John Dixon talk on 23rd February

John Dixon of the Open University will give a paper on 23rd Februaryat 4.30pm, Pybus Room, Old Library Building

‘The space between us’: Reflections on the social psychology of intergroup contact, desegregation and re-segregation 

The role of ethnic and racial segregation in perpetuating prejudice, discrimination, and inequality has been extensively investigated by social scientists. Most research has concentrated on the macro-sociological organization of institutions of residence, education and employment, largely ignoring relations unfolding at more intimate scales of analysis. Often, such research has also ignored how local understandings of person-place relationships may shape resistance to, or acceptance of, programs of desegregation. In this paper, I suggest that future work on the nature and consequences of segregation and desegregation should be extended in two ways.  First, research on relatively stable, macro-level structures of segregation should be complemented by research that investigates the ‘micro-ecology of segregation’ (Dixon et al., 2008) in everyday life spaces – the dynamic, largely informal network of social practices through which individuals maintain racial isolation within settings where members of other race groups are physically co-present. Second, I suggest that research on local resistance to desegregation should pay more careful attention to lay constructions of its meaning and significance, particularly constructions of intergroup contact and the relationship between place and identity. Developing these arguments, I discuss a program of work on everyday practices of contact, desegregation and re-segregation in post-apartheid South Africa.


John Dixon is a psychologist who grew up in Northern Ireland and South Africa. Much of his work lies at the interface between social psychology and human geography, and he has a particular interest in the dynamics of interracial contact, conflict, desegregation, and (re)segregation. His work has appeared in journals such as American Psychologist, Urban Studies, Ethnic and Racial Studies, Discourse and Society, the European Journal of Social Psychology, Political Psychology, Theory and Psychology, and the Journal of Environmental Psychology. He is currently co-editor (with Jolanda Jetten) of the British Journal of Social Psychology and is co-author (with Kevin Durrheim) of Racial Encounter: The Social Psychology of Contact and Desegregation. London: Routledge. He is a professor of social psychology at the Open University, UK.

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