Study asks: Is a 'better world' possible?

Study asks: Is a 'better world' possible?
Creating communities that are both diverse and socially cohesive may be a pipe dream, argues Michigan State University sociologist Zachary Neal. Credit: Michigan State University

For years, policymakers have attempted to create communities where a diverse group of residents not only live close to one other but also interact freely – in other words, neighborhoods that are both integrated and socially cohesive.

But that might be a lost cause, a Michigan State University sociologist argues in a new study.

As reported in the American Journal of Community Psychology, Zachary Neal found that neighborhood integration and cohesion cannot co-exist.

"Is a better world possible? Unfortunately, these findings show it may not be possible to simultaneously create communities that are both fully integrated and fully cohesive," Neal said. "In essence, when it comes to neighborhood desegregation and , you can't have your cake and eat it too."

The reason has to do with how people form relationships. Neal said people usually develop relationships with others who are close rather than far away, and similar rather than different from themselves (be it through race, religion, , etc.).

Neal ran computer modeling of different fictional and, after millions of trials, consistently found the same thing: The more integrated a neighborhood is, the less socially cohesive it becomes, and vice versa.

"These trends are so strong, it's unlikely policy can change it," Neal said.

He said should instead try to find the right balance between integration and cohesion, which may differ from community to community.

Neal said he started the project because past research had failed to turn up a city that is both truly integrated and cohesive – from the United States to the United Kingdom to Asia. But it's not from lack of effort, he said.

"It's not that local leaders and policymakers aren't trying hard enough," Neal said. "Rather, we now think it's because the goals of integration and cohesion are just not compatible with each other."

Explore further

No kids in public school? You still benefit

Citation: Study asks: Is a 'better world' possible? (2013, November 18) retrieved 15 October 2019 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

Nov 19, 2013
Are we supposed to be surprised that the results of this computer simulation reflect the assumptions that are built into it?

Nov 19, 2013
And no doubt just a few hundred thou of taxpayer dollars to show that "birds of a feather flock together", a common-sense folk maxim known to whoever coined that phrase ten thousand years ago.

But the totalitarians believe that human nature is infinitely malleable, so a few "nudges" here and there will create utopia with unicorns in short order. Of course, wherever it's been tried, the proles resist the nudges, which then become shoves, then re-education camps, then gulags for the ones that can't be starved, shot or decapitated. Vendy has volunteered to personally operate the guillotine himself for all those who will not submit.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more