CENTRO Y CENTRALIDAD EN CONTEXTOS URBANOS, por Manuel Delgado

Texto de Manuel Delgado, extraído de El Cor de les aparences. Mi aportación al final, con un link a la bibliografía mencionada.

He leído algún comentario derivado de lo que dije a propósito de la centralidad política en la entrevista que me publicaron en vilaweb hace unos días y he visto que esa idea de centralidad política puede confundirse, como concepto, con la de centro político. El editorial de El País de hoy, 18 de agosto, insiste en ese malentendido. Nada que ver. En la vida social, el núcleo de la actividad, el epicentro desde el que actúa la creatividad de las dinámicas sociales, está casi siempre no en el centro físico o topográfico de nada, sino al contrario, en lo que podrían antojarse sus márgenes o sus límites. A nivel político hay varias ilustraciones teóricas en esa dirección. Si se clica en google “centro centralidad” aparecerán varios artículos en que se insiste en la identificación entrecentralidad y hegemonía. Así, “¿Disputar el centro o la centralidad política?”, de Mariám Martínez-Bascullán, o “Centralidad no es centro”, del mismo Pablo Iglesias.

Como contribución a ese desmentido, me permito aportar una visión procedente de Henri Lefebvre, que suele emplearse en ciencias sociales de la ciudad y que distingue entre centro urbano y centralidad urbana.  No hace falta que se explique qué es el centro de una ciudad. En Barcelona, el centro de la ciudad es la Plaça de les Glòries, pero es un centro carente de centralidad. ¿Qué es un centro urbano, no como centro físico de una ciudad, sino en el sentido de espacio dotado de centralidad? En el plano funcional, se entiende que la centralidad de un área urbana debe propiciar una serie de relaciones eficientes entre los elementos que componen una determinada estructura territorial, para lo cual da forma y condensa una amplia gama diferenciada, pero articulada y complementaria, de entidades, dispositivos y actividades. Pero desde una perspectiva que entendiera la centralidad en términos sociales, está remitiría a lo urbano mismo como centralidad. Henri Lefebvre nos subrayaba en La revolución urbana (Alianza) que esa centralidad de lo urbano no tendría centro, no estaría o no tendría por qué darse en un lugar céntrico. Es el espacio urbano el que, al intensificarse, genera centros, pero constituye en sí mismo un vector nulo, puesto que en él “cada punto, virtualmente, puede atraer hacia si todo lo que puebla los alrededores: cosas, obras, gentes”. La centralidad urbana es simultaneidad de percepciones, de acontecimientos, puesto que es la forma concreta que adopta “el encuentro y la reunión de todos los elementos que constituyen la vida social.”

En el marco general definido por todo tipo de procesos negativos de dispersión, de fragmentación, de segregación…, lo urbano se expresa en tanto que exigencia contraria de conjunción, de reunión, de redes y flujos de información y comunicación… Es así que la centralidad de un lugar sería el escenario donde vemos activarse una compleja red por la que circulan, de manera constante y generalizada, intercambios e interacciones, pero también campo de confrontación de diferencias y de apropiaciones compartidas. Es también un polo saturado de valores compartidos o compartibles. Me remito, al respecto, al capítulo “El centro urbano”, del libro de Manuel Castells Problemas de investigación en sociología urbana (Siglo XXI).

Ah, y ante todo, vindico un libro que para mí tuvo una virtud iluminadora: el de Alfonso Álvarez Mora y Fernando Roch, Los centros urbanos (Nuestra Cultura). Es de 1980 y no se encuentra en librerías, pero merece la pena buscarlo en librerías de viejo —en la calle o la red— o en bibliotecas. Allí se explica cómo el centro urbano puede y debe estar cargado de centralidad social, en tanto que la sociedad está ahí, en un —copio— «espacio de todos y de nadie, lugar a un tiempo de paseo festivo y del pasar cotidiano, de la fiesta, del trabajo y de la revolución; síntesis del orden y de la subversión, camino abierto del trabajo, de la compra y del estudio, esto es, de la reproducción y camino roto por las barricadas; lugar de las conductas pautadas y de los comportamientos marginales, espacio de lo cotidiano y de lo excepcional, lugar de cita de lo vulgar y lo misterioso, de lo viejo y de lo moderno. Espacio de la reproducción del sistema y a la vez espacio de la contestación del orden establecido, lugar de permanencias y de mutaciones, del orden y de su negación; espacio equipado sin “equipamientos” porque es un compendio de todo lo necesario y de lo superfluo». Un espacio viviente.

Es verdad que, como acabo de recordar, a pesar de los esfuerzos por desactivarlos, los centros históricos suelen coincidir con los centros provistos de centralidad urbana, tal y como acaba de ser descrita. Esos esfuerzos consisten en intentar aislar los cascos antiguos de las ciudades para recrear en ellos una cierta atmósfera de autenticidad, lo que requiere trasladar funciones y dinámicas que conceden centralidad fuera de ellos, incluso a la periferia. En eso han consistido la políticas urbanísticas de dispersión en el territorio de organismos, servicios y actividades que generaban centralidad: las “ciudades” sanitarias, judiciales, universitarias…, lejos del centro; los grandes mallscomerciales en nudos de autopistas; la expulsión de las cárceles fuera de los cascos urbanos; las ciudades-dormitorio que permitían exiliar a una clase obrera siempre dispuesta a convertir los barrios populares céntricos en fortines de resistencia; los espacios abiertos y alejados destinados a grandes concentraciones lúdicas o festivas. Me viene a la cabeza el caso del sandrómo en Rio de Janeiro… Es también el caso de las “nuevas centralidades” artificiales, como las que se pretenden abrir en la Sagrera o Diagonal Mar en Barcelona.

Esa voluntad de extirpar la centralidad de los centros históricos, para consagrarlos al simple consumo de pasado, puede ser del todo explícita. Así, uno de los artífices del supuesto “modelo Barcelona”, Oriol Bohigas, escribía: “Nuestras ciudades necesitan una doble intervención simultánea y coordinada: rehabilitar el centro histórico, actuando en ellos a fondo y dar ‘centralidad’ —urbanidad, identidad, monumentalidad, espíritu colectivo, participación politica— a la periferia”. Esto está en “La reconstrucció de la ciutat”, en Bruno Gabrielli et al., La ciudad històrica dins la ciutat (Ajuntament de Girona). Al respecto, cabe decir que esa meta de desproveer a las ciudades viejas de centralidad no siempre se ha obtenido o se ha conseguido solo parcialmente, es decir para ciertos recintos acotados. Es obvio que los avances en la tematización turística y consumista de los centros monumentalizados han neutralizado muchas de sus antiguas cualidades de centralidad, pero no por ello han podido siempre esconder su ingrediente fundamental, que no es otro que la condición intrínsecamente alterada y conflictiva de la vida urbana.

La centralidad es fuente fundamental de sentido en la configuración de una sociedad urbana. En efecto, la centralidad supone el apogeo espacial de la acción social urbana, aquella que cualquier orden político querría someter a constante escrutinio, pero que en la práctica se convierte en el escenario asiduo de todo tipo de desviaciones o desafectos respecto de los códigos dominantes. Se reconoce centralidad cuando en un lugar se concretan todas las variables de sociabilidad que un universo complejo puede generar, entre ellas. y sobre todo, las vinculadas a su dimensión más conflictual. La centralidad en una ciudad o en cualquier sociedad está siempre donde están sus luchas.

References

ÁLVAREZ MORA, A., & ROCH, F. (1980). Los centros urbanos. Edit. Nuestra Cultura. Madrid, 47.

Castells, M. (1975). Problemas de investigación en sociología urbana.

Lefebvre, H. (1991). The production of space (Vol. 142). Blackwell: Oxford.

Lefebvre, H. (2003). The urban revolution. U of Minnesota Press.

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How to do ethnography

Malinowski with natives, Trobriand Islands, 1918

Malinowski with natives, Trobriand Islands, 1918

This post aims to explain how to use observation or related methods such as ethnography in social research. Hence the post is divided in three sections. First one aims to answer what does this method mean and come from, second one, what does it make observation different from other methods as in-depth interview or focus group and last but not least what a researcher is supposed to observe in such studies.

1. What is the observation method and what does it come from?

Whenever your research question deals with people behavior an obvious form to understand it is just watch how they behave. This is essentially what observation and ethnography are all about, a systematically observation of people behavior.  Although there are differences between them (Atkinson and Hammersley, 1998) both observation and ethnography will be treated as equivalent techniques in this and following posts.

It is important to add that both are originally rooted into social science. It was a polish anthropologist, Bronisław Malinowski, who first applied it, at the beginning of XX century, what is considered the oldest qualitative method. By mean this method; he conducted several fieldworks in order to analyze patterns of exchange in aboriginal communities, mainly in Africa and Australia. It was also Chicago School of social research that first encouraged its students to study by observation the constantly changing social phenomena of Chicago in the 1920´s and 1930´s.

Its importance has considerably grown over the last decades as a way to understand buying process. Observing customers both in naturally occurring actions like in a shop, bar or at home is now a common method in market research industry. On the other hand, with the advent of Internet, such techniques as online ethnography (Martinez and Rodríguez, 2008) or nethnography (Kozinets, 2002), among other; are already an essential part of today’s market research. On top of that, emergence of new social media such as twitter or Facebook give way to a new way to understand purchase and consumption decision. Besides pursuing conventional advertising, consumers are using Facebook groups, blogs, chat rooms, email, twitters to share ideas, build community and contact fellow consumers who are seem as more objective information source. Actually, several studies have confirmed that in the “buyer´s decision journey”, traditional marketing communications just aren´t relevant, or such as an article in Harvard Business journal has recently suggested, “Marketing is dead” (2012) Although this assertion may be seen as controversial, the truth is that every researcher shouldn´t nowadays underestimate the importance of new social media to gather market information. Such as the sociologist Manuel Castells sustained, we don´t live in a virtual reality but in a real virtually. Finally, despite the distance in time between first studies on aboriginal communities and current online studies, as well as between the different varieties that have emerged throughout the time, the essence is still the same, understanding human existence by mean observing people.

2. What makes observation method different

The development of observation and ethnography may strongly depend on the variety applied. How far observation is revealed to those who are observed, how far researcher participates or how systematic the collection of data is, gives way to the different varieties to be applied. Regardless such differences that may be looked up in the references, this post aims to highlight the essentials of a good observation.

1. Case study design. One shop, one office, one street or restaurant; observation is commonly applied in a specific case, always giving more importance to the depth of analysis than to how representative this case is.

2. Location in place and time of everyday life (Flick, 2009)

3. Interpretation and understanding. Although the information might be systematically collected by a “off-the-shelf” coding schedule (Lewis et al, 2009), usually called structured observation, the truth is that it is commonly applied as a method to interpret rather than quantifying people behavior.

4. Besides the competencies of speaking and listening used in interviews, observing is another everyday skill that is relevant for qualitative studies. Almost all sense; seeing, hearing, feeling and smelling are required for a good observation.

5. Interest in human meaning and interaction. In social sciences we cannot hope to adequately explain the behavior of social actors unless we at least try to understand their meanings. Remember the meaning of DC Metro for passer-by during rush hour on the Washington post´s violinist experiment.

6. Flexible, opportunistic and open ended inquiries (Flick, 2009) are an essential part of observation, except for the varieties that don´t require the researcher participant where there is no interaction with actors and consequently no question is formulated (non-participant observation)

3. What to observe

Before moving on to the proper observation, researcher should have previously selected the setting (where and when) as well as the actions to be documented (e.g. buying process) and a carefully description of the field, concentrating on aspects relevant to research question. Subsequently, researcher or observers hired for such reason will start the fieldwork, i.e. the observation properly. Now the question is what to observe in the observation process? The dimensions to be observed may vary from more structured to less structured observations. However, according to Spradley, social situations generally may be described along nine dimensions for observational purposes.

1. Space: the physical place or places.

2. Actors: the people involved.

3. Activity: a set of related acts people do. Who originates actions? How often? Which consequences with? For whom such consequences are?.

4. Object: the physical things that are present.

5. Act: single actions that people do.

6. Event: a set of related activities that people carry out.

7. Time: the sequencing that takes place over time.

8. Goal: the things people are trying to accomplish.

9. Feeling: the emotions felt and expressed.

On the other hand the more structured observations normally use a so called “off-the-shelf” coding schedule (Lewis et al, 2009). What is it? It is a number of questions to be tested during the observation time. For instances, the bellow table shows the items tested by a group or observers in a study that aimed to measure a fastfoodchain service quality:

behaviour

Reference list

Atkinson, P., & Hammersley, M. (1994). Ethnography and participant observation. Handbook of qualitative research, 1, 248-261. In Flick, U. (2009). An introduction to qualitative research. Sage Publications Limited

Castells, Manuel (2012) Interview on BBC: “Viewpoint: Manuel Castells on the rise of alternative economic cultures” Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-20027044

Flick, U. (2009). An introduction to qualitative research. Sage Publications Limited

Kozinets, R. V. (2002). The field behind the screen: using netnography for marketing research in online communities. Journal of marketing research, 61-72. In Lewis, Philip, Mark NK Saunders, and Adrian Thornhill. Research methods for business students. Pearson, 2009.

Lee, B. (2012). Marketing Is Dead. HBR Blog Network. Harvard Business.

Lewis, Philip, Mark NK Saunders, and Adrian Thornhill. Research methods for business students. Pearson, 2009.

Martínez, P., & Rodríguez, P. M. (2008). Cualitativa-mente. ESIC Editorial.

Spradley, J. P. (1979). The ethnographic interview. In Flick, U. (2009). An introduction to qualitative researchSage Publications Limited

Why the qualitative approach is essential for every research project?

“Recently, it was conducted a global survey which sought to answer the following question: Please answer honestly. How in your opinion could be solved the problem of lack of food in many countries in the world?”

The survey was a failure because in Africa nobody knew what food means. In France nobody knew what honesty means. Nobody knew in Western Europe what having lack of something means. In China no one knew what is having your own opinion. In Arabs countries none knew what is solving a problem. In South America, nobody knew what the word “please” means. In North America, no one knew that other countries exist.”

The above parody is just that, a parody. However, it illustrates very well how the ambiguity of such terms as happiness, leadership or being modern are constantly challenging social researchers. “The more ambiguous and elastic our concepts, the less possible is to quantify our data in a meaningful way” (Dey, 1993) Can we measure happiness all over the world if the meaning of it may strongly vary from one country to another? It may be not possible assuming right away a quantitative approach. And it is precisely here where the qualitative one finds its place. Qualitative techniques may bring the not measurable concepts into the “realm” of the measurable. Indeed it is “an opportunity to explore a subject in as real manner as is possible” (Robson, 2002).

For instance, what is a great place to work? We can quantify work by the unemployment rate in every country, as well as places where people work just collecting information on the number of companies. But great place to work? We could actually build another funny story as above, or just try to understand what people think what a “great place to work” is. And this is precisely what Great Place to Work did to measure a prior ambiguous concept.

This company on a year basis publishes a best workplace ranking both nationwide and worldwide. To do so they built up a model formed by categories of analysis like trust, enjoy or pride, among others. In turn each of them is divided into indicators. These indicators give way to a questionnaire that is used in a survey among a set of companies in every country. As they report in their website, “this model has been confirmed through over 25 years´ worth of analysis of employees´ own opinions“.

Therefore, the quantification of a priori ambiguous concepts is preceded (or even accompanied) by a qualitative analysis. This analysis consists of doing a categorization of what people think it is a great place to work. If the result of a quantitative study is usually a graphic or a statistic table, the result of a qualitative study is based on categorizations.

Finally, although the categorization process is frequently used as way to identify measurable units referred to ambiguous concepts, as in the above example, it may be used independently, i.e. doing a categorization of happiness, for instance, may have as the only aim to obtain an accurate understanding of this concept, regardless it is going to be or not measured later.

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Reference

BBC Radio 4. Interview to Manuel Castells “Alternative ecomomic cultures”. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01n9yg1
Dey, I. (1993). Qualitative data analysis: A user-friendly guide. Routledge. Seen in Lewis, Philip, Mark NK Saunders, and Adrian Thornhill. Research methods for business students. Pearson, 2009.
Lewis, Philip, Mark NK Saunders, and Adrian Thornhill. Research methods for business students. Pearson, 2009.
Marketing directo. C. Chaguaceda (Coca-Cola): “No se mide igual la felicidad que la venta de botellas de Coca-Cola” Retrieved from http://www.marketingdirecto.com/actualidad/gente/c-chaguaceda-coca-cola-no-se-mide-igual-la-felicidad-que-la-venta-de-botellas-de-coca-cola/
Robson, C. (2002). Real world research: a resource for social scientists and practitioner-researchers (Vol. 2). Oxford: Blackwell. Seen in Lewis, Philip, Mark NK Saunders, and Adrian Thornhill. Research methods for business students. Pearson, 2009.

How to use observation method

This post aims to explain how to use observation or related methods such as ethnography in social research. Hence the post is divided in three sections. First one aims to answer what does this method mean and come from, second one, what does it make observation different from other methods as in-depth interview or focus group and last but not least what a researcher is supposed to observe in such studies.

1. What is the observation method and what does it come from?

Whenever your research question deals with people behavior an obvious form to understand it is just watch how they behave. This is essentially what observation and ethnography are all about, a systematically observation of people behavior.  Although there are differences between them (Atkinson and Hammersley, 1998) both observation and ethnography will be treated as equivalent techniques in this and following posts.

It is important to add that both are originally rooted into social science. It was a polish anthropologist, Bronisław Malinowski, who first applied it, at the beginning of XX century, what is considered the oldest qualitative method. By mean this method; he conducted several fieldworks in order to analyze patterns of exchange in aboriginal communities, mainly in Africa and Australia. It was also Chicago School of social research that first encouraged its students to study by observation the constantly changing social phenomena of Chicago in the 1920´s and 1930´s.280px-Bronisław_Malinowski_among_Trobriand_tribe_3

Its importance has considerably grown over the last decades as a way to understand buying process. Observing customers both in naturally occurring actions like in a shop, bar or at home is now a common method in market research industry. On the other hand, with the advent of Internet, such techniques as online ethnography (Martinez and Rodríguez, 2008) or nethnography (Kozinets, 2002), among other; are already an essential part of today’s market research. On top of that, emergence of new social media such as twitter or Facebook give way to a new way to understand purchase and consumption decision. Besides pursuing conventional advertising, consumers are using Facebook groups, blogs, chat rooms, email, twitters to share ideas, build community and contact fellow consumers who are seem as more objective information source. Actually, several studies have confirmed that in the “buyer´s decision journey”, traditional marketing communications just aren´t relevant, or such as an article in Harvard Business journal has recently suggested, “Marketing is dead” (2012) Although this assertion may be seen as controversial, the truth is that every researcher shouldn´t nowadays underestimate the importance of new social media to gather market information. Such as the sociologist Manuel Castells sustained, we don´t live in a virtual reality but in a real virtually. Finally, despite the distance in time between first studies on aboriginal communities and current online studies, as well as between the different varieties that have emerged throughout the time, the essence is still the same, understanding human existence by mean observing people.

2. What makes observation method different

The development of observation and ethnography may strongly depend on the variety applied. How far observation is revealed to those who are observed, how far researcher participates or how systematic the collection of data is, gives way to the different varieties to be applied. Regardless such differences that may be looked up in the references, this post aims to highlight the essentials of a good observation.

  1. Case study design. One shop, one office, one street or restaurant; observation is commonly applied in a specific case, always giving more importance to the depth of analysis than to how representative this case is.
  2. Location in place and time of everyday life (Flick, 2009)
  3. Interpretation and understanding. Although the information might be systematically collected by a “off-the-shelf” coding schedule (Lewis et al, 2009), usually called structured observation, the truth is that it is commonly applied as a method to interpret rather than quantifying people behavior.
  4. Besides the competencies of speaking and listening used in interviews, observing is another everyday skill that is relevant for qualitative studies. Almost all sense; seeing, hearing, feeling and smelling are required for a good observation.
  5. Interest in human meaning and interaction. In social sciences we cannot hope to adequately explain the behavior of social actors unless we at least try to understand their meanings. Remember the meaning of DC Metro for passer-by during rush hour on the Washington post´s violinist experiment.
  6. Flexible, opportunistic and open ended inquiries (Flick, 2009) are an essential part of observation, except for the varieties that don´t require the researcher participant where there is no interaction with actors and consequently no question is formulated (non-participant observation)

3. What to observe

Before moving on to the proper observation, researcher should have previously selected the setting (where and when) as well as the actions to be documented (e.g. buying process) and a carefully description of the field, concentrating on aspects relevant to research question. Subsequently, researcher or observers hired for such reason will start the fieldwork, i.e. the observation properly. Now the question is what to observe in the observation process? The dimensions to be observed may vary from more structured to less structured observations. However, according to Spradley, social situations generally may be described along nine dimensions for observational purposes.

1. Space: the physical place or places.

2. Actors: the people involved.

3. Activity: a set of related acts people do. Who originates actions? How often? Which consequences with? For whom such consequences are?.

4. Object: the physical things that are present.

5. Act: single actions that people do.

6. Event: a set of related activities that people carry out.

7. Time: the sequencing that takes place over time.

8. Goal: the things people are trying to accomplish.

9. Feeling: the emotions felt and expressed.

On the other hand the more structured observations normally use a so called “off-the-shelf” coding schedule (Lewis et al, 2009). What is it? It is a number of questions to be tested during the observation time. For instances, the bellow table shows the items tested by a group or observers in a study that aimed to measure a fastfoodchain service quality:

behaviour

Reference list

Atkinson, P., & Hammersley, M. (1994). Ethnography and participant observation. Handbook of qualitative research, 1, 248-261. In Flick, U. (2009). An introduction to qualitative research. Sage Publications Limited

Castells, Manuel (2012) Interview on BBC: “Viewpoint: Manuel Castells on the rise of alternative economic cultures” Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-20027044

Flick, U. (2009). An introduction to qualitative research. Sage Publications Limited

Kozinets, R. V. (2002). The field behind the screen: using netnography for marketing research in online communities. Journal of marketing research, 61-72. In Lewis, Philip, Mark NK Saunders, and Adrian Thornhill. Research methods for business students. Pearson, 2009.

Lee, B. (2012). Marketing Is Dead. HBR Blog Network. Harvard Business.

Lewis, Philip, Mark NK Saunders, and Adrian Thornhill. Research methods for business students. Pearson, 2009.

Martínez, P., & Rodríguez, P. M. (2008). Cualitativa-mente. ESIC Editorial.

Spradley, J. P. (1979). The ethnographic interview. In Flick, U. (2009). An introduction to qualitative researchSage Publications Limited