What is the ghetto?

It’s a word you’ve heard often, but it often deserves more explanation. Here are some explanations to better understand the term ghetto, with first the etymology of the word ghetto, then a definition, and finally some details on the concept of ghetto.

General Knowledge: the City

Etymology of the ghetto

Forged by derivation from Italian giudecca, borghettoor gietto (or from German Gitter or Talmudic Hebrew get: the etymology is disputed)

Loïc Wacquant, The Two Faces of the Ghetto

16th century, ghetto. Borrowed from the Venetian ghetto, “foundry”, the name of a small island in Venice where the Jews were assigned to live, derived from hectares, “to throw away”.

Dictionary of the French Academy

Definition of ghetto

Originally, in the second half of the nineteenth century, the term referred to the residential concentrations of European Jews in the ports of the Atlantic Front, and was clearly distinguished from the slums, an area of deteriorating housing and a melting pot of social pathologies. It expanded during the Progressive Era to encompass all the inner-city districts in which “exotic” newcomers, immigrants from the working classes of South-eastern Europe and African Americans fleeing the brutal caste system of the American South, were congregated.

Loïc Wacquant, The Two Faces of the Ghetto

In some European cities, a neighborhood where Jews resided, either by choice or by obligation.

In other words, a neighborhood where a community lives isolated from the rest of the population, in generally miserable conditions.

Dictionary of the French Academy

Precision on the notion of ghetto

That said, Loïc Wacquant makes some precision:

1. Poverty is a frequent but derivative and variable feature of ghettos

Loïc Wacquant cites three examples: the Judengasse in Frankfurt, the Harlem of the 1930s, and Chicago’s Bronzeville.

2. If all ghettos are segregated, not all segregated areas are ghettos

Some places, such as the upscale suburbs, from places that are positively distinctive.

3. Ghettos and ethnic neighborhoods have divergent structures and opposite functions

In the latter case, segregation is partial and porous, i.e. it is more diffuse. It is not imposed by the other populations.

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