Differences and boundaries in the process of creating neighbourhood communities in large cities. A socio-spatial study

This project has received funding from the National Centre of Science

Principal Investigator: dr hab. Marta Smagacz-Poziemska
Team members: prof. Andrzej Bukowski, prof. Marcjanna Nóżka, dr Karol Kurnicki, Natalia Martini, prof. Krzysztof Bierwiaczonek (UŚ)
Project duration: 2015-2019

The neighbourhood is one of the most important environments of every person’s everyday life. The dynamic socio-demographic, cultural, economic and political changes of recent years – including increasing mobility, individualisation of lifestyles and development of technologies – have had an impact on the ways in which people communicate, work, and rest, as well as changing the operation of neighbourhoods, especially in large cities. As a result, new theoretical approaches to studying neighbourhoods are required. The conceptions utilised in the twentieth century viewed them as distinct communities of people connected by the relations resulting from spatial contacts and shared interests, as well as the sense of being neighbours (and what is “outside the neighbourhood”). This project proposes a new approach.

Inspired by Fredrik Barth’s relational concept of ethnic boundaries and differences, and making use of Theodore R. Schatzki’s theory of social practices, we worked on the premise that contemporary neighbourhoods are organised differently: on the basis of everyday practices which do not (or need not) form a stable, cohesive socio-spatial order. The object of the project was to identify the (new) rules by which neighbourhood communities are structured and the mechanisms generating differences and social boundaries.

In the course of the empirical research conducted in three cities, in each case in two estates (old- and new-type) we made observations of estate life as well as carrying out 150 interviews with residents and social experts. We tested which social practices are key to the formation of a territorial community. The research provided us with extensive material confirming and clarifying our initial assumptions.

1) Boundaries (material and non-material) do not express any profound and permanent differences and social divisions, as they are produced situationally and relationally. In other words, “being a resident of a specific estate” or “being a neighbour” is not an objective and immanent characteristic of a given person allowing him/her to be included in the category “neighbours” and differentiated from “non-neighbours”. On the contrary, “being a resident of an estate” and “being a neighbour” are a variable and situational characteristic connected to very specific, everyday actions and activities from the level of daily life.

2) Socio-spatial practices such as taking dogs out, spending time with children, keeping the stairwell and the area around the block clean, supervision and provision of various services are organised by estate communities on a varied, often overlapping scale (stairwell, block, estate).

3) Practices associated with respecting and enforcing the right to park in the vicinity of a block have a stronger effect on neighbourly relations than other practices, and materialise boundaries more often than other practices (barriers, fences, no-parking signs, CCTV).

4) Practices associated with bringing up young children on the estate operate in an organisational and integrative way, but almost exclusively in a community of people with children. As the children grow up, practitioners (participants of practices) occasionally transform their activity into new collective neighbourhood practices (e.g. organising neighbourhood events).

5) On all estates, albeit in various forms and degrees of intensity, manifestations of practices of care (for others, the neighbourhood) were observed. The interviews showed that these practices originated before 1989 and are a relatively unreflective, “self-evident” practice of caring for and helping people who are weaker in a given moment (e.g. sick or elderly people, children, single parents).

The results of the research provide theoretical-methodological models in the field of social practices theory and urban sociology, urban studies and studies of local communities. The conclusions and recommendations concerning the disintegrative and integrative effects of specific social practices can be utilised in creating and improving local policies and spatial planning.


• Bierwiaczonek, Krzysztof (2018), "Mikropolis w perspektywie badań nad tożsamością przestrzenną i sąsiedztwem", Miscellanea Anthropologica et Sociologica 19, no. 1: 269-286 (PUBLIKACJA).

• Bukowski, Andrzej, Marcjanna Nóżka, Marta Smagacz-Poziemska (2018). "How Do Parking Practices Structure Urban Territorial Communities?", Urban Development Issues 59: 5–16. doi:10.2478/udi-2018-0024.

• Bukowski, Andrzej, Marcjanna Nóżka, Marta Smagacz-Poziemska, Karol Kurnicki (2018) "Parkowanie i troska: teoria praktyki w badaniach nad osiedlami wielkomiejskimi", Przegląd Socjologiczny 67, no. 1: 139–164. doi:10.26485/PS/2018/67.1/7.

• Nóżka, Marcjanna (2017), "Wyzwania dla srebrnej pracy socjalnej w społeczności lokalnej", Zeszyty Pracy Socjalnej, nr 4: 291-310. (doi: 10.4467/24496138ZPS.17.018.8013)

• Nóżka, Marcjanna, Marta Smagacz-Poziemska (2018). "Różnice i granice z perspektywy relacyjnej koncepcji kultury i teorii praktyk społecznych: przypadek wielkomiejskiego osiedla", Kultura i Społeczeństwo no. 3: 147–166

• Nóżka, Marcjanna (2019), "Dzieci i młodzież w opiniach i praktykach seniorów. Przyczynek do rewizji międzypokoleniowych relacji", w: "Współczesny świat dziecka. Media i konsumpcja", red. Małgorzata Bogunia-Borowska, Kraków: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego.

• Nóżka, Marcjanna (2019),"Codzienna partycypacja na przykładzie gospodarowania przestrzenią osiedlową”, Trzeci Sektor – tekst przyjęty do druku.

• Nóżka, Marcjanna (2019), "Zaradność społeczna w praktykach dozorowania przestrzeni blokowej i osiedlowej" – tekst przyjęty do druku w monografii wieloautorskiej.

• Smagacz-Poziemska, Marta, Andrzej Bukowski, Karol Kurnicki (2018) "'Wspólnota Parkingowania’: praktyki parkowania na osiedlach wielkomiejskich i ich strukturalne konsekwencje", Studia Socjologiczne no. 1 (228): 117–142. (doi:10.24425/119089).

• Smagacz-Poziemska, Marta, Marcjanna Nóżka (2018). "Architects and Designers Meet Sociologists to Design Urban Space: Reflection on the (im)possible Crossing of Disciplinary Borders", Societas / Communitas no. 1–1 (25–1): 135–149.

• Smagacz-Poziemska, Marta (2018)."Praktyki życia codziennego w wielkomiejskim osiedlu: ku nowym formom życia wspólnotowego?" Miscellanea Anthropologica et Sociologica 19, no. 1: 230–251 (PUBLIKACJA)

• Smagacz-Poziemska, Marta (2017) "Badania nad społecznościami lokalnymi i sąsiedztwami w mieście: perspektywa socjologiczna", w: Miejskie Środowisko Mieszkaniowe, red. Grażyna Schneider-Skalska i Elżbieta Kusińska, 139–155. Kraków: Wydawnictwo Politechniki Krakowskiej.