Contact and the ecology of racial division: Some varieties of informal segregation

John Dixon, Kevin Durrheim

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

188 Citations (Scopus)


The analysis of contact between groups must proceed from an uncomfortable realization. Notwithstanding its formal abolition in many societies, segregation remains pervasive as an informal mechanism for ordering and defining social relations. Social psychologists' tendency to investigate contact under 'optimal' conditions may obscure this fact. This article discusses an observational study that attempted to chart some varieties of informal segregation on an 'open' beach In post-apartheid South Africa. The study used a novel methodology to plot the ecology of racial distribution within this public setting over time. The analysis, which included measures of dissimilarity (D) and exposure (P), indicated that processes of segregation operated in various ways to limit the opportunities for racial contact. Follow-up interviews conducted with 'white' holiday-makers suggested that such processes embodied shared assumptions about the 'proper' socio-spatial organization of race relations. Some Implications for research on the contact hypothesis are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-23
Number of pages23
JournalBritish Journal of Social Psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2003
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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