was not biased there is a bigger problem that pervades the studies that have used it. I mentioned above that in the US segregation studies were, rightly, concerned with racial inequality. The modern segregation literature is much more diverse than this and not only considers segregation along racial or ethnic lines but also include multiple other factors as well: class; social; economic, and; cultural to name a few and the index has been deployed to measure all of these and more beside. But in doing so researchers trying to understand how segregation is playing out in our urban environments are forced to over simplify. In the urban environment people do choose where to live (or get forced to live) purely because of their ethnicity or social status or age. There is a complex interaction between these factors (and others) which can serve to intensify or the resulting distribution of individuals within neighbourhoods. But the index has no way of help us determine which of the factors is the most important (remember that the index is bias so a higher value may not necessarily mean that there is more segregation, just that the index was bias) and nor can it help us understand how much age segregation there is once we have accounted for the level of educational segregation that occurs. Moreover, index values calculated for units of one size (say small neighbourhoods based on a couple of streets) cannot readily be compared with units of another size (say large neighbourhoods or even regions within a city) because the index is relative to the size of the units used. Crucially, this prevents us from identify the scale at which segregation is occurring.
What should we do about this, are all segregation studies doomed to repeat the same mistakes as before? No. Recent work undertaken with colleagues at the University of Bristol has developed an approach using multilevel models harnessing the idea that segregation is about the variability in the numbers of different groups within neighbourhoods, the greater the variable in the number of a group within neighbourhoods over a city the greater the segregation. Importantly, once measured in a modelling framework we are able to include multiple different types of segregation at once and even multiple scales. In doing this we might be able to further our understanding of one facet of the complex urban environment.

Adding to the Neighbourhood Effects Debate: a response to Crawford. By Bo Malmberg (Stockholm University)

In his Oct 17 2014 blogpost,  Joe Crawford argues that neighbourhood effects research is flawed because it focuses on only on how neighbourhood factors influence individuals and not on how individuals shape neighbourhoods. This is a valid point to raise but I am not sure that this argument fully acknowledges how neighbourhood effects studies are related to research on patterns of urban segregation.

“Neighbourhood effects research fails to acknowledge the simple assertion that where there are stratified societies there will be stratified areas of residence”, Crawford argues. I do not think that this is correct. To the contrary, if areas of residence were not stratified no-one would, in my view, consider it worthwhile to engage in a study that looks for effects of residential social context on the life-course of individuals. The existence of residential stratification is, thus, the starting-point of contextual effects studies. Maybe sometimes a taken-for-granted starting point but if some studies do not mention it explicitly it is nonetheless a starting-point.

But what Crawford argues is perhaps that neighbourhood effects research has another implicit assumption, namely that if there are neighbourhood effects then more socially mixed neighbourhoods could be a means to reduce urban inequality. But even if this is what Crawford claims it is not a valid argument against neighbourhood effects studies. The motive for such studies is, instead, to find out if residential stratification not only reflects social stratification, but if it also can contribute to deepen social stratification.

As demonstrated in a recent study by Chetty et al (2014) this very much seems to be the case, at least in the US context. It is possible that Crawford would argue that the Chetty study reflects a liberal world outlook and I would agree. But where I and Crawford might differ is that I find it is of interest to know if segregation can be one driver of social inequality, whereas Crawford from a critical perspective maybe looks at this as a non-issue.

It is understandable that Crawford after a reading of Bourdieu has come to the conclusion that neighbourhood effects studies have little interest. But to base an evaluation of neighbourhood effects studies on Bourdieu is not necessarily a good idea since Bourdieu’s analysis of the role of spatiality in social reproduction is exemplarily weak. “Socially distanced people find nothing more intolerable than physical proximity”. Yes, but this is not exactly news, and it is not an absolute truth. What Bourdieu in general fails to acknowledge that taking up residence in privileged neighbourhoods can be an important means by which privileged groups seeks to ensure the reproduction of an appropriate habitus.   Bourdieu’s analysis of how this reproduction is maintained in schools is ground-breaking but he more or less totally lacks an analysis of the role of neighbourhoods in this process.

Yes, neighbourhood effects research does face important challenges as argued by David Manley in a follow-up to Joe Crawford’s blog. And every research fields has examples of less well-designed studies. There are, however, no strong reason why such challenges cannot be overcome and I would argue that much progress has been made in recent years. Especially important here is the use of longitudinal designs. But also improved measures of residential context that overcomes the problem with using fixed statistical areas (Andersson and Malmberg 2015), and the use of exposure time for identifying neighbourhood effects (another Chetty et al 2015 paper).

Finally, in contrast to Crawford I would argue that a good understanding of how residential context shape the life course of individuals is central concern in urban research precisely because of the dialectic between the subjective and the objective. Neighbourhood contexts constitute objective factors that shape life-course trajectories, which in turn are instrumental processes of neighbourhood change. If the first part of this process is not understood then the second part cannot be understood either.

Bo Malmberg, Dept. of Human Geography, Stockholm University



Andersson, E. K., and B. Malmberg. (2015) “Contextual Effects on Educational Attainment in Individualised, Scalable Neighbourhoods: Differences across gender and social class”, Urban Studies 52 (12):2117-2133.

Chetty, R.; Hendren, N.; Kline, P. and Saez, E. (2014) “Where is the Land of Opportunity?  The Geography of Intergenerational Mobility in the United States”, National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) Working Paper No. 19843.

Chetty, R.; Hendren, N. and Katz, L.F. (2015) “The Effects of Exposure to Better Neighbourhoods on Children: new evidence from the Moving to Opportunity experiment”, National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) Working Paper No. 21156.

What is it that Bugs me about Neighbourhood Effects Research? By David Manley (University of Bristol)

There are many answers to that question. I could, for instance point to the lack of appreciation for the temporal scale – the theory that has been laid out for the neighbourhood to impact the individual relies on a far longer temporal scale than the time frame most analysts (if not all) allow for the analysis. Or, I could have lamented the lack of thinking about causal pathways: open any health related journal and I guarantee you’ll find a paper analysing the relationship between public open space and improved health outcomes (quite how the mere presence of local open space is sufficient is never disclosed in these papers. My grandmother lived very near a number of parks but she rarely, if ever, ventured into them). Or, I could have pointed to near silence in the literature that recognises that where people are located in residential space owes a lot to the spatial expression of inequalities and class struggles so that the urban differences between places are not accidental outcomes (but others blogging here are far better placed to talk about that than I am!). No, when I was asked to respond to Joe’s blog on neighbourhood effects I thought long and hard about Bourdieu and what his work could mean for the field. Then I thought harder and longer about the dominance of the disciplines represented in the near 20,000 papers reporting neighbourhood effects. My gaze landed on the econometricians and I wondered how they would engage with the ideas of the philosopher: whilst I may be doing a disservice to some econometricians, many within the field are likely not to be listening. So, the thing that keeps me awake at night and where I think we (by we in this instance I mean people interested in neighbourhood effects) need a step change is to wrestle the term and analyses back from the economists and econometricians.

What is wrong with the econometricians you ask? I’ll tell you: in the world of the econometricians complex modelling approaches can be used to overcome some pretty serious problems. What’s wrong with that, after all, that’s what all quantitative modellers are doing isn’t it? Well, no: for instance ‘things’ that we have not been able to measure (this could be personality, how risky an individual is willing to be in their financial behaviour to name two) can be ignored through the use of complex modelling techniques (the ‘fixed effect’ approaches). The econometricians are happy with these models because they allow them (they believe) the chance to estimate values to attached to neighbourhoods that are ‘unbiased’ and not altered by those inconvenient things that we do not know or cannot measure.  The problem is, in reaching those ‘unbiased’ estimations a lot of other important information that we do know and that is important has been thrown out: for instance, in their simplified representation of reality (for that is all a model really is) other variables have also been discarded because the model cannot cope with information that does not change. In short the baby is thrown out with the bath water and variables such as ethnicity and gender, to name two, are omitted from the model and any effect that these variables may have (and there is reason to suggest that they may be important!) is lumped together as ‘error’ with those other ‘things’ we don’t know. So far, so mechanical. But this blog is about more than just the specification of the variables in a model. Because, the same assumptions that apply to the econometrician’s variables also apply to their neighbourhoods!

Reading through the literature (and I am a part of this literature so I must shoulder some of the guilt) the most important component of the investigation – the neighbourhood to which we are ascribing these effects – is the part that receives the least attention. Indeed, in many cases the neighbourhood is used as a non-spatial entity. We (and this time I am using the ‘we’ for geographers!) should be the front of this literature using our considerable spatial arsenal to explain, examine, critique and explore how space matters. Neighbourhoods (whatever they may be – that is another blog to be written at another time) are fundamentally about the organisation of individuals into spatial entities. They may be spatially contiguous – that is next to each other like residential neighbourhoods – they may be disjointed – like work, leisure or cultural neighbourhoods – or they may not exist in a physical sense but all are important. The neighbourhood must be the most important part of any study trying to determine if there are linkages between places and individual outcomes. And of course, neighbourhood is a highly contested and debated object at an atomistic level neighbourhood has a unique meaning to each individual in the data. Yet, it is also the piece of information that received the least attention in much of the literature: neighbourhood is frequently used to mean purely the residential context and is derived from standard administrative units created to satisfy the delivery of state statistical data. They have no meaning for the activity space of individuals, of the spaces through which people travel or interact, and have no meaning for the spaces in which people inhabit. Moreover, the kind of neighbourhood that you would use for, say, trying to understand peer group effects on children are very different to those that you would employ for understanding   Similarly, the things that we measure in the neighbourhoods are equally important. Much of the neighbourhood effects work uses the percentage of X, or Y and then attempts to make an assertion that the more (less) of X or Y the worse (better) things will be for individuals.

So, until we engage spatially then we are going to continue to look for effects without getting a handle on where they may (or may not) exist. In doing so we may not find the needle in the haystack, but at least we’d be looking in the right place!

David Manley, University of Bristol (@david_j_manley)

New Politics and Geographies of Housing Struggles? By John Flint (University of Sheffield)

Recent controversies over ‘poor doors’ in London apartment complexes serve to illustrate the structural crisis in London housing that was powerfully described in a recent Critical Urbanist piece by Professor Rowland Atkinson.

But the irony of the physical and segregation of rich and poor that ‘poor doors’ symbolise and operationalise is that such doors actually serve to reveal how the fates of those urgently needing affordable housing are inherently intertwined with new forms of global affluence. One of the defining features of the housing philanthropy that developed in response to the Victorian industrial city was the shared destiny in place that linked elite and impoverished urban dwellers alike. No doors, poor or otherwise, were effective barriers to the ravages of infectious disease (and occasional social unrest). This understanding combined with growing public health recognition of the environmental and medical consequences of appalling housing conditions to act as catalysts for the birth of public housing policies. That cord of geographical proximity between rich and poor is, on one level, broken by forces of globalisation in which international investment decisions and flows are made with no cognisance of their socio-spatial impacts at a local level. Professor Mike Raco has long argued that we need a much fuller understanding of how public services, affordable housing and local democracy are being recast by new patterns of global ownership and investment. The high profile struggle of the New Era 4 All and Focus E15 groups to protect their homes has brought into sharp focus how global investment mechanisms exacerbate the continued erosion of the right to affordable housing in the city. But, equally, the apparent successes of the New Era and London poor doors campaigns suggest a new politics is emerging, in which exposing investment chains (such as Westbrook Partners), demanding new positions from prominent political figures, taking direct forms of action and skilful use of social and other media can achieve significant positive outcomes. This also challenges traditional understandings of forms of tenant activism. Similarly, local governance regimes are increasingly attempting to develop new mechanisms for tackling investors who leave properties vacant.

The importance of challenging the calculations of property investors and landlords is not new: the history of the early philanthropic housing movements was based on firstly seeking the support of investors and then establishing new models of housing finance and provision when this support was not forthcoming. The achievements of New Era 4 All and similar campaigns are to be applauded and admired, but the lessons from earlier eras is that we cannot leave it to such groups alone if we want to end a housing system that has poor doors as it primary motif.

Prof. John Flint, University of Sheffield (@JFlintSheffield)