A visit to Rotterdam: integration, segregation and assimilation

By Elsie Whittington

In the last two years Sussex’s Education and Social work department have played host to two groups of social pedagogue students from Rotterdam.  Russell Whiting and Janet Boddy have been the key contacts and involved the students in classes, taken them on visits to social work placements and provided the students with a flavor of Brighton. This week my self and Russell have traveled over to Rotterdam, with 6 students from the BA in Childhood and Youth and the BA in Social work and tha MA in Childhood and Youth, to enjoy part two of this exchange.  I hope that the next few posts will be contributed to by these students – reflecting on what they have learnt about pedagogic practice in Rotterdam, and our experiences of the exchange, visiting work places and traveling around the city. Eline Bouwman who teaches on the social pedagogy course at the university of applied sciences in Rotterdam has created a programme for us that will give us a good idea of who social pedagogy is taught and practiced in the Netherlands and especially how it fits within the city. For now I will reflect on our first day.

For those of you who don’t know about social pedagogy it the theory (and practice) about the education and upbringing of children.  As Janet has taught us in the BACY module on European Perspectives: Social Pedagogy and Work with Children and Young People (which I was lucky enough to sit in on this year), Social pedagogy is ‘education in the broadest sense’.  It is about the up bringing of the child as the responsibility of a whole community not just of the parents and immediate family.


Social pedagogues work with children and young people from a starting point  of their ‘life world orientation’.  Which essentially means starting where the child is at and understanding their behavior, difficulties and desires from their experienced and background, not in comparison to the other young people you might be working with.  This is something we saw and experienced when we visited a number of work sites (but we’ll talk about that in another blog).

We started our day on Tuesday by discussing the chapter social change in America from ‘Bowling alone’ by Putnam.   We had been sent this chapter in advance so that we could come prepared to the seminar on ‘Growing up in Rotterdam’  where the 1st year BA social pedagogy students would be presenting their learning and experiences of spending time in different districts in Rotterdam with reference to ‘bridging’ and ‘bonding’ and also to lifestyle colors – which I will come to later.

We arrived at the class, did some introductions and then listened to the presentations about different areas of the city.  It was interesting to hear about the different type of communities, the activities and provision that was available in different areas. After each presentation there was time for questions and considered how some of the things that they were talking about would be approached very differently in the UK.

The students considered how the communities were set up, whether there we opportunities for bridging and bonding, how safe people felt in their neighborhoods and also talked very openly, and freely about community ‘integration’ ‘assimilation’ and ‘segregation’ –  In the UK we don’t formally talk about ‘assimilation’ and if and when it is spoken about in seminars the discussion is often accompanied with a a sense of tension and embarrassment – with people worrying  about what words to use and not wanting to ’cause offence’.  We wondered if the British value of ‘avoiding embarrassment’ or ‘getting along’ (which Russell thinks is is an important one), means that we do not have some of the conversations that were taking place in this pedagogy class.  We discussed this further over lunch and a few of us thought that perhaps the act of avoiding embarrassment means that we sometime stagnate and do not have the awkward conversations that we need to move forward and learn.  We talked a lot about ‘multi culturalism’ and the arguments that suggest we are not in fact ‘beyond multiculturalism’ 


‘The old west’ district

The other thing that stood out for us was the ‘lifestyle colours’ that the student assigned to their neighborhood.  Some communities were described as red, others blue, others red with a bit of yellow.  What did this mean!? and what was it’s significance?

All of us were so intrigued by this classification system that we asked question after question about it and in the end Eline, asked her colleague Marlee to explain it to us properly later in the day- we love a good classification system.

So the way the students were deciding what colour each district might fall under was based on the idea that certain people choose to live in certain areas because the spaces and people align with their lifestyle and what they want from a ‘community’. In particular the system that they pull from for this course looks at everything through the eyes of the child and the parents.  Considering public spaces, the types of houses and space around them, lifestyle, public provison, such as schools and libraries, ways of moving around/road safety.

There are four colors – Red, Yellow, Blue and Green, which it turns our were developed by city planners and architects rather than social scientists, which was good to know as the idea of ‘lifestyle choice’ seemed somewhat reductionist and also, as you will see and as we discussed in the group, non of the colours reflect ‘poverty’, lack of ‘choice’ or change.


So if you are in a red area; you like to live close to the city center, you might be individualist, extrovert and value freedom and ease of access.  You want to live in a busy place, and these people are often highly educated and progressive.  The Children tend to be independent and have city based interests such as skating, street dance, and they use the neighborhood as there playground rather than needing specific and structured spaces such as play parks.  There is less contact with neighbors here and people live in smaller houses and flats and value privacy.

Blue:  Like to live in areas with space, large houses and lots of green space.  These people have ambition, are career driven and status is important.  They need a clear separation between work and home.  They want to learn and develop and they pass this desire for learning on to their children.  They value privacy more than public space – while they want to see green, they do not want to use it communally.  They are likely to commute a lot, moving between home and good schools, provision and work areas.

Yellow:  These areas tend to have been built more recently, they are spacious with green areas – but not as much as the blue.  They are group oriented, tend to be middle class, and like to get to know the neighbors.  These people look through the eyes of the child and think about where they are living in terms of ‘will this place be good for my child, will they have others to meet and play with’?.  The houses are nice, there are some communal spaces where many group activities and events take place.  There is a lot of local provision which focuses on family and social needs.

And Finally the Green:  These people want the cosy closeness of a village but in the city. They have quite small social networks but a very close to them.  They want security and privacy and their home and community is the main focus of their lives.  In these ares there are lots of strict rules about how to be in that space, such as ‘no noise after 10’ ‘pick up your litter’  ‘in this street we greet everyone’.  The children should be able to play outdoors safely in communal and central spaces – a little like a village green, where they can be seen and safe.


In spite of some of the issues with these classification systems it offers a simple way of considering how space and place affect children’s upbringing and wellbeing. The students giving presentations were able to articulate how where you live defines what you can and cant do, and how outsiders (such as social pedagogues/social workers) may be perceived and what expectations they may have to fit to be productive in the neighborhood.  We can consider the environment as a 3rd, another actor in the upbringing of a child and community.


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