Subfields of Sociology. A quantitative analysis

These are, judging by the XVIII ISA World Congress statistics, the top 20 subfields of sociology:

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“Cities as International Actors – Internationalising the ‘Urban’?!” by dr Tassilo Herrschel. Some thoughts

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend a seminar entitled “Cities as International Actors – Internationalising the ‘Urban’?!” by dr Tassilo Herrschel. The seminar took place at Katedra Geografii Ekonomicznej of University of Gdansk and was organized by the department of Economic Geography. Tassilo is member of the Urban and Regional Governance Center (CURG) of University of Westminster, which at the same time is part of International City-Regional Policy Network, having as a partner the centre I mentioned in previous posts “Leibniz Institute for Regional Development and Structral Development (IRS)”. CURG’s current research projects involve, judging by the centre’s website:

The study of cities as international actors, drawing on debates in paradiplomacy, globalisation and urban politics and planning. This includes cities and regions as drivers of cross-border collaborations and, as a result, the production of new divisions and marginalisations on the basis of varying inclusion in policy networks. These ‘soft spaces’ (or virtual spaces) intersect existing governmental territorialities and raise important questions of democratic representation and legitimacies of policies. Examples studied include the Øresund Region, Region Skåne (southern Sweden) and the Fehmarn Belt.

During the seminar, Tassilo provided the main theories on internationalization and globalization and then showed some examples of regions as “cross-border collaborations” network. Concretely he exposed the case of Øresund Region, a transnational region in northern Europe. Oresundmap2 As sociologist interested on urban and regional development processes, here are my thoughts and questions on the seminar: – Tassilo presented an interesting theory that contrasts two competing visions of the territory: first, the local or “inside” perspective and, secondly, the “internationality” perspective. The first emphasizes the importance of local networks, i.e., the interconnection between the different local actors and different towns or villages in a given territory. On the other hand, the “pro-internationality” one that emphasizes the importance of build international networks and where the “elite cities” stand as agents of the whole country or region. Needless to say that the second one is more dominant. However, this paradigm involves a number of problems like the ones I have addressed in previous posts: mass tourism, exorbitant house and/or prices and inequality in large cities. – Tassilo also explained the debate between those who view cities as emerging international actors and those who see States as the still dominant actors. I think that the most recent financial/economic crisis has highlighted the importance that States still have in designing and implementing development policies and in the articulation of cities and regions (such as the world system theory suggests). What is more, the crisis has revealed the importance of supranational institutions such as European Union or European Central Bank. In other words, macroeconomics seem to have more importance on economic and urban performance than the fact of implementing one or another local or regional strategy. – Final questions led to an increased focus on Trojmiasto as an urban region, i.e., the metropolitan area consisting of the cities of Gdynia, Sopot and Gdansk. One of the participants encouraged Tassillo to pose his own opinion on Trojmiasto as a region and international actor and, more specifically, what could be its driving forces. Its location around the Baltic was pointed as a crucial factor. Another advantage suggested the fact of being interconnected via a urban railway. (But he was quite honest when saying that is not a place that first come to mind when thinking of a top destination in Europe). As far as the baltic location as competitive advantage is concerned I couldn’t agree more. However, the current development policies make me wonder whether the location is seen as a crucial factor of development by decision makers. It seems to me that other factors are considered as more relevant. The economic growth experienced in Poland over the last decades was based on attracting foreign investment via low wages and tax-breaking policies. Not only industrial companies (mainly German capital) but also service and information related ones. Trojmiasto is a good example of the latter one. Such companies as Reuters, Kemira are becoming the real driving force of the local economy (together, I think, with the mere immigration process from rural areas around Trojmiasto and other parts of the northern Poland) As one friend of mine say a few years ago, these companies are the shipyard of the XXI century. What are the socioeconomic impact of this strategy? Good question to be addressed in the future. In this context, the fact of being geographically part of the Baltic region does not necessarily mean to be part of it in socioeconomic terms or, at least, not like a partner but just as a what it is, low wage location for foreign investors. In other words, I think that the World system theory is confirmed here. Doesn’t matter how close is to Finland or Sweden. The role of “peripheral” (and post-socialist country) in socioeconomic terms might still be determinant. The question is: is being a low-wages based economy an inevitable step prior to become a more advance economy? To what extent will this result in improved quality of life for residents. – Finally, and outside the content of the presentation, here is a little reflection on how the seminar was conducted. I missed a more attractive opening, something like a general question or objective of the presentation. I have no doubt that the content was interesting, but the effort to make something clean was higher than expected. Thus, I personally felt a bit exhausted at the end. Likewise no specific questions were asked to encourage the final debate. I think all these factors negatively influenced the final discussion. Questions were asked, but I think a true group dynamic was not reached. This is, however, something very common in the academic world and that I also do. What happens is that from outside it is easier to identify.

Secondary data source for well-being related indexes

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I find great this OECD statistic source on well-being across countries and regions. Here is a brief description of the whole project:

“There is more to life than the cold numbers of GDP and economic statistics – This Index allows you to compare well-being across countries, based on 11 topics the OECD has identified as essential, in the areas of material living conditions and quality of life.”

“¿Cómo la sangrienta historia de España dio lugar a la mayor concentración de ascensores del mundo?”

Cuando uno piensa en España lo que primero se le viene a la cabeza es la palabra ascensor, ¿o puede que no?. Pues bien, lo cierto es que razones no faltan. Como se puede observar en el siguiente gráfico, el número de ascensores por cada mil habitantes es clara y comparativamente más alto en España que en el resto de países estudiados.

La alta propensión a vivir en pisos podría ser vista a simple vista como la causa más lógica. En 2012, aproximadamente el 65% de la población residía en pisos o apartamentos, porcentaje claramente superior al 46% de la media europea y sólo comparable a países como Letonia o Estonia.

Sin embargo, es importante tener en cuenta otros factores, como la mayor predisposición de los españoles a vivir en régimen de propiedad, tal y como se deduce del siguiente grafico. Sólo Irlanda parece aproximarse al ratio español, si bien hay que tener en cuenta que sólo un 5% de irlandeses reside en pisos.

Ahora bien, dicha predisposición no responde necesariamente a ningún tipo de tradición cultural, como se suele argumentar. Tanto es así que a la altura de mediados del decenio 1950-1960, menos de la mitad de la población vivía en régimen de propiedad. Proporción que se incrementaría hasta el 80% a lo largo de la segunda mitad del siglo XX.

¿Cómo ha sido eso posible? La respuesta se encuentra en gran medida en una serie de factores de tipo político que tienen su origen en el régimen franquista. En primer lugar, es importante subrayar los devastadores y duraderos efectos que toda guerra suele tener en el parque de viviendas y que, en ese sentido, la guerra civil española no fué una excepción. Por otro lado, antes incluso de haber comenzado las hostilidades, España había experimentado importantes flujos migratorios del campo a la ciudad. Fenómeno que se reanudaría una vez finalizada la guerra civil y que acabaría por agudizar aún más la escasez de viviendas urbanas.

Mientras tanto, el régimen de Franco, en un intento por mejorar su apoyo popular, llevó a cabo fuertes regulaciones en las políticas de alquiler a partir de la Ley de arrendamientos urbanos de 1946. Así lo describía el economista del banco central Juan Mora-Sanguinetti en 2011:

Las intervenciones fueron severas. La protección del inquilino en contra del desalojo fué entonces ilimitada. Incluso parientes cercanos del inquilino podían sucederle como nuevos inquilinos con la misma vivienda y bajo las mismas condiciones. Con relación a los costes de alquiler, la ley establecía incrementos fijos y únicos en el pago del alquiler para pisos que habían sido arrendados antes de 1939, así como la congelación de las rentas de los nuevos contratos.

La alta regulación del sector dificultaba a los propietarios la obtención de beneficios, lo que acabaría desincentivando tanto el mantenimiento de viviendas como la construcción de otras nuevas. En consecuencia, la calidad de las mismas se deterioró notablemente y la oferta de nueva construcción continuó escaseando.

En los años cincuenta, el gobierno reconoció la necesidad de cambiar de postura. “Queremos un país de propietarios, no de proletarios”, había dicho el ministro de vivienda de Franco en el año 1957.

En este contexto, el gobierno incentivó a los propietarios para que vendiesen sus propiedades a un bajo precio. Las ventas se dispararon siguiendo la ley sobre propiedad horizontal. Lo que en América se había llamado condominium. Así lo escribieron la economista Anna Cabré y Juan Antonio en 2004:

La ley creó una base legal para la inversión masiva en nuevas construcciones que serían vendidas como pisos y apartamentos individuales. Los movimientos migratorios hacia la ciudad, el crecimiento del empleo, la práctica ausencia de normas y ordenación del suelo y la desorbitada inflacción hicieron el resto. Los nuevos residentes procedentes del rural se trajeron sus ahorros y los invirtieron en “ladrillo”. Las familias de jóvenes parejas pudieron comprar baratos y pequeños pisos en las nuevas áreas residenciales. Las familias de matrimonios de edad media dejaron los centros históricos y mejoraron su nivel de vida por medio de la adquisición de nuevos y mejores pisos. Igualmente, la estabilidad laboral y salarial ayudaron a pagar las hipotecas. En cuestión de años, ser propietario de una vivienda se había convertido en el objetivo de la mayoría de los españoles.

Cabe destacar que Reino Unido también llevó a cabo un programa similar durante los años de Margareta Thatcher. El objetivo no era otro que convertir en dueños a los inquilinos de las decrépitas viviendas sociales de propiedad estatal. Pero esto, no obsante , no condujo a que la mayoría de los británicos residiesen en pisos – ver el segundo gráfico más arriba.

Por otro lado, para entender las particularidades del mercado español de la vivienda es necesario detenerse por un segundo en la política económica del régimen de Franco en términos generales. Durante las dos primeras décadas posteriores a la guerra civil Franco intentó gobernar el país como si de una entidad económica independiente se tratase, es decir, cerrado al comercio – una autarquía. En un sistema de estas características y dominado por el gobierno, el uso de la tierra agrícola era de suma importancia. Por este y otros motivos el crecimiento de las ciudades fué de alguna manera cercado por parte de los planificadores urbanos con el fin de preservar el uso agrícola de las tierras situadas en la proximidades de la ciudad. En consecuencia, “En España se ha favorecido una urbanización compacta y densa”, tal y como Módenes, profesor de geografía humana de la Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona, hizo saber a Quartz por medio de un correo electrónico.

La planificación “de arriba hacia abajo” dió lugar a un tipo de construcción urbana con una densidad relativamente alta y, a menudo, efectuada por empresas políticamente bien situadas durante el boom de la construcción que tuvo lugar desde la década de los sesenta hasta el final de los setenta.

“Las urbanizaciones y complejos residenciales con más de 1.0000 viviendas fueron el modelo dominante” escribió en 2004 el académico de Harvard Eric Belsky y su colega Nicolas Retsinas en un artículo sobre el mercado español de la vivienda. Dichas urbanizaciones vendrían a substituir muchos de los barrios de chabolas que se desarrollaron cerca de ciudades como Barcelona y Madrid a finales de 1940 y principios de 1950.

Y así es como nace la ciudad moderna española. Por lo tanto, y dado su origen autocrático, resulta difícil sostener que los españoles hayan escogido vivir en pisos o apartamentos desde un punto de vista histórico. Si bien, todo parece indicar que dicha opción sigue siendo vista como la más conveniente a día de hoy. Los españoles no gastan más que la media en vivienda – aproximadamente el 20% de su renta disponible- mientras que el 94% dice estar satisfecho con el lugar donde reside actualmente, uno de los ratios más altos en la OCDE y muy por encima del 87% de media.

De hecho, algunos argumentan que los españoles podrían estar, si es que lo están algo, demasiado cómodos permaneciendo en sus actuales casas, ya que, el alto procentaje de propietarios de vivienda tiene como contrapunto una baja mobilidad laboral. Esto, sumado a otros factores, podría estar condiconando el acceso a determinados puestos de trabajo no circunscritos al área de residencia. Y eso, en definitiva, estaría afectando aún más a la maltrecha economía española.

___

Traducido del inglés al español por Xaquín S. Pérez-Sindín López. Publicado en http://www.ssociologos.com. Fuente original: Matt Phillips, Octubre 14, 2014. Quartz.

“How Spain’s bloody history gave it the world’s highest concentration of elevators?”

(Original source: MATT PHILLIPS Oct 14, 2014. Quartz)

When you think about Spain, the first thing that pops into mind is undoubtedly one word: Elevators. No? Well, maybe it should be. Compared to other countries, Spain’s elevator supply looks remarkably, well, elevated.

At face value, there’s a pretty simple reason why. Spaniards are some of the world’s pre-eminent apartment-dwellers. In 2012, roughly 65 percent of the population lived in apartment buildings, much higher than the euro-area average of 46 percent. (The only other European countries that compare to Spain in terms of apartment-living are Latvia and Estonia, which are both also around 65 percent.)

That seems straightforward enough, except when you consider the fact that unlike many of the other big apartment-dwelling nations, the Spanish don’t rent. They own. In fact, only Ireland has as high a rate of homeownership, and yet only 5 percent of the Irish live in flats.

Spain hasn’t always been such a hotbed of homeownership. In fact, well into the 1950s, less than half the population owned their homes. That jumped to more than 80 percent over the next half century.

How? Largely through the muscular policy of Francisco Franco, the dictator who ruled Spain from the end of the civil war in 1939 until his death in 1975.  As we know, one of the many lasting side effects of wars is ugly housing shortages. The Spanish Civil War, which was an awful warm-up to World War II, was no different.

Before the hostilities began, Spain had had an influx of rural migrants into the cities. That resumed after the war, exacerbating a shortage of housing.

Meanwhile, in an effort to short up popular support, the Franco regime instituted heavy-handed regulations on the rental sector, starting with the Urban Tenancy Law of 1946. As a Spanish central-bank economist, Juan Mora-Sanguinetti, wrote in 2011 [pdf]:

The interventions were severe. The tenant’s protection against eviction was unlimited. Even close relatives of the tenant were able to succeed him as tenants in the same dwelling and benefiting from the same conditions. With respect to rents, the Law established fixed one-time increments in the rent paid for apartments leased before 1939 and freezed [sic] the rents in respect of all new contracts.

Overly restrictive regulation made it difficult for landlords to earn profits on their properties, discouraged maintenance, and deterred additional building. Housing quality deteriorated sharply and the supply of housing continued to run short.

By the 1950s, the government recognized it needed to shift its stance. “We want a country of proprietors, not proletarians,” Franco’s housing minister famously said in 1957.

Under the new policy, the government incentivized landlords to begin selling their properties to their tenants at very low prices. Sales took off, and new legislation followed [pdf, in Spanish] codifying propriedad horizontal, or joint ownership—what in America would be called a condominium. Economists Anna Cabré and Juan Antonio Módenes wrote in 2004 (pdf):

The law created a legal basis for massive investment in new buildings that would be sold by individual flats and apartments. Movement to the cities, high employment, the virtual absence of urban land use regulations and norms, and skyrocketing inflation did the rest. Rural migrants brought their savings and invested them in stone (or should we say concrete?). Young couples bought cheap and comparatively small apartments in new areas of the expanding cities. Middle-aged families left the historical centers and improved their standard of living by acquiring new and better-quality flats. And steady employment at inflated wages helped all of them pay their mortgage. In a matter of years, homeownership had become the goal of most Spaniards.

It’s worth noting that the U.K. undertook a similar program of turning over decrepit, government-owned “council housing” and transforming its tenants into owners during the Thatcher years. But that—see the second chart above again—didn’t turn Brits into a nation of flat-dwellers.

Perhaps the key to understanding Spanish housing patterns is to look beyond the Franco regime’s rules on renting to its economic policies overall. In the first two decades after the Civil War, Franco tried to run the country as a totally independent economic entity, closed to trade—an autarky. Under such a system, which was government-dominated, agricultural land usage was of paramount concern.

In part because of that, city growth period was hemmed in by planners in order to help preserve nearby agricultural land. “In Spain compact, dense urbanization has been favored,” wrote Módenes, a lecturer in human geography at the autonomous University of Barcelona, in an email to Quartz.

Top-down planning gave rise to relatively high-density urban building, often by politically connected construction companies in a building boom that stretched from the 1960s into the late 1970s.

“The dominant form of this housing was estates (apartment complexes) with over 1,000 dwellings,” wrote then Harvard academic Eric Belsky and colleague Nicolas Retsinas, in a paper on the Spanish housing market (pdf) back in 2004. “These estates replaced many of the shantytowns that developed near cities like Barcelona and Madrid in the late 1940s and early 1950s.”

Thus was the modern Spanish city born.

So, given its autocratic origins, it’s hard to argue that Spaniards choseapartment living. But it now seems to suit them fairly well. Spaniards spend no more than the average on shelter—roughly 20 percent of their disposable income—yet 94% of them say they’re satisfied with their current housing situation, one of the highest satisfaction ratings in the OECD and well above the 87 percent average.

In fact, some argue that the Spanish might, if anything, be too comfortable staying in their current homes. The flip side of Spain’s sky-high homeownership rate tends to be a relatively low rate of labor mobility [pdf], since it makes matching would-be workers to open positions more difficult. And that make it all that much tougher for the country’s battered economy to recover.

Sofja Kovalevskaja Award #ResearchFundingOpportunities

Description of Sofja Kovalevskaja Award

Submit an application if you are a successful top-rank junior researcher from abroad, onlycompleted your doctorate with distinction in the last six years, and have published work in prestigious international journals or publishing houses. The Sofja Kovalevskaja Award allows you to spend five years building up a working group and working on a high-profile, innovative research project of your own choice at a research institution of your own choice in Germany.

Scientists and scholars from all disciplines may apply directly to the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. The Humboldt Foundation plans to grant up to eight Sofja Kovalevskaja Awards. The award is valued at up to 1.65 million EUR.

The application submission deadline is September 1, 2014. The selection is scheduled for March 2015.

Alexander von Humboldt “We support people, not projects” #ResearchFundingOpportunities

We promote academic cooperation between excellent scientists and scholars from abroad and from Germany.
Our research fellowships and research awards allow you to come to Germany to work on a research project you have chosen yourself together with a host and collaborative partner.
If you are a scientist or scholar from Germany you can profit from our support and carry out a research project abroad as a guest of one of more than 26,000 Humboldt Foundation alumni worldwide – the Humboldtians.
As an intermediary organisation for German foreign cultural and educational policy we promote international cultural dialogue and academic exchange.
What is important to us
If you would like to become a member of the Humboldt Family, only one thing counts: your own excellent performance. There are no quotas, neither for individual countries, nor for particular academic disciplines. Our selection committees comprise academics from all fields of specialisation and they make independent decisions, based solely on the applicant’s academic record. We support people, not projects. After all, even in times of increasing teamwork, it is the individual’s ability and dedication that are decisive for academic success.

Become an Humboldtian
Whether you are a young postdoctoral researcher at the beginning of your academic career, an experienced, established academic, or even a world authority in your discipline – our research fellowships and research awards offer you sponsorship tailored to you and your career situation.

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Every Humboldtian needs an academic host. Become a host and encourage your young, collaborative partners from abroad to apply for a Humboldt Foundation research fellowship for a research stay at your institute, or nominate a cutting-edge researcher of your choice for a Humboldt Research Award. The fellowship includes an allowance for research costs towards financing equipment, research assistance, administrative costs and so on. It helps you and your guest researcher to create optimum conditions for fruitful cooperation.