The formation of marginal urban spaces in cities in globalization

Borrador presentado al congreso de Sociología que tuvo lugar en agosto de 2019 en la ciudad de Manchester por Juan José Villalón Ogáyar


I don´t understand what is the reason that in the most of Spanish localities, I have found marginal urban zones (dangerous, segregated, excluded and marginal zones).

In general, these areas are characterized by several features: 1. Occupy a little part of the city; 2. Have a decayed social and economic surrounding; 3. Urban environment is degraded; 4. Lower rent families is coming in; 5. And, their inhabitants suffer a negative territorial stigma during more than a decade.
They are not huge. In every areas, a few of people lives there (less than three thousand). Many of them are Spanish gypsies or immigrants or descendants of rural Spanish immigrants. And, always, most of them is underclass people.
In the last decades, size of population descends in many of these areas. However, there are more areas in these conditions that fifty years ago and in more towns.

Questions and answers

When I look these zones, I need to know: which is the main reason that explain its existence? Are there actors interested in their existence? Are there structural or cultural factors producing these areas? Are there historical reasons explaining their location?
At first, I considered that a good explanation could be that these zones had declined because of several factors as: poverty, violence, delinquency, unemployment, drugs commerce or institutional abandonment. Clearly, there was not a unique factor or actor that produced a marginal urban space. However, a mix of factor could explain their existence.

I read some authors that have work about it and I have tried organizing my background in two huge research ways: theories of complexity and systemic theories. The main study object was the declining of neighbourhoods into the cities as a historical process. Both currents assumed the relevance of institutional agents. The main differences were: the role of systemic factors on the outputs; how they understand the sociological problem; and which class of explanation they can offer: analytical or holistic.

Theories of complexity tend to offer partial explanations. They pointed at the scientific problem was: there is a neighbourhood succession affected by collective, economic and individual dynamics that make the process extremely complex. Norms, value of land, preferences and the interdependence and collusion among actors are important to explain the reasons that produce the declining. Thus, they tend to consider declining is virtually like a natural process that occurs in some street, zone or district.

Systemic theories explain exclusion zones are output of some structural system that builds these urban spaces. These theories worked explaining decadence of neighbourhoods in cities at the end of the last century. They explained that marginalization or segregation processes by race or territory create degraded urban zones where the poorest and excluded people have to home.

Processes of segregation and marginalization by race or territory were understood as output of cultural or structural characteristics, in a specific social system, affecting social action (habits and strategies) of every agent, working in a negative way. These proposals tried to give holistic explanations.

For me, the most relevant proposal from a systemic perspective was done by L. Wacquant. In my country, there are systems of segregation in the cities that separate the poorest gypsies, the poorest immigrants and the most excluded citizens and joint them in exclusion urban areas. How? I think that the theory of L. Wacquant could explain it.

The Wacquant theory (2007)

Wacquant perspective neglects some basic proposals of the Social Disorganization Theory and is linked to Structural-Constructivist Theory of Bourdieu. Wacquant (2007; 69) wanted to understand the problem of these areas in both sides of the North Atlantic without consider that these areas are “disorganized” because, there is an order, a different order. His studies show some dynamics of a new Regime of Advanced Marginality that link a spatial segregation with a new phenomenon: the territorial stigmatization in postindustrial cities (pg. 311). That regime is organically linked to the most advanced sectors of the contemporary political economy and the financialization of capital. These trends are fuelling the poverty in the city because they push the fragmentation of wage labour, the retrenchment of social protection and the urban segregation. So, these trends create new “social spaces” in the postindustrial cities: the marginal or excluded urban zones.

Wacquant tries to attract the attention about this new phenomenon because his pieces of research show that “through the mediation of cognitive mechanisms operating at multiple enmeshed levels, the spatial denigration of neighbourhoods of relegation affects the subjectivity and the social ties of their residents as well as the state policies that mould them” (2009, pg. 1700-1701). This means: image, social representations affects strategies and habits of every agent.

Thus, these excluded urban zones show own characteristics that are different of old excluded urban zones because they form specific social spaces separated of the city. Their population create norms, rules, values, identities, bonds, habits and strategies associated to the denigrated image of the zone. For example, Wacquant (2007) found people living in a space without soul, without communities, they don´t live in places with emotions, and, they had lost the most of the basic social networks that help economically and locally in a crisis. And, other agents, like State institutions (schools, hospitals, social services, Town Hall, etc.), non-profit organizations, and firms that home in these areas develop new rules to work. For example: creating new distance between their workers and their customers.

Wacquant (2007) proposal identified systematically the most relevant agents in these areas. They maintained a conflict for the control of public spaces. These actors were: Law enforcement; Legal Market predators (Real State, Banks, Media…); Inhabitants, associations; and, Illegal Predators. In this context, Wacquant (2007) understood that the strategy of every actor was essential because could change the scene.

Therefore, he thinks that when an urban zone experiments territorial stigmatization and people are segregated because they live there, then it is easier they scape of this stigmatization if they go out than if the urbanistic structure or the social conditions changes in this area.

For example, a social urban regeneration process would be insufficient to transform the future in an excluded urban area. It would be necessary a radical transformation of every organization that works in the area. It is not enough that there are new investment, infrastructure or equipment. The centre of the process must be changing bonds among people and organizations with new political, economic and civic tools, as for example: the definition of citizenship, with a new growth of rights and duties; or, creation of an economic citizenship with a universal basic income. Without it, it will be essential changing the population, an expulsion of inhabitants, and a gentrification process that change the space and the population.

Spanish cities

However, reality of the Spanish cities shows a mosaic of different areas articulated by transport networks and classified according income levels (Alguacil & Camacho, 2014). The fixed basic patterns that characterize the urban map of exclusion zones are areas that: First, they were established from the outset to accommodate a population or another according to salary, occupations or ethnic features; and, second, other areas that were abandoned by their initial populations (as in historical centres) and occupy a lower rank in urban segmentation at this moment. The second areas suffer the declining problem. However, the first areas are a different thing.
The first ones were created in many cities in process of: urbanization of the city, gentrification of peripheral and central neighbourhoods, and, turisfication of the city centre. These processes mean that cities needs different things as: more low-skill workers to build and work, more land for new infrastructures, commercial centres and more equipment, or cleaning horrible images of abandonment, violence and delinquency. However, the output looks like similar: people (neighbours, workers, homeless, infraclasses…) had to be located in new settlements, normally, over periphery and without equipment and any security.

These exclusion urban areas have been found in the most of cities of my country. Some of them are postindustrial economies. However, the most of them have transformed their economies in the last decades but they are not postindustrial economies because they were not industrial economies before. They are touristic centres, regional command centres and globalized producers. Before, many of them were institutional centres, services centres or basic market centres in national or regional levels. And, only, some of them were industrial economies.


Due to this, I have a doubt:
1. In Spain, there are a problem of declining of urban areas that create exclusion urban areas; but I have more exclusion urban areas that began as transitional, informal or excluded zones.
2. Some of them are in postindustrial cities, but other ones search more ways to adapt its economy to a global market.
In this situation, can I use the Wacquant proposal to understand how there are exclusion areas in all of these cities in my country? Difficult because this proposal only explains the declining in a postindustrial city, no more. Question is: Is this a special type of exclusion urban area or, can we think another explanation that includes these cases in a biggest cluster of cases?

Discussing with Wacquant

Well, Wacquant (2007; 2014) thinks about a problem in a postindustrial city of United State of America (Chicago) and in Occidental Europe (Paris). Postindustrialization means some structural dynamics that change socio-spatial stratification and create a new phenomenon of territorial stigmatization that produce excluded urban zones.

However, there are Favelas, poblados chabolistas, slums, in many cities that don´t experiment a similar process of postindustrialization. They are globalization cities but they are not postindustrial cities at the same structural characteristics of Chicago or Paris. Due to this, I think that structural dynamics in another globalization way can modify socio-spatial position structure. Then, the association between the new local economy and the existence of exclusion urban areas can be different.
In this case, we need thinking if there is a common explanation for the existence of these areas in globalization cities with a different socio-economic structure; or, if some ways of urban globalization create these exclusion spaces and other do not.

Six examples

I have compared the recent history of several cities in the Atlantic World (America, Africa and Europe): Chicago, Paris, Cancún, Málaga, Santiago de Chile and Nairobi. The objective was to understand the association between different ways of globalization and the history of exclusion urban areas that there were in these cities.

Observing the globalizing processes of these cities, I think we can understand that there are many ways to create a marginal urban zone in a city today. When I got thinking about Chicago, Paris, Málaga, Cancún, Santiago de Chile and Nairobi, I found four ways to globalize: Postindustrization, Touristification, gentrification and urbanization. Everyone is reflected in the scientific literature today by many authors. They are different ways to improve the capacity of a city to accept the challenges of Economic Globalization. However, also, they are good ways to create divided cities where many people live in a ghetto or an informal settlement or an exclusion urban area.

The different things that I have found in my piece of research, are:
1. In each exclusion urban zone, there are different levels of: Violence; Population size; Absolute poverty and Social conditions of housing; Homogeneity of population by ethnic, race or nationalities.
2. The reaction of State, legal market predators and Civil Society are different in every city and has important consequences about the last scenes.
3. The history of every city and how every exclusion urban area appears also is different.

And the most relevant similarities are:
1. The objective of processes looks like the same: insertion from national-regional and local economy to a globalized economy.
2. The processes maintain, increase or create inequalities by economic classes and territories into the city.
3. Appearing the same actors in these areas when the time pass: State, legal predators, illegal predators, working classes, infraclasses, general inhabitants and young residents.
4. Illegal predators tend to develop similar strategies in each city: international connexions, drug traffic, drug local market, police corruption, fight to control the public space with violence and fear, create gangs with excluded local neighbours of some nationality or race, etc.
5. The reaction of the most of residents tend to be similar: 1. If they have resources, they leave the area; 2. If they have a house or a flat, they live shut in it and neglected the public space; 3. If they can´t find a secure home, they survive in the streets with high levels of violence, fear and many of them wait a chance to go out of that place.
6. The strategies of some young people without many resources looks similar in some of these places: 1. Searching informal jobs; 2. Neglecting studies; 3. Accepting drugs and violent relationship in their environment; 4. Grouping to similar people; 5. Managing the urban space: recognizing which are violent areas, secure zones and the frontiers; 6. Developing violent habits and illegal strategies as way to build bonds, identities and group and to get resources.
7. These spaces tend to report some economic benefits to the city:
a. Most people of these areas accepts to work in informal economies.
b. Most people of these zones are always consumers of low cost.
c. These places tend to home of drug markets of the city or globalized logistics centres of drug and other illegal traffics because: 1. Police reduce their vigilance of these spaces and this permits the reproduction of informal economies that the city need; 2. People of these places tend to accept to live with a huge level of violence that is necessary in the global illegal market because they have not resources to give an alternative.


The outputs of the last piece of research permit me to think about a common explanation about the existence of these exclusion areas in the globalized cities. However, this explanation need to think about the new economy and some aspects that Wacquant (2007) didn´t study.

I think that several actors can have created these areas with their strategies and intentionally because these zones are need in the new economy. My query comes from a reflection about two aspects of the new economy: Development of long-tail economies, and Relevance of illegal markets in the new global economy.

Wacquant explained some economic changes that transform the structural relationship in the new globalized economy. He thought about the new occupational structure produced by development of new informal labour markets and expulsion of many people in the new economy. However, there is a change more important in the new goods and services markets that transforms the roles and positions in the social structure.

In the new economy, there are new markets that work with new logics. Before, every market was a shortage market because offer was less than demand. But now, many globalized markets develop an offer that is nearly as demand. The business have diversified the offer with different prices and qualities adjusted to more consumers. They have created niche markets. With the new technologies, the rapid growth of online shopping, people can access to more goods and services. And, many of these goods can be created quickly. This economy is bigger when the number of consumers grows up, and they don´t need that people have a high level of consume. They need connected people. Thus, increasing the consumer population is very important in a new local economy. Don´t mind the level of incomes. Everyone is an important factor to maintain the development.

This new logic of market has transformed social structure because:
1. Strengthen the need for the Socio-economic System of consumer people.
2. Strengthen the middle class consciousness.
3. Strengthen the consumer role in the new economy.
4. Improvement consume as a cleavage of identity.
5. Separating consumer and worker roles.

Thus, in this new economy, the socio-economic structure can easily develop social positions only defined by the consume capacity: consumer without job.

Which will the characteristics of these positions be? In the past, many landowners, nobles and other formed passive classes only needed consuming because they received a rent. The most of them looked like rich people. They didn´t need working. Today, we have retirement pensions and similar helps that maintain a part of population without working. But they are not rich classes. They depend on the social security system. They tend to live in concentrated urban areas. And they maintain an important role of consumer of low-cost and permit creating new markets as geriatric services. I think that these last classes are similar to the new position of a consumer without job.

Therefore, we can study if these exclusion areas can be a good place to maintain a population of low cost that are unnecessary in the labour market, for example.

Another thing that is important respect the change in the new economy is the transformation of illegal markets. Specifically, the global drugs markets have transformed their system of work. And today, they are an important part of the global finance markets. From the 80s, drugs are a part of the financial global system, without control, with violence, and many, many cash.

Thus, global cities can be fighting for getting a place in this global illegal market. In this case, they need special zones that can maintain specific rules to develop these business, and people that accept the violence, fear and insecurity that this traffic means. The most of citizens tend to neglect areas with these markets. Due to this, the urban elites that manages the future of the city need to prepare zones into the city for these illegal activities. How? From always, the solution was the concentration of these activities in the poorest areas of the city. Now, the question was to create these areas and what people can accept to live there. One answer can be “consumers without job”.

Therefore, we can think that there is an explanation about the existence of these exclusion areas in every globalized city that is independent of the strategies of every agent: These zones can be a good place to maintain a population of low cost that are unnecessary in the labour market, and that need to accept living there, in the most violent space of the city, because they don´t have another option.

The first consequence of this will be that the universal basic income is not a good solution for the problem of these exclusion areas. More, this solution will be a liberal solution that will strengthen the existence of the actual social system of marginalization because it will increase the socio-spatial division between producer and consumer families.

However, this explanation is interesting only if every globalized city has developed exclusion urban areas. We need to find if in every globalized city there are exclusion urban areas. We need more research about it.


Well, I am sure that Wacquant has reason: the regime of advanced urban marginalization is here and is a part of the new globalized social system. We must think that, in our cities, we must work to reduce their impact, but we must assume that it is a part of the new “progress”. And, we can think that, with some theoretical changes, this regime works in all Atlantic World.

The existence of these excluded urban areas is a globalized reality. The Town Hall can´t fight against them meanwhile the city needs to go to a globalized economy. They can only reduce their size. It is a consequence of the Economic Globalization of the cities.

Thus, we have new hypotheses: Economic globalization of the city produces the territorial segregation into the city by different ways. How the agents decide to act, the output is different. However, these processes always tend to: 1. Reinforce the economic class structure that divide producers and consumers homes as a main division of social stratification; 2. Concentrate consumers of low level in some areas of the cities; 3. Reinforce informal and illegal economies in these areas for the benefit of the city.

Thus, social scientists need to seek now if there are ways of globalization that can respect the citizenship of every urban inhabitant. May be, some initiatives that refuse the need of quick benefits and seek a new harmony with the environment without forgetting people in the worst social conditions and less resources could be a local alternative.

However, sociologists, from a scientist point of view, need a globalized alternative that can be reproduced in many places with little reforms of the habits, rules and technologies that people use. We need to create adequate tools that can work in a local level and over all the World.

At the same time, we need to create the new jobs of the future. Today, the economic world creates the tasks. They depend on demand that can create and of the technologies that we have developed. One of these tasks is consuming. Please, we need to think more. What jobs do we need?

More, we need to develop new globalization ways that will be alternative for gentrification, postindustrialization, touristification and urbanization processes.

In sum, I think that our cities need sociologists with initiative to drive the future.


Every book and paper named here is refereed in the origin of this text that is a book of the author:

Lugares vulnerables, violencias y delincuencia, 2019

  • Autor: Villalón Ogáyar, Juan José
  • Editorial: UNED

Una gran oportunidad de reivindicar la IGUALDAD para tod@s.

World Pride Madrid 2017


Querido/a lector/a:

Ver las obras del Renacimiento italiano en Florencia permite comprender conexiones históricas que no debemos olvidar. Lo que ocurrirá en Madrid el próximo 1 de Julio será, entre otras cosas, Arte.

Será un acto conectado a toda una corriente histórica que no debemos obviar pues nos hace muy humanos. No estamos ante algo nuevo y extraño. Lo que ocurrirá está en las entrañas de nuestra civilización. Despreciarlo, es abandonar nuestra más estimable tradición que es: pensar, razonar, dialogar, construir puentes y derribar fronteras.

El acto será parte de esa fuerza contraria a la Guerra, la Violencia o al Poder depredador que nos asola, nos divide y nos retrasa. Querrá ser la manifestación de la ingenuidad humana, de la naturaleza simbólica y expresiva. Querrá aumentar la riqueza de la Cultura Multicultural. Querrá llegar a las profundidades del alma y hacerla saltar de alegría.

Por eso, desde aquí te animo:

Defiende tus derechos junto a tus iguales. Sal a la calle y no pares de gritar.

Y no olvides los derechos de los/las demás.

Defiende al diferente. “Ell@s” tambien son personas. Son igual que tu.

Nadie es “diferente”. Todos somos “iguales”.

La “diferencia” es nuestra igualdad.

El respeto es nuestra libertad.


Un momento histórico se acerca en Madrid: El Sábado 1 de Julio de 2017 a las 17:00h.

Investigación, análisis y comentarios en torno a las diferencias sociales ISSN: 2340-5449