Social Milieu, Life Styles, Class

In sociology, it is important to consider social facts and trends in a socially differentiated way.

Different factors can have a positive effect, or be a disadvantage for the individuum. These are, on the one hand, the socio-demographic factors (sex, age, nationality, race) which are directly attributed to the person, and on the other hand, the characteristics of social inequality, like socio-economic (education, income, wealth) and sociocultural characteristics (values, life goals, likings). In the course of the modernization of society different concepts were developed within the social sciences. These concepts reflect, on the one hand, the respective social conditions and, on the other, their interpretation by scientists.

The concept of class was formed by Marx and Engels from the interpretation of an estate system in respect of industrialization and urbanization, with the great mass of the proletarians opposing a small number of the bourgeoisie (capitalists). From a bourgeois point of view and after a stronger development of the middle strata, Max Weber later developed the basis of the concept of social stratification, in which the education and the job position play a central role. This happened after the Second World War, in part also because of the technical possibility of (representative) counts.

This stratification concept became brittle in the 1970s, for the main reason, that the middle strata became very numerous and very heterogeneous. In the stratification concept, the occupational position was (over) emphasized, now “new” social inequalities were declared relevant. At present there is a wide range of different theoretical and empirical concepts. Currently the concepts of social milieus (homogenious values ​​groups) and lifestyles (homogenious behavioral groups) are preferred at the Center of Sociology at TU Wien.

Typical questions in this field are:

  • Which concept of social inequality can be used to better describe and explain different spatial behaviors?
  • How can the concepts of class, the social tier and the social milieu, which are parallel in society, be related?
  • How can it be achieved that open models of social inequality are developed consensually within science (against the background of the fact that market research institutes have a great advantage here)?
  • How can concepts of social inequality be transferred to space? Can there be socio-spatial typologies?
  • How can concepts of social milieu and lifestyle be made use of for space and transport planning, urban planning and architecture?


Poverty is a central aspect of current social and economic changes. Poverty can be defined as falling below the national average household income (‘Äquivalenzeinkommen’) weighted by size and type of household, or defined by the lack of relevant consumer goods or the inability to afford food and/or housing (risk of poverty). Poor people often face marginalization from societal processes, connecting to the concept of social exclusion.

Spatial factors of housing markets contribute to poverty through inferior living conditions, residential environments, lack of accessibility and infrastructure. Allocation processes in the housing market in general and in the social housing sector in particular result in an unequal socio-spatial distribution called segregation. From a political-administrative point of view, segregation is considered to entail a set of risks: parallel societies, ‘cultures of poverty’, challenged neighborhoods). Such spaces of poverty are produced and reproduced on the regional and local scale by macro-social processes (e.g. conditions of housing market), and as well produced by local actors on the micro-scale (relocation patterns etc.). The experience of spaces of poverty is differentiated socially (reproduced).

Typical questions in this field are:

  • Which mechanisms and processes determine spatial concentration of (urban) poverty?
  • Which possibilities exist in urban planning to approach socio-spatial inequality and pockets of poverty?
  • What is the importance of spatial accessibility for the inclusion of poor or excluded social groups?
  • How excluding are poor neighborhoods?
  • How to explain the unequal distribution/ segregation households at risk of poverty?

Urban Food Planning, Food Security

Urban Food Planning and Food Security are rather new topics in urban research and planning discourses in the Global North. Based on concepts from development studies, Urban Food Planning aims at including questions of food security into planning concepts and planning discourses. In an increasingly urbanized world threatened by climate change (Food-Water-Energy-Nexus), questions of how to organize the food system in a way that the food provision for all citizens is secure and sustainable, in rural regions as well as in cities. The topic of Urban Food Planning overlaps with poverty discourses, as social groups suffering from poverty in cities are often prone to inabilities accessing or affording appropriate, healthy, nutritious food diet. With recent food price surges and related protests in cities, the food system showed its political significance and calls for appropriate governance mechanisms to ensure access to appropriate, healthy and nutritious food for urban dwellers.

Typical questions in this field are:

  • Which are suitable governance mechanisms to ensure access to healthy, appropriate and nutritious food in cities of the Global North?
  • Which measures are needed to alleviate food poverty (the inability to access an appropriate, nutritious and healthy diet)?
  • What is the role of self-governed actors (urban gardens, food coops…) in the urban food system and how are they related to the city?
  • How can self-governed actors in the urban food system help to empower (poor) residents?

Stages of Life Course (childhood, youth, ageing)

In 21st century social sciences considers the classical stages of life course of childhood-youth-working age-ageing as obsolete due to a number of social changes and social differentiations. Stages of life course are thus understood as ideal types marked by cuts in individual life courses. Homogeneous, universal concepts of childhood, youth or ageing are absent, as biographies and stages of life course increasingly vary within each age group. Spatial patterns and spatial distribution of age groups are fluid and differ over time. Besides economic reasons and individual preferences, specific urban and infrastructural contexts show diverging suitability for different types of households and  different types of family structures (such as young families, senior couples, singles, widowers etc.). Hence, spatial structures and processes in combination with geographical determinants play a decisive role for stages of life and biographical micro-processes.

Typical questions in this field are:

  • To what extent do planning and government take note of stages of life course?
  • How do children/youth/seniors appropriate spaces and how are these places perceived?
  • Which features determine differences in appropriation and perception of space between age groups?
  • How do children/youth/seniors experience their daily paths in the city and which conditions have to be taken into account?
  • How can specific groups participate in planning and governance processes?
  • What is the relation between residential locations and life events (eg. Retirement) of specific age groups?

Segregation, Gentrification

Segregation means an unequal distribution of social groups in space. This occurs whenever there are social and spatial inequalities and when via market processes and/or allocation procedures of the public administration or the housing market unilateral concentrations are created or facilitated.

Since comprehensive statistics are necessary for measurement, the segregation data is based on the information on the residential locations, in particular the notify address. This is also referred to as “residential segregation”. In science, there are two very different approaches: measurement over different indices of segregation produces a measure of the sum of the deviation of individual subareas from the total average. This value, which is standardized on a scale between 0 and 100, is generally interpreted as a measure of the different social cohesion of a particular area, but this is questionable because the extent of social and cultural distance and the specific treatment of the respective social groups are not taken into account.

 A second approach is focused on areas with a high concentration of individual social groups, in general well-off and middle-sized groups seem to be less interesting for social science and spatial planning than social “problem groups” (poverty, migrant groups, but also high concentrations of older people).

“Gentrification” is a special form of residential segregation, in which, in addition to income and wealth, social milieus and lifestyles play a decisive role. The term is also politically charged because, according to a widespread understanding, this also means the repression of capital-weak social groups as well as the loss of low-cost housing through “luxury modernization” and / or the transformation of tenancy into owner-occupied apartments.

Typical questions in this field are:

  • How meaningful is the concept of measured segregation (as a mean value, without any indication of the distribution) in regard to the information gain on social cohesion?
  • In city development and housing allocation, for a long time attention was paid to create “mixed” neighborhoods, assuming that the integration of socially “problematic” groups would be more successful and that an “integrated society” would result. Under what conditions are these assumptions correct?
  • In neighborhoods with a high concentration of “social problem groups”, one of the measures currently used is neighborhood management. How helpful is statistical information about the composition of the population of a district for this approach
  • Gentrification is closely linked to the economic and cultural revaluation of former workers’ quarters. How can an intervention be made in the state of construction in such a way that repressions are largely absent?
  • The view of a city administration on the phenomenon of gentrification can be very different: from the displacement of low income groups, loss of low-cost housing and the simultaneous need of supply of the displaced households elsewhere to upgrading mostly centrally located residential and mixed areas with a large share of private investment, creating ‘hipper’ quarters to attact new service providers and tourism. Which position has spatial planning between these varying viewpoints?

Migration and Integration

The term Migration describes every of permanent “relocation”. Depending  on the source and destination, intra- and inter-territorial moves are differentiated, with the (non-) crossing of administrative boundaries (the city, the political district, the state, the national state, the EU) being relevant. For spatial and transport planning, cross-border moves are particularly relevant (from city to city, from the countryside to the city – urbanisation, or from the urban center into the surrounding – suburbanization). The analysis of migration is carried out on the one hand by means of macro theories (via usually well-recorded statistically migratory streams) and on the other hand by means of micro-theories (the motivation to move and the mental processing of that process), in that case without any statistical data. There is also a distinction between “voluntary” and “involuntary” migration, although this concept is usually more ideal-typical, because push and pull factors always mix.

At the moment, international migrations are of particular importance due to the large number of migrating people and difficult and complex integration requirements, which are all the tougher, the greater differences between the allochthones (immigrants) and the autochthonous (locals), the “cultural distance” (language, religion, lifestyle, Values, skin color) can be perceived and evaluated. In international migration, the status of the immigrants is decisive for the duration of the stay, the possibility of employment and the extent of participation in the welfare state in the destination country.

The everyday term “integration” is normatively occupied, because it is connected with expectations on which groups should adapt and in which respects. The integration of individual people or certain (mostly nationally defined) social groups depends on the integration into the administrative system (residence status, access to the housing and labor market as well as education and health systems) and on the other hand by social integration (acknowledgement on an residential level, within organizations such as political parties, employers, educational institutions, social infrastructure, and other associations) and individual integration (the willingness to learn language, habits, but also the recognition of certain ways of life).

Migratory statistics provide information on the different socio-demographic categories (age, gender, nationality, household type), on the level of certain administrative spatial units. This means that migratory flows can be quantified to a certain extent. How can we relate these findings to the aspects of micro-sociology?

  • Spatial planning, in particular urban renewal and neighborhood management, is currently seen as highly important for the integration of different immigrants. In what way does the effectiveness of this social integration depend on the conditions of system integration and the different willingness to integrate individually?
  • Which aspects of integration benefit by urban renewal and neighborhood management, which do not?
  • In which extend and for which individuals can there be a “right to non-integration”?

Gender and Intersectionality

Gender and intersectionality related approaches towards spatial inequality focus on the analysis of discriminatory attributions and structures of gender related and socio-cultural personality traits (such as age, class, income, ethnicity/ nationality etc.). These translate into a research strategy triangulating micro- and macro-analytical research methods to analyze effects on spatial appropriation and use, as well as on the (re)structuring of spatial planning related actions.

Typical questions in this field are:

  • To what extent are patterns of spatial appropriation and use dependent on gender, social and functional structures?
  • Which forms of appropriation of space and use of space exist beyond normative-existentialist connotations and assumptions?
  • How is space produced in planning related actions? Which imaginaries of society form the basis?
  • Which and how much space is allocated to whom? How to renegotiate and restructure hierarchical organizations of space?