Social cohesion: The missing link in overcoming violence and inequality?

Social cohesion: The missing link in overcoming violence and inequality? – Research

Duration: 01 Apr 2013 – 01 Dec 2015

Topics: Public spaces, Urban safety

Location: International, Western Cape


Funding sources: Safe and Inclusive Cities programme (IDRC, DfID)


Research focus

The aim of this study is to understand the importance of strong social cohesion in the cities of Cape Town and Rio de Janeiro, which suffer from high levels of inequality, poverty, and violence.

The challenge

Cape Town, South Africa, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, are characterized by high levels of poverty, inequality, and violence. In response, local governments and non-governmental organizations in both cities have tried to counteract these phenomena through a variety of strategies, programs, and projects. However, the lack of evidence of what works and what doesn’t has emerged as a clear obstacle to the effectiveness of such initiatives. This is particularly true for efforts to reduce different forms of violence.

This project will look at the role of social cohesion in the cycle of inequality, poverty, and violence, which – if weak – can be a driver as well as a consequence of urban violence. Social cohesion can act as one of a number of violence-prevention factors. However, theoretical and practical knowledge on the role of social cohesion and similar concepts such as social capital have been largely developed in higher-income countries. This project proposes to map and compare inequality, poverty, and violent crime for the first time in South Africa and Brazil.

The research

Researchers will seek to understand and respond to urban violence in the two cities by testing the hypothesis that social cohesion is a critical factor in understanding and preventing violence. Both Rio de Janeiro and Cape Town provide an ideal comparative framework for research. The project will provide theoretical, methodological, and practical insights, which will contribute to better public policies in the domain of poverty and violence reduction, replicable in other regions.

The project seeks to:

  • develop new theoretical, conceptual, and empirical understandings of the role of social cohesion in both cities to prevent or contribute to violence
  • understand how interventions can strengthen social cohesion to prevent violence in the long term and reduce exclusion in divided cities
  • assist in developing new approaches and innovative methodologies to implement violence prevention interventions.

Expected outcomes

Outcomes include a better understanding of how community social networks alleviate and/or intensify economic inequality and how this either increases or decreases incidents of violence.

Expected project outputs include:

  • a peer-reviewed project report outlining the findings of the comparative research on inequality, poverty, and violence in Rio de Janeiro and Cape Town
  • policy briefs that summarize the findings peer-reviewed academic journal articles focusing on various aspects of the research
  • newspaper articles on the research results.