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Panel 75. Elites, Socio-Spatial Segregation, and Urban Belonging: A Global Perspective

Conveners: María Luisa Méndez (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile), Rachel Théodore (Universidad Mayor, Chile).


Interest in global research on elites has witnessed a significant increase in recent decades, spurred by influential works such as Piketty’s “Capital in the 21st Century”. This ground-breaking literature highlighted the pivotal role of the top 1% in contemporary Western societies, redirecting the focus of social sciences towards top income and wealth holders. Sociologically defined by Khan (2012), elites are a group with disproportionate access or control of resources—economic or political—that gives them advantages over the rest of society. Beyond economic or political power, elites also manage social and symbolic capitals, enabling them to legitimize and reproduce their positions at the top of society. This session responds to recent calls for more attention to the multidimensional urban geographies and demographies of elite reproduction and transformation (Van Heur and Bassens, 2019). The contributions will show how cities and urban landscapes are key arenas where capital accumulation and consumption occur. For example, the pieces will analyse long-term processes of land accumulation and the role of contemporary elites in shaping urban civic and financial centers, and more broadly, cities in different parts of the world.

In this session, we will address the processes and practices through which elites produce and accumulate privileges on different urban and territorial scales, as well as their social and spatial consequences. Among these processes and practices, we will highlight the tendencies towards self-segregation, urban gentrification, the formation of gated communities, the creation of new centralities and the spatial accumulation of wealth and reputation, as well as how they shape urban reputations, aesthetics, and senses of belonging at various urban scales. We invite contributors from different regions of the world to fully explore similar processes, but also the nuances we find in the different roles played by public regulation and real estate agents.

Session papers will address distinctive preferences in terms of place of residence, leisure practices, and venues. They will also highlight actions promoted by elites in curating new and old centralities of power and privilege. The papers will explore how elites inject symbolic capital and produce new notions of public and civic spaces, as well as the dynamics present among those in privileged positions among the ordinary elites or working rich (Anderson, 2021). We encourage pieces on the processes by which the elite separate themselves from the rest of society, and the challenges of urban centralities that they must confront and reconcile with on a daily basis.

Centro de Estudios de Conflicto y Cohesión Social.

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