I'll See You at Work: Spatial Features and Discrimination
68 Pages Posted: 24 Mar 2021 Last revised: 7 Dec 2021
Date Written: March 23, 2021
We increasingly talk about HR practices and work cultures as mechanisms for discrimination in work with nary a thought given to one of the most obvious influences on our daily work lives: where we work. This article seeks to change that. In it, I delineate spatial features as a condition of discrimination in workplaces and develop an understanding of what spatial features might matter and why. Drawing together some seemingly disparate lines of research and literature—from social psychology and sociology to geographies and urban planning—I theorize three specific spatial feature categories: insularity, precarity, and permeability. Each of these categories is about place as it affects our interactions and our expectations around interactions in our work.
The Article also examines the law’s current stance toward spatial features, segregation, and discrimination. It turns out that we are at an important crossroad: Where once spatial segregation was an obvious form of discrimination, today courts are backpedaling. Segregation is downplayed as evidence of discrimination, and spatial features are often either ignored entirely or siphoned off into individualized allegations, where they are treated as passing, innocuous moments of subjective experience rather than as organization-driven causal contributors to systemic discrimination. I urge us to put work “place” on our research and advocacy agendas and to consider spatial features and segregation as causal mechanisms for discrimination in legal cases as well. I make several specific recommendations to this end.
Keywords: discrimination, segregation, race, sex, spatial justice, Civil Rights Act
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