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2013. Vol.3, No.4, 298-303
Published Online October 2013 in SciRes (http://www.scirp.org/journal/sm) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/sm.2013.34040
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Socio-Spatial Inequality and Violence
Cecilia Hita Alonso, Leticia Sánchez Hita
The Sociology Departme nt , U niv ersity of Granada, Granada, Spain
Received June 28th, 2013; revised August 11th, 2013; accepted August 23rd, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Cecilia Hita Alonso, Leticia Sánchez Hita. This is an open access article distributed under the
Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any
medium, provided the original work is pr operly cited.
Since the 70s, neo-liberalism has lead to increased social segregation and the segmentation of land ac-
cording to a population’s social-economic status and the transformation of the labour market. That is to
say, we are experiencing a process of social-spatial segregation which can be defined as the agglomera-
tion of families with the same social condition in separate spaces. Segregation can depend on ethnicity,
migration background or socio-economic situation, among other conditions and it impairs the mechanisms
of social cohesion as it generates social differentiation which in turn breeds tension and fear. This mecha-
nism is leading to the appearance of new areas such as gated communities, gentrification, hyper-degraded
areas etc., which are as much a result of the heavy spatial concentration of the elite as of the agglomera-
tion of the poor. This continues to happen, even with the knowledge that in the long-term, a non-segre-
gated, inclusive space is one of several necessary measures in reducing violence and other dangerous be-
haviours, in the same way as a developed economy which fosters a stable and balanced job market. This
article analyses the mechanisms which produce these processes.
Keywords: Socio-Spatial Segregation; Neo-Liberalism; Violence
According to various studies, an increase in conflict and its
most extreme manifestation—violence, both physical and real
as well as symbolic or structural—has been detected in current
societies. Furthermore, for the majority of individuals, this in-
crease is due to certain social pathologies stemming from edu-
cational, instructive and family-related deficiencies; from the
absence or change in the transmission of certain values. All of
this has brought about the acceptance of violence as almost an
innate part of “human nature”, and as such, not eliminable in its
Without discussing if it has increased or not in our world
(given that in the last instance, it would depend on the fact that
what define s it as such is a determi ned soci ety, immersed in the
historical-social contextualisation of the concept), what is cer-
tain is that individualised behaviours are rarely related to social
macro-structures, with the relationship between the two being
avoided in analysis, separating them into two social dimen-
This article aims to establish this evaded relationship bet ween
current macro-structural tendencies and individual behaviours
and vice versa, like a circular mechanism, structuring and struc-
tured, which is very evidently manifesting itself with the ap-
pearance of excluding (for specific population groups) and ex-
cluded (for other populations) spaces, which are bringing about
a fractured, segmented and polarised social-spatial structure.
These changes are a recipe for individual and collective vio-
lence, and lead us to question political attempts at solutions
(whether legal, political, educative or ethical-moral) to decrease
or control said violence.
A Brief Exploration of the Concept of Violence
in Today’s Society
Carrying out analyses and interpretations of conflict and vio-
lence and their relationships with processes of domination and
social change plays a particularly important role in sociological
theory; that is to say, the importance which domination (in its
various forms) holds when these issues (conflict and violence)
Violence in Classical Social Theory
Given that Sociology emerges alongside modern society, we
can establish some kind of relationship between modernity its elf
and the treatment of conflict and violence in scientific, medical
and social sense, alway s with science as its base. From a scien-
tific point of view, the supposed irrational or “animal” side to
man would partly be its origin going through to the excess of
rationality causing the great horrors of the 20th century. This
has been demonstrated by Weber (1993) in his study of the
State as an institution which holds the monopoly of the poten-
tial or actual use of violence. Furthermore, Bauman (2010) also
agrees, as shown through the relationship he establishes be-
tween modernity and the holocaust. From a medical perspective,
personality disorders or certain anatomical characteristics could
help to identify those individuals more inclined to commit
crimes or cause conflict. (Lombroso, 1976). From a social point
of view, the social causes of violence would be studied and
determined—marginalization, a lack of socialization, work-re-
1However, as Sennett (2003: p. 59) points out, “It may seem that all these
issues are more subjective questions (...), but social forces shape these per-
sonal experie n c e s i n t he s a m e wa y t h at th ey s h ap e mor e ob j ec tiv e conditions” .
C. H. ALONSO, L. S. HITA
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 299
lated exploitation, arbitrariness in the use of power etc. What-
ever the point of view, the interest would be the same—to ac-
quire knowledge about the mechanisms which provoke vio-
lence, thus allowing us to stop it forever, but always within the
prevailing order, the logic of the capitalist system and the le-
gitimising, powerful discourse of those dominant.
Violence in Contemporary Social T h eory
The crisis of modernity and the institutions which support it
call into question the liberating impulse of rationality and the
criteria of control and order that derive from it, as well as the
mechanisms of analysis and intervention related to social im-
balances. This does not mean declining to clarify the issue or
attempting to avoid it, but instead, trying a change of perspec-
tive or approaching the issue from a different angle.
This new approach is due, amongst other factors, to the pres-
ence of mass media, the processes of cultural diffusion and the
recognition of human right s in a great nu mber of countrie s w h i ch
have caused a social acknowledgement of the violence. Thus,
the perception and generalisation of this issue has increased
exponentially in the collective imaginary of our world. The
appropriation of practices, expressions and social behaviours
considered customary in previous societies have been emphati-
cally and categorically reconfiguring themselves and branding
themselves as violent.
For example, is smacking a child a way to teach them man-
ners or is it a display of violence? Is the psychological, physical
and economical submission of women in relation to men vio-
lence against women or a product of their “natural” inferiority?
Are labour strikes a right of the workers or are they actions
against the established order? These questions go some way
towards displaying the evolution and the changes that are brought
about from one era to the next—from an act of violence to a
clearly recognised right; from a cultural standard or accepted
custom to violence.
However, in a privatised and individualised world, the meth-
ods used to reduce or eradicate conflict are more particular and
specific to the individual and his/her circumstances: mediation,
psychological treatment or rehabilitation programmes. As a con-
sequence, the permanence of structural violence, which is exer-
cised by and wit hi n the syste m, g oes unad dre sse d. Ha vi ng rea ched
this point, it is important to offer a suitable definition of vio-
lence within our social-historical context, distinguishin g betwe en
certain terms which can be confusing in social discourse.
Aggressiveness and violence are not the same thing. The first
is an instinct found in human beings (although not exclusively)
which can act as a defence and protection mechanism for both
the individual and the species; as such, it is natural. The latter,
however, is social. It is learnt, channelled, strengthened or weak-
ened according to culture and time period. It is directly related
to processes of socialisation, integration and social adaptation.
It does not exist in isolation but is relative and found within a
social context; it is a singular phenomenon but manifests itself
in many different ways2.
It emerges when personal achievements are much lower than
the individuals’ real potentialities due to reasons beyond their
control, including the repressive, oppressive, limiting or exclud-
ing power of “social factors”. As such, violence is woven into
the culture and the practice of this violence is aimed at shaping
the control and power over of individuals or groups by others.
Echoing Galtung, for Habermas, this implies any mechanism
of imposition over people or groups which make emancipation
in the Kantian sense impossible; that is to say, the free choice
of the individual. This means that our current definition is in-
credibly broad and detailed. To a large extent, we know when it
is exercised over us, whether institutional, political, economical
or due to age, gender, religion, ethnicity etc.
The Relationship between the Macro-Structural
Dimension and Daily Life in Terms of Area
The changes made to the system of maximising the benefits
of capitalism—defined as flexible, post-Fordist, global, infor-
mational or cognitive (Castell, 1999; Harvey, 2000; Giddens,
1990; Beck, 2000)—in line with postmodern cultural norms,
“such as cultural logic of a late capitalism” (Jameson, 2001)
and a legitimising neo-liberal discourse, are strengthening a
movement of territorial modification which implies its own
socio-spatial reconfiguration. Within this modification, we can
also find a change of space-perception norms, creating collec-
tive imaginaries and with them, social and cultural practices.
We are experiencing a deconstructing-reconstructing of space-
territory, insofar as it is linked to the new model of produc-
tion-circulation-consumption in a social context arranged around
the general dimension of power of capital and with its effi-
ciency and profitability in the territorial organisation, thus gen-
erating a strong imbalance between public and private, a dialec-
tic process in which underlies the beginning of diffused and
extended rivalry and legitimacy from micro to macro and vice
versa (Workers, cities and regions: competent or incompetent).
Thus, new strategic spaces emerge and/or an abandonment or
marginalisation of others occurs; we see unstable and volatile
scenarios and territories, such as work or identity (Bauman,
2003). As such, area and changing situations complicate social
and territorial organisation, governance, planning and manage-
The economic system has injected a worldview into fields
and establishments in order to monitor daily life, to paint our
understanding of the world on our land and to stratify popula-
tions which move around within cities with very defined socio-
economic parameters, according to power gained by the fami-
lies living there. As such, an omnipresent macro-structure takes
control, ejecting or inviting individuals and families to conquer
marginalised or forgotten spaces or areas hailed as the best and
most expensive to live in, with corresponding security, order
and care. In other words, the axis which organises land and
distributes different areas according to power gained, is the
difference between the actual price and that which is generated
by the collective imaginary, calmed by the governing order in
cities and areas where it isn’t lived or exchanged; it just is.
Where there are no social relationships or commercial excha nge s,
we only find a way of existing in the world, a habitus (Bourdieu,
1994), a life dedicated to forming links with a bourgeois and
powerful class; the dominant class.
Within these mechanisms of escape and attraction of the
population with relation to social class is hidden the segregation
and the rupturing of a previously bonded society, or at least,
one which was more participative in communal life and local
daily happenings. This has given way to distrust, insecurity,
fear and a lack of empathy which establishments have consid-
2According to Galtung, “It is an act which consequently leads to the satis-
faction of affective, physical and psychological necessities of the individual
met due t o another or other individuals”.
C. H. ALONSO, L. S. HITA
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
ered necessary for the maintenance of the status quo and to
legitimize security forces and armies. In reality, the feeling of
general insecurity is more a climax created by the authorities in
certain populations than a problem in itself. Thus, on the one
hand the demand of the powerful classes to create separate,
closed area for recreation and living is met, forming gated com-
munities; on the other hand, the marginalization of the excluded
community is maintained, with the problem continuing due to
the two situations feeding off each other.
That is to say, the urban policies and the management of land,
monitored by politicians with the decision-making powers,
always favour the upper classes, even going beyond the demand,
thus negatively affecting marginalised neighbourhoods, estab-
lishing an even greater difference between the populations and
without any chance of climbing the social ladder. However,
how is this process of social segregation brought about?
The current organization of productive processes on a global
level is defined by two fundamental cores: the first, its uniform
and homogenous character throughout virtually the whole p l an e t ,
under the proposals of the neo-liberal paradigm. The second,
the reorganization of territory (which in turn means a socio-
spatial reorganization) which simultaneously causes and neces-
sitates the whole process3.
This was made evident during the seventies and the eighties
with the consequent introduction of transversal processes such
as the internationalisation of movements of capital, services,
businesses, work and workers on a global scale. In the field we
are dealing with, the relocation of businesses, subcontractors
and the emergence of “maquila” or free zones, that is to say
those areas which are subject to special by-laws related to work,
syndication, taxes etc. should be highlighted. Moreover, the
new organisation opts fundamentally for product diversification,
flexible technology, qualified workers alongside those with h ar dl y
any qualifications; individualised work contracts; functional, tem-
poral, wage-related and territorial mobility for workers; irregu-
lar, part-time, temporary and fragmented work schedules.
This entire process has relied on a tool as indispensable as it
is inseparable in the meeting of objectives—the technological
revolution of the seventies which now allows for rapid and easy
exchanges of information, management, adaptation and com-
munication in all current-day productive processes.
The consequence of all this is that both the relationship of the
worker with his/her work and the relationships between work-
ers themselves have undergone a significant change, marked by
uncertainty, uprooting and the impossibility of a social and life
plan, essential for generating identity, security and well-being
in individuals Sennett (2010). It is marked by competitiveness,
individualism and a lack of solidarity (Bauman, 2010; Beck,
2010; Sassen, 1991).
The most evident manifestation of this change is the progres-
sive increase in social differentiation in various collectives, the
social-spatial fragmentation and even, for many authors, the
imminent danger of an increase in social polarisation; a world
travelling at different speeds, splitting up into smaller and smaller
pieces, bringing with it situations of conflict or violence.
This whole productive transformation cannot occur without
changes being made to the space, from both a morphological
and a social point of view. Below, we discuss how the space is
changing and with what results.
The New Space
According to the vast majority of researchers in the socio-
spatial field, (Harvey, 2010; Castells, 1999; Sassen, 1991 ; Jameson,
2001; Donzelot, 1999; Ascher, 2004; Davis, 2007), the reor-
ganisation of productive processes goes hand in hand with the
emergence of new spatial forms, in the same way that Fordist
models, now virtually obsolete, generated a metropolitan model:
central municipality and municipalities dependent on a verti-
cally-organised hierarchy. The new spatial model does not ada pt
so much to a standard “type” but to a diversification, fragmen-
tation and spatial differentiation correspon ding to different s oci al
collectives. As such, what is truly interesting is the discovery of
an “archipelagisation” of space to, on the one hand, embrace,
and on the other, to separate various collectives according to
socio-economic s t atus, ethnicity, cultural norms etc.
Therefore, from a macro perspective, and to accommodate
the management of global trade patterns, the global city is de-
fined. (Sassen, 1991), which on the one hand amasses a large
amount of “power”, and on the other, has a strong potential for
conflict, given that a large number of highly-qualified workers
(necessary for management-based tasks and the running of terti-
ary activities) builds up along with a large number of workers
with hardly any qualifications (necessary for “low-level knowl-
edge” tasks). Thus is fed a large migrant collective with mini-
mal levels of protection; they are likely to be exploited and
furthermore, have very little possibility of climbing the social
ladder. For this reason, to a large extent, “urban micro-strug-
gles” play a prominent role, something we have been witness to
over the past few decades (Los Angeles, in France—which
started with Banlieue—in England etc.). Together with this
collective, young people, those who have been marginalised or
cast out, feed this potential for conflict even more, given that
with conditions in the current job market and the failure of the
state to act as a balancing force, their future suggests uncer-
tainty and a lack of hope4.
Together with this dynamic, neo-liberal policies aim to im-
prove conditions in order to reinforce private capital, the main
focus in urban transformations. In turn, this leads to greater
freedom for businesses and families in terms of realising loca-
tional preferences, making their strategies, decisions, and ac-
tions play an even more important role in the population’s im-
age, morphology and operational changes. This aids metropo-
listan expansion and the consolidation of a diversified social
space, with specific skill levels5.
The following diagram displays a simplified idea of the rela-
3As Harvey shows us, “Capitalism constructs and reconstructs a geography
according to its own image. It creates a specific geographic landscape, a
space which is the product of transport and connections, of infrastructure
and territorial organizations which facilitate the accumulation of capital
dur ing a period of its history which has to be broken down and r econ stru cte d
in order to pave the way f or more amassing at a later stage. As such , if the
word ‘globalisation’ means something concerning our recent geographic
history, it is very probable that it is a new stage of this very process which
underlies the capitalist production of the space” (2000: p. 72).
4In the wor ds of Perulli: “ Over these years, si gnificant social mo difications
have expanded the field in a ‘downwards’ manner. More selective individual
strategies with regard to work and dwelling, more freedom in terms o
labour supply and a greater diversification of work time-spaces have had
effects on many layers of the urban population in the last few years. This
has caused social erosions—working class and manufacturing employees—
where previously in this area, behaviours were more stable and predictable.
The ‘upward’fragmentation (new tertiaries) and the downward (infraclass)
of the metropolitan job market has subsequently caused the connective
urban tissue to fray” (1995: p. 47).
C. H. ALONSO, L. S. HITA
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 301
tionships we have established (Figure 1).
Using these axes, we can place both the causes and conse-
quences of violence. In reality, we have argued that the causa-
tion related to the city and violence is far from being a one-
sided relationship, and as such we cannot discuss any single,
one causal origin. On the contrary, it is a process which, being
social in its nature, comes about due to various phenomena and
the results of these developments produce either more conflict
within a population or, with luck, lessen it. In other words, the
structural and economic violence found in the domination and
exploitation of late capitalism generates violence within a terri-
tory; land which is organised at the mercy of this capitalism and
which feeds off the dialectic process, nourished by individual-
ism and social segregation.
The different types of spaces which are products of this dy-
namic are reflected in the table below (See Table 1).
All of these spaces become “stagnant compartments”, ex-
cluding and excluded, with various levels of security and with a
common denominator—a growing fear, a permanent state of
alert when faced with other groups not acknowledged as their
own, whether socially or spatially6.
As such, the processes by which socio-territorial segregation
is produced have two aspects which are worth considering.
Firstly, the downgraded space, inhabited by those who have
been excluded, is in a state of permanent closure, and generates
a lack of mobility, of which the inhabitants are clearly aware of,
thus producing an identity differentiating them from the upper
classes, which is made evident in the behaviour of the popula-
tion living in these disadvantaged zones. This creates an in-
timidation and a lack of apathy for and within their land, with
no other way out but for conflict.
Secondly, the fragmentation of a city which is determined by
inequality whilst simultaneously feeding it, creates a real and
symbolic border within itself, which on the one hand protects
and on the other, excludes. It creates an additional “other” out
of the municipalities which are officially defined and treats this
other as a “foreigner”. The movement of foreigners, who are
simply individuals with a different acquired level and conse-
quently belonging to a different social class, provokes, intimi-
dates, invades and incites those living in that area, and only
turns their entrance into a potential threat to communal life and
social relationships. It is essential to introduce neo-liberal mecha-
nisms because as well as organizing the territory and segregat-
ing it, they also privatise the use of urban land and define areas
as temporary rather than establishing zones for exchange and
collectivisation. This individualisation is separating civilians
from others and symbolically pressuring them to acquire pro-
tection and security against “the foreigner”. Thus, the feeling of
insecurity invokes and produces fear in any street scene; a spi-
ral response to a fictitious insecurity is produced, and ends up
turning into real violence.
Source: Own work. Axes involved in the rupturing of social tissue (related to the increase in the percep-
tion and manifestations of violence).
Territorial and process economic relationships.
Table types of spaces.
profile Level of socio-spatial
mobility Level of
education Level of the
notion of security True
Elite neighbourhoods Central spaces of metropolitan areasHigh Very high High High Low
Peripheral neighbourhoods Peripheral z on es of cities or central,
degraded neighbour h oods Low Low Low Low High
Gated communit i es Peripheral zones, away fro m t h e cityVery high Very high Very high Very high No n - existent
Hyper-degraded areas Alongside developing cities in
under-developed countries Very low Non-existent None N/A No data
Source: Own work.
5The neo-liberal city is the image of globalisation, of which it is both the privileged base and the final outcome. After extreme polarisation, it has been repro-
duced on its own scale, projected and imprinted on the space, the increasing imbalances and contradictions bred by 250 years of liberal reforms and cut-throat
competition. All around us, the tendency for a growing number of people to live informally and in unstable conditions, has increased and wors ened (Delco urt,
2008: p. 31).
6In relation to this, Davis states, “my re-reading of the u rban structure map (...) maintain s ecological factors such as income, land value, class and race but adds
in a new a nd decisive f actor: fear ” (2001: p. 7).
C. H. ALONSO, L. S. HITA
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Here we should explain how the majority of political, and
consequently urban, decisions succumb to our economic model;
a model which privatizes space, distributes land unequally and
functionally, and is deeply affected by work relationships. Fur-
thermore, it is the instigator of a different style of daily life
depending on the purchasing power and social strata of the
specific neighbourhood population. As such, the probability of
conflict being produced varies depending on what the city and
each neighbourhood within it symbolizes for the inhabitants
and the others, for economic prospects and for work relation-
ships and it particularly depends on political will.
In this way, urban management and public policies are able
to respond to social demand and cohesion or to segregation,
which creates an ideal breeding ground for a complete lack of
understanding. The dependence on a strict nucleus makes the
remaining departments subrogated and dependent on a territory
in which a high concentration of businesses end up; a territory
which is capable of capturing the attention of urban politics and
the best aesthetics which increase land value and break up the
city even further. The result is clear—a poorly-lit neighbour-
hood, with no social or economic activity, distanced from the
centre, as such serving as a social landscape for wrong-doers
and thieves, continually feeding the problem, generating on the
one hand more violence, and on the other, a space for further
criminal activities. These places tend to be forgotten and aban-
doned by urban policies, which prefer to intervene in areas
which are already acknowledged as prosperous, where the poor
image of beggars or prostitutes is sidelined. We shouldn’t for-
get that criminality is a behaviour acquired in the processes of
socialisation and trade, in which roles are quickly and rashly
determined for those offenders in surrounding areas. We can
confirm that in the same way that an unbalanced territorial or-
ganisation generates violence, the different types of violence
reinforce a fragmented territory.
In the following conceptual model, we have attempted to es-
tablish these relationships, departing from the current economic
model in order to explore new territorial models as mutually-
feeding processes ( Figure 2).
Conceptual model of curren t ec onomic process.
C. H. ALONSO, L. S. HITA
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 303
The current territorial organisation and management, insepa-
rable from the organisation of productive processes and the job
market, amasses a series of “risk factors” for the emergence
and/or the strengthening of conflict as a doorway to violence.
As such, although social acknowledgment of violence has in-
creased, the necessary structural changes to control this de-
structive process have not been carried out. This does not mean,
per se, that spaces generate violence, but that specific social
conditions (cultural, economic, political and spatial) constitute
an excellent breeding ground for it. This entails a change in
social relationships, making them competitive, individualist,
suspicious etc., thus continuing the cycle.
On the other hand, every kind of violence is particularly evi-
dent in cities and adjoining spaces. These areas multiply its
effect due to the attention they bring and, subsequently, the
social repercussions are greater in highly populated areas.
At the same time, processes which legitimise and encourage
violence are having effects on managed territories, following
the principles of economic development, social isolation, un-
stable working conditions and the control of order and authority
by the governments and dominating forces.
If we concentrate more on violent outbreaks which have oc-
curred in urban spaces, many of which have spread to other
cities—France, England, Greece, Spain, Chile, the USA, etc.,
we can see the symptoms of the rejection of an economic, po-
litical, environmental, cultural and symbolic structural violence
which, unfortunately, are immersed in strong complimentary
Whatever the case, it is evident that acknowledging violence
does not necessarily lead to its elimination. In fact, it remains
extraordinarily alive. Maybe reporting of social macro-structural
tendencies is not strong enough. Indeed, if these social axes are
origin of conflict, it would mean a large-scale socio-economic
convulsion which a large part of the population is not willing to
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