School segregation in contemporary cities: social, spatial and political dynamics

Education systems in many cities have been characterised by a progressive segmentation of the student population, which not only reflects the existing social and spatial differentiation in the urban population, but also inserts new forms of social segregation. On the one hand new forms of separation, based on the ethnic differentiation of the population, have been emerging. On the other, social polarisation has increased the distance and cultural segmentation between population groups with different social backgrounds and differentiated access to cultural and material assets. If social and spatial (residential) divisions have been exacerbated in many cities due to the changes of the last decades, the segmentation within the education system and the segregation in the residential sphere have become very crucial as this may hinder intergenerational upward social mobility and influence the general level of social cohesion in contemporary cities.

The background hypothesis of this session is that school segregation not only reflects existing locally-based ethnic and socio-economic residential divisions, but it may also impact on new specific forms of social and spatial differentiation, worsening the social inclusion of the most vulnerable urban social groups and increasing barriers among social groups.

Based on these assumptions, we propose a session focused on the following questions:

  • What urban contexts are more conducive to school segregation?
  • To what extent does school segregation reflect socially- or ethnically-based residential segregation in urban space?
  • What are the specific dynamics through which school segregation has recently increased in different cities?
  • How have the institutional settings of urban education systems and recent policy changes contributed to foster/prevent school segregation?
  • What are the main effects of such phenomena, in terms of physical or social distance among social groups, increased inequalities in school attainment, impact on social inclusion and chances for upward social mobility of the most disadvantaged groups?


Sako Musterd, University of Amsterdam

Costanzo Ranci, Polytechnic of Milan