New research project on segregation in Sweden

Gunnar Andersson, Bo Malmberg, Ben Wilson. Photo: Eva Dalin/Stockholms universitet, Clément Morin/Stockholms universitet, Leila Zoubir/Stockholms universitet.
Gunnar Andersson, Bo Malmberg, Ben Wilson. Photo: Eva Dalin/Stockholms universitet, Clément Morin/Stockholms universitet, Leila Zoubir/Stockholms universitet.

Author: Amber Beckley 

Dr. Bo Malmberg, of the Department of Human Geography at Stockholm University, is the Principal Investigator of the research program “The Neighborhood Revisited: Spatial polarization and social cohesion in contemporary Sweden” which received 40.24 million kronor from Riksbankens Jubileumsfond (The Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social Sciences). This is a 6-year research program that will include a team of researchers from the Department of Human Geography and the Department of Sociology. I sat down with Dr. Gunnar Andersson, Professor of Demography, and Dr, Ben Wilson, Research Fellow, both from the Demography Unit at the Department of Sociology (SUDA).

The program is called, ”The Neighborhood Revisited: Spatial polarization and social cohesion in contemporary Sweden.” What do the terms “spatial polarization” and “social cohesion” mean?

Ben Wilson: When we talk about spatial polarization we mean that certain types of people are extremely likely to live in the same areas. For example, when some areas are almost exclusively populated by wealthy people, whereas other areas are populated by people who are highly disadvantaged. Starting in the 1990s, the level of spatial polarization in Sweden grew very quickly. Stockholm, for example, is now one of the most divided European cities in terms of wealth, education, and foreign background.

Gunnar Andersson: We have also seen a growing divide between rural and urban areas. We see, on average, in rural areas, compared to urban areas, lower levels of education and lower-status employment.

Ben Wilson: You also ask about social cohesion. This is a complex and multidimensional concept involving trust of others, exclusion of others and wellbeing in society. In coordination with SCB, we will carry out a new survey of social cohesion, including state of the art questions from surveys such as the European Social Survey, as well as questions that are developed by our project team…

Gunnar Andersson: …which includes political scientists. And for the qualitative research we will carry out focus groups in several different areas across the country.

This program is a collaboration between the departments of Human Geography and Sociology. How do the two departments complement each other?

Gunnar Andersson: The Department of Human Geography and the Department och Sociology have had a long-standing collaboration that was established through two other programs (SIMSAM and SPaDE). This new program represents a continuation of that collaboration. The collaboration has been, and will continue to be fruitful, not least because it offers a comprehensive approach to understanding fundamental questions about society. By combining human geography with demography we are combining expertise in methods of space with expertise in methods of time. Studying people over time, and understanding the paths of their lives, provides a more complete view of the processes that we see taking place.

What are the goals of this program?

Ben Wilson: The goal of this program is to try to understand where the most polarized places are in Sweden and to understand how that impacts social cohesion. Recently, many academics and policymakers have become worried about the increasing social polarization of society. Sweden is one of the only countries that provides both the context and the data that enable us to study this topic as rigorously as we would like.

Gunnar Andersson: Specific projects within this program will look at the labour market, gentrification, and political processes.

From the Department of Sociology, this grant will support eight researchers over the coming six years: Dr. Gunnar Andersson, Professor of Demography, Dr. Maria Branden, Research Fellow, Dr. Helen Eriksson, Research Analyst, Dr. Hernan Mondani, Researcher, Dr. Gerda Neyer, Senior Research Fellow, Dr. Caroline Uggla, Research Fellow, and Dr. Ben Wilson, Research Fellow.


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