Geography Ethnic and Racial Segregation
David H. Kaplan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 April 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0133


The segregation of peoples based on particular cultural or racial characteristics has been a feature of urban life since ancient times. Separate quarters—inhabited by members of what was considered a distinct group—appeared in the most ancient Sumerian cities. As societies became more complex, as states encompassed more territory, and as merchants engaged in greater arcs of trade, the opportunity for diverse peoples to come together led also to their spatial separation. Diversity did not necessarily bring about spatial separation, but the segregation of people was a common way to enforce social distance, maintain community, and limit resource access and a whole variety of options. And while separation can and does also occur in rural areas, it is within urban places that it features most prominently. What we think of as urban geography (even if done in sociology departments) was most conspicuously associated with segregation. Our early modernist theories of cities, brought about by the Chicago School, were animated by the movement of new groups—immigrants mostly—into and out of different urban neighborhoods. Later discussion of ethnicity, immigration, and race would ordinarily engage with the spatial patterns of groups, some more explicitly than others. The advent of more quantitative treatments in the late 1950s and 1960s made it possible to measure segregation, and new mapping software from the 1980s onward has enhanced our methodological toolkit, provided the initial data are available. Yet qualitative treatments of segregation still provide a helpful window into the underlying dynamics of why groups separate from one another. It is not possible to comprehensively choose eighty or so pieces from the massive oeuvre of works related to ethnic and racial segregation—works that number in the tens of thousands. What follows are those items found to be most useful and that have been useful to others. As this is a geography bibliography, those pieces within the geography canon are privileged. At the same time, many works within sociology should be mentioned and so half of the works within this article come from sociology and several other fields. While some of the sources listed here are extremely well cited, others are not; however, they cover different aspects of the segregation phenomenon and lead the way to discover many other treatments in more specific areas of interest.

General Works

Examining segregation in a more general way is a bit like drinking from a fire hydrant as there are so many items from which to choose. However, the following may provide some examples of what has appeared since the 1980s—with all but one in geography. One of the difficulties is that we often consider “race” and “ethnicity” differently. The nature of what we mean by segregation also changes depending on the context. These works cover separate facets of segregation. While Peach, et al. 1981 is not the first book to examine segregation as a whole, it is among the best of the volumes that have tackled the various aspects of segregation head on in a cross-national manner. In so doing, it considers segregation as something far more nuanced than had previously been considered. Roseman, et al. 1996 examines many different contexts around the world and highlights that the experience of ethnic pluralism varies depending on the contexts involved, government policies, and the extent to which these groups were integrating into their host societies. Kaplan 2018 looks at how segregation has always existed in human history, how it occurs, how it is measured, and what are the economic and political consequences. Berry and Henderson 2002 is focused on the United States and emphasizes the importance of geography—or places—to ethnic identity. Each of the contributions examines how place influences identity and how ethnic groups shape their particular spaces. Erdentuğ and Colombijn 2002 provides the reader with well-researched studies of ethnic groups within specific contexts throughout the world. The dynamic presented is between urban space and ethnic boundaries and how these reveal themselves. The most recent edited book is Lloyd, et al. 2014, whose chapters explicitly examine how segregation might be analyzed and what are some of the consequences of segregation.

  • Berry, Kate A., and Martha L. Henderson. Geographical Identities of Ethnic America: Race, Space, and Place. Reno: University of Nevada Press, 2002.

    Distinct from the other volumes, this edited volume takes a vignette approach based on the experience of particular ethnic groups. Some interesting groups, such as Samoans and Russians, are discussed in depth. While most of the contributions deal with what we might describe as “ethnic” groups, the epilogue focuses only on the racial dilemma in the United States.

  • Erdentuğ, Aygen, and Freek Colombijn, eds. Urban Ethnic Encounters: The Spatial Consequences. London: Routledge, 2002.

    The book includes several examples from the developing world: Jakarta, Tehran, Beirut, and urban Brazil with other examples from Israel, Taiwan, and Japan. Going beyond the Western-centric vision of segregation is refreshing, as is also the fact that most of the scholars hail from their countries of interest.

  • Kaplan, David H. Navigating Ethnicity: Segregation, Placemaking, and Difference. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2018.

    This book examines how ethnicity is manifested geographically. Taking a process-oriented approach, it explores the concepts of ethnicity, race, and nationality, traces the historical trends, and then looks at the various causes and consequences of ethnic concentration.

  • Lloyd, Christopher, Ian Shuttleworth, and David Wong, eds. Social-Spatial Segregation: Concepts, Processes and Outcomes. Bristol, UK: Policy Press, 2014.

    This edited volume includes fourteen chapters that cover segregation aspects in the United States, United Kingdom, New Zealand, South Africa, and Sweden. Many of the chapters offer more contemporary notions of how segregation can be measured, while a few chapters are related to policy decisions and health and socioeconomic outcomes.

  • Peach, Ceri, Vaughan Robinson, and Susan Smith, eds. Ethnic Segregation in Cities. London: Croom Helm, 1981.

    Comparisons are made between the American experience, where segregation of immigrant ethnics and African Americans had long loomed large, and that of the United Kingdom, where large infusions of peoples from former British colonies arrived. This volume helped to interrogate the nature of segregation in regard to the conventional wisdom of dispersing and assimilating.

  • Roseman, Curtis C., Hans-Dieter Laux, and Günter Thieme, eds. EthniCity: Geographic Perspectives on Ethnic Change in Modern Cities. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1996.

    Beginning with the premise that many urban areas were just beginning to experience ethnic diversity and that this was transforming them for good and ill, this edited volume casts a fairly wide net to reveal the urban diversity and segregation patterns that have occurred within many cities in Europe, Australia, South Africa, and the United States as well as Singapore.

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