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A naturalistic observational study of informal segregation: Seating patterns in lectures

In spite of the removal of legislated racial segregation, a number of observational studies in South Africa and elsewhere have shown that “informal,” nonlegislated segregation persists in spaces of everyday interaction. Most of these have been case
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  A Naturalistic Observational Study of Informal Segregation Seating Patterns in Lectures Jennifer KoenKevin Durrheim University of KwaZulu-Natal  In spite of the removal of legislated racial segregation, a number of observa-tional studies in South Africa and elsewhere have shown that “informal,” nonlegislated segregation persists in spaces of everyday interaction. Most of these have been case studies of segregation at single sites. The authors seek to quantify segregation in a sample of sites, in order to develop models of the factors that predict segregation. To this end, the authors use photographs of 67 first-year university classes, taken during the first 2 weeks of the semester, and then again during the last 2 weeks of the semester. Segregation is ana-lyzed using Campbell and colleagues’ measure of seating adjacencies. Across the classrooms, segregation correlates with class size, venue size, and class density, and results show higher levels of segregation in the second observa-tion in comparison with the first. The authors conclude that interracial con-tact at university does not lead to the formation of cross-race friendships and consider a number of ergonomic factors that affect segregation.  Keywords:   informal segregation; race contact; observational research  D e facto segregation in terms of race remains a pervasive phenomenon in formerly segregated societies, and is becoming commonplace in lands, such as the United Kingdom, that previously knew no segregation (Cantle Report, 2001). At the macroecological level, research shows that high levels of segregation persist in desegregated cities and neighbourhoods in the United States (Farley, Schuman, Bianchi, Colasanto, & Hatchett, 1 Authors’ Note:  Address correspondence to Jennifer Koen, School of Psychology, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Private Bag X01, Scottsville 3209, South Africa; e-mail: koenj@ukzn Environment and Behavior Volume XX Number XMonth XXXX xx-xx© 2009 The Author(s)10.1177/0013916509336981 Article   doi:10.1177/0013916509336981Environment and Behavior OnlineFirst, published on September 15, 2009 as  2 Environment and Behavior  1978; Massey & Denton, 1993)   and South Africa (Christopher, 1994, 2001). More recently, there has been a resurgence of research into the microecology of segregation, which investigates segregation as it occurs informally in everyday life spaces (Dixon, Tredoux, & Clack, 2005). Informal segregation refers to observed patterns of segregation between groups in spite of the absence of legally enforced intergroup boundaries (Dixon & Durrheim, 2003).Research in the microecological perspective emerged in the wake of the Civil Rights legislation that removed segregation in the United States. In a classic study of informal segregation, Campbell, Kruskal, & Wallace (1966) observed student seating-patterns in lectures and conceptualized racial seating “aggregation” or racial clustering of individuals as an “index of the degree to which acquaintance, friendship and preference are affected  by race” (p. 1). They found strong evidence of informal segregation, mani-fested by seating arrangements, in a university campus that was officially integrated—possibly conceptualized as behavioral manifestations of implicit racist attitudes. Davis, Seibert, and Breed (1966) found widespread segregation in seating patterns in the New Orleans public transport system, which had been desegregated years earlier. Parker (1968) observed both interaction and avoidance between members of different race groups in a desegregated church. While churchgoers did engage in intergroup conver-sations, observational data revealed a systematic pattern of segregation in seating arrangements (Parker, 1968).   Together, this research showed that segregation is a tenacious social form. A number of other studies showed that segregation could endure at the microecological level, despite transformation at the macro level. For example, Schofield and Sagar (1977), using an adaptation of the adjacency index proposed by Campbell et al. (1966), observed face-to-face and side- by-side interracial seating adjacencies in a desegregated school dining hall. It was found that interracial and cross-gender mixing was limited, in spite of the appearance of integration at the macrospatial level (Schofield & Sagar, 1977).It is thus argued that although integration might be suggested by racial demographics at an institutional level, segregation at a microecological level in informal everyday spaces continues (Schofield & Sagar, 1977; Taylor & Moghaddam in Dixon et al., 2005). Dixon et al. (2005) contended that legal desegregation and groups merely sharing the same space do not equal integration. Taylor, Dubé, and Belarose (1986 in Durrheim and Dixon, 2005) refer to the problem of “illusory contact”—that demographics often report integration while lower-level segregation persists.  Koen, Durrheim / A Naturalistic Observational Study of Informal Segregation 3 In South Africa, following legalized desegregation, there has been a flurry of research into the microecological domain of informal segregation. Dixon and Durrheim (2003) studied racial contact on a desegregated South African beach and found that, despite a demographically representative composition of individuals on the beach, a microlevel process of segrega-tion was evidently in operation given that 97% of the interactions between individuals on the beach occurred within racially homogeneous groups. In addition to this, individuals established informal, territorial boundaries to minimize intergroup contact (Clack, Dixon, & Tredoux, 2005; Durrheim & Dixon, 2005). Shrieff, Tredoux, Dixon, and Finchilescu (2005) conducted a study of the patterns of racial segregation in a university dining hall and noted high levels of informal segregation and that specific areas of the din-ing hall were racially defined—that is certain areas were regularly occupied  by members of the same race group.Like the American research, these studies have shown that segregation is persistent and that desegregation in terms of institutional demographics does not mean integration at the microecological level. Explaining the Persistence of Segregation Habit On the basis of their study of seating patterns on New Orleans buses soon after desegregation, Davis et al. (1966) observed that few passengers violated the previously legally enforced rule of White precedence. Although not explicitly investigated in our study, during the process of data collection and coding of the photographs, it was noticed that many individuals tended to sit in the same place in a lecture venue, even in different classes, throughout a semester. In considering the processes of segregation operat-ing at a microecological level at a university campus in South Africa, it is necessary to take into account the function of “habit”, or habitual ways of interacting with members of an outgroup (Dixon et al., in press). In the South African context this inevitably incorporates the effects of almost 50 years of de jure  racial segregation under the system of apartheid. Durrheim, Trotter, Manicom, & Piper (2004) argued that, on the Pietermaritzburg campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, “the impact of . . . apartheid remains apparent”. In this study, we selected first year students at the begin-ning of the first semester in an attempt to rule out habit as an explanation of classroom segregation.  4 Environment and Behavior  Contact and Friendship Contact and friendship are intricately related. In a cyclical hypothesis it is posited that contact, which leads to changes in attitude and the decon-struction of stereotypes and thus more favorable peer relations, underlies the formation of friendship which in turn provides impetus for further atti-tude change and thus leads to further intergroup contact (Pettigrew, 1998; Schrieff, 2004). The promotion of intergroup contact has traditionally been advocated as fundamental to the process of desegregation. However, con-tact can also lead to more prejudice and conflict, thus the relationship of intergroup contact to racial integration is somewhat paradoxical (Dixon & Durrheim, 2005).Allport’s (1954) “Contact Hypothesis” has provided the theoretical framework for many investigations of intergroup contact (see Amir, 1969; Pettigrew, 1998 for reviews). The hypothesis is essentially a theory of atti-tude change, which posits that intergroup contact fosters positive intergroup attitudes through challenging negative prejudices and stereotypes (Connolly, 2000). The hypothesis specifies certain conditions of the contact situation essential to the positive outcomes of intergroup contact (Allport, 1954; Pettigrew, 1998). Allport proposes that intergroup contact has the potential to serve as an effective means of reducing negative stereotypes and  prejudices when it involves “ equal status  contact [and co- operation]  between . . . groups in the pursuit of common goals ” (my emphasis) and when it is socially and institutionally sanctioned (p. 281). The final condi-tion of the Contact Hypothesis acknowledges the fact that contact situations are socially situated. In situations in which intergroup contact is not insti-tutionally supported, individuals may evade intergroup contact to avoid social alienation (Deutsch & Collins, 1961, in Schrieff, 2004; Sigelman, Bledsoe, Welch, & Combs, 1996). This condition of intergroup contact may  be of particular relevance to the South African situation, given the fact that segregation was legally (and has been socially) sanctioned for such an extended period of time that it has become a “normal” aspect of South African life (Dixon & Durrheim, 2003).Friendship is not only a precursor to optimal contact but is also an out-come of contact. Cross-race friendship has been shown to be instrumental in reducing intergroup prejudices and segregation (Khmelkov & Hallinan, 1999). The extended contact hypothesis proposes that direct involvement of an individual in a cross-race friendship is not necessarily crucial to prejudice reduction. Merely the knowledge of an ingroup member who is involved in a friendship with an outgroup member is argued to be sufficient for the  Koen, Durrheim / A Naturalistic Observational Study of Informal Segregation 5 improvement of intergroup relations (Wright, Aron, McLaughlin-Volpe, & Ropp, 1997). Although several studies indicate that individuals prefer members of their own race as friends (Hallinan, 1982; Schofield & Sagar, 1977), given appropriate opportunities for intimate contact and friendship formation, cross-race friendships do occur (Schrieff, Tredoux, Dixon, & Finchilescu,  2005). Pettigrew (1998) proposed that the “friendship poten-tial” of a contact situation should also be considered to be one of the essen-tial conditions of a favorable contact situation. Ergonomics 1 The size and racial composition of the group in the interaction structure the opportunities for contact and friendship formation (Joyner & Kao, 2000; Sigelman et al., 1996). The numbers of peers with whom there is opportunity for interaction is determined by the size of the group (Hallinan & Williams, 1987; Joyner & Kao, 2000). In addition to this, the racial composition of the group determines the number of other-race peers with whom interaction is possible (Hallinan, 1982; Hallinan & Williams, 1987). The effects of the racial composition of the group are explained by the opportunity hypothesis proposed by Hallinan & Smith (1985). According to this hypothesis, as the proportion of Black individuals in a group increases so does the probability of a White group member selecting a Black individual as a friend (Hallinan & Smith, 1985). Concomitantly, as the proportion of Black individuals in a contact situation decreases, the  probability that a Black individual will select a White individual as friend increases (Hallinan & Smith, 1985). Therefore, same race friendships are likely to decrease with a decrease in the proportion of same race individu-als in a group, given that there are fewer opportunities for same-race friendship formation and more opportunities for cross-race friendship for-mation (Hallinan & Smith, 1985).While the above research, which has focused on the microecological  perspective, has led to theorizing about possible predictors of segregation, much of this research has focused on single case studies. For example, there have been studies that describe levels of segregation on the beach, in the cafeteria and on buses. This research is primarily descriptive, with the  possible predictors of segregation emerging from this research being extrapolations. This study attempted not only to describe and extrapolate  possible predictors of segregation, but to test these predictors through the use of inferential methods.
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