Imagining the Urban: The Politics of Race, Class, and Schooling

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Book Chapter

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In the social sciences, there is no paucity of studies about the urban as a “real” place. To take a few examples, in Massey and Denton’s (1993) American Apartheid, the ghetto receives plenty of attention, as a historical process whereby Blacks suffer from Whites’ deliberate construction of housing segregation at the turn of the twentieth Century. In Anyon’s (1997) own analysis of the ghetto, she traces its origins in the political economy and the school systems it produces. Massey and Denton, and Anyon’s sociological accounts have helped scholars and educators understand the “urban” (particularly the ghetto)1 as a concrete place, whose racial and economic formation is material. In this essay, we discuss how “urban reality” is as much an imagined, in addition to a real, place (Berger & Luckmann, 1966). That is, the urban is socially and discursively constructed as a place, which is part of the dialectical creation of the urban as both a real and imagined space. The urban is real insofar as it is demarcated by zones, neighborhoods, and policies. However, it is imagined to the extent that it is replete with meaning, much of which contains contradictions as to exactly what the urban signifies. For instance, there are urban communities that are “positively” urban like the “Upper East Side” of Manhattan, New York, but not Harlem or the South Bronx; Santa Monica and West Hollywood, California but not Compton or Echo Park. In other words, in light of power relations, urban may signify the hallmark of civilization and the advances it offers, or a burden and problem of progress.

Chapter of

International Handbook of Urban Education

Part of

Springer International Handbooks of Education


William T. Pink
George W. Noblit