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Spatial Justice

Page history last edited by Ryan Ferguson 2 years, 2 months ago


     The concept of spatial justice has been around since the 1970s, but it remains ill defined, contested, and wrongly contrasted with social justice. Oftentimes people mix up the two justices, even though spatial justice can be important when a state is failing to apply it, or is misidentifying it. Simply stated, spatial justice is what links together social justice and space. The two most known geographers who are responsible for the creation of spatial justice theories are David Harvey and Edward W. Soja. The field analyzes the impact of regional and urban planning decisions. Spatial justice can go much deeper than just their original theory and has evolved over time as well. What is arguably more important than spatial justice, is finding spatial injustice among communities. We see spatial injustice in facilities or activities that cause harm to communities or are unevenly distributed, such that some communities suffer the effects to a significantly greater extent than others. Additionally, access to space is crucial for community life, so when an area is unfairly controlling more space than others, or is unfairly using resources designated for the community, we consider this spatial injustice as well. Lastly, locational discrimination is created through the biases imposed on certain populations because of their geographical location. This is fundamental in the production of spatial injustice and the creation of lasting spatial structures of privilege and advantages. Another example on how spatial injustices can appear is lack of proper infrastructure on buildings for the community such as schools or hospitals. This example is rare, but can be found in third world countries. Most often spatial injustice is not through brute force or violence, instead countries will make social or economic advancements in comparison to failing states.


Major Scholarly Debates

     Spatial justice involves “the fair and equitable distribution in space of socially valued resources and opportunities to use them” (Rigon 2009). The space we live in can have negative or positive consequences on everything we do. For Soja, spatial injustice is both an outcome and a process that results in such outcomes. While it is easy to identify the outcomes of spatial injustice, it is more complex to understand the events which produce it. Nonetheless, this is a fundamental point of analysis, in order for inequities to be addressed and to work towards justice. Throughout Europe there are multiple examples of spatial injustice. Examining the European Union policy of territories and its reforms shows how spatial justice can affect community lives that live in Europe. (Mandanipour 2021) It identifies three key dimensions of spatial justice that distinguish it from social justice. These are spatiality, which draws attention to spatial aspects of justice. Integration of distributive and procedural justice, which goes beyond this controversial split in social justice. Lastly inclusion, which crosses the boundaries and addresses both inter-regional and intra-regional inequality. The main instrument of addressing regional inequalities in the European Union has been the cohesion policy, focusing on economic and social cohesion and contributing to the European Social Model. As territorial cohesion targets spatial imbalances, they have been able to adopt spatial justice as the framework with which to investigate the transformations and implication of the policy.

    There are a lot of implications and ethics that come along with spatial justice, some of which makes spatial justice hard to locate. Sometimes spatial injustices can be incorrectly labeled as social injustices. This scenario is fairly common to do given the insignificant role spatial justice tends to play in a state's outlook. (Ansaloni 2016) In the UK, there is an acknowledged deficit in the planning system in that it is not constructed to make development happen, nor to deliver infrastructure, affordable housing, or employment in specific places. The UK's approach to spatial justice appears to be conceptually flawed because they are failing to deliver evenly distributed restorations to their communities, which is a prime example of social injustice. Due to the fact that the UK government is spending the money on itself, is it not growing or expanding the space to best suit the public. Unfortunately, there is often a link between spatial injustices and selfishness within the government. This ties to the many ethical problems we see related to spatial injustice as countries fail their communities by using resources improperly. 


Conceptualizing Spatial Injustice

      Similar to the UK, Israel has neglected to use resources for the public and it’s people are beginning to fight back. In the summer of 2011,(Marom 2013) Israel was swept by revolutionary political protests which occupied streets and mass rallies were held weekly in Tel Aviv among other cities. We can focus on the spatial politics of this protest, analyzing the particular strategies it used to reclaim urban public space and the funding for it. The Rothschild Boulevard protest was a direct continuation of affordable housing discourse and municipal activism as well. The camp's organizers were young Tel Avivians, mostly in their 20s, part of the social milieu of “City for All”. Many of them worked  in the creative urban economy as either freelancers, or self employed trade workers. Due to Israel’s spatial injustice, hard working Israelis had to fight for freedom and justice because their city received no funding to upkeep the housing and buildings. Instead of giving justice one firm meaning, some political scientists feel we can benefit by creating a spectrum of justice to better understand these situations. Still, the question of its metrics remains unresolved especially since this seems to be a relatively unexplored version of justice. Accordingly, Marom introduces a conceptual framework in which the metric notion of justice can be practiced in different spatial contexts.

     As previously mentioned, Wales is another country that has struggled with spatial injustices. Wales, as a region of the UK, has faced challenging socioeconomic circumstances including an economy historically dominated by agriculture and heavy industry. Additionally, it’s unskilled and ageing population, poor infrastructures, and an economic geography which offers little to no opportunity were all factors of its downfall as well. (Rhys, Jones 2020) This article examines ambitions for Wales uniting as they have been unsuccessful through regional development. We argue that a potential alternative to the failed realization of territorial cohesion lies in the principles of spatial justice. A benefit that Wales has gained from their socio-economic hardship is they have been granted money from the EU for their hardship. This is to help alleviate some of the debt the country has been faced with. The issue as of recently for Wales is they have removed themselves from the European Union, jeopardizing the money they received. After leaving the EU and spending the remaining funds, Wales soon realized the mistakes they had made. Spatial injustice became apparent as the money which should have been used on the public was spent by the Welsh government and the state began to fail. In the end, the financial assistance from the European Union hurt Wales more than it helped. You can argue whether it was intentional or not, but the fact of the matter is, when the Welsh government improperly used the aid received from the European Union. The money was meant to benefit Wales either to give the government additional strength to help all the Welsh people and rebuild infrastructure. In some aspects the country did benefit, but the noticeable growth was in the big cities that meant the most to the Welsh government. Overall, this hurt the growth of Wales because they became dependent on the Union's money and when that was taken away they collapsed. This left the outskirts of Wales to become unlivable, continuing to demonstrate the spatial injustice when. The point of all this is that the most appropriate spaces and scales to achieve justice might vary from one place to another. Spaces and scales of more just governance might work more effectively in some locations compared to others. Being able to balance between cities and suburban areas may be difficult, but is crucial for the overall development of a country.


Connecting Spatial Justice 

     Spatial justice is very complicated when introducing it to a new theory. Shatema Threadcraft is able to explain spatial justice quite well in the last part of her book, Intimate Justice where she will go on to explain how other philosophers failed in their attempts of race by including spatial just theories. (Threadcraft 137) Threadcraft explains that popular theorist John Rawls understood that when it comes to race, space matters, that racial injustice has involved what Soja has called spatial fixes that must be addressed in the present. That being said, however, our spatial fixes will not be the same. Threadcraft goes on talking about a conception of justice which suggests what we see as a far too limited set of geographic consequences. The most persuasive argument is that corrective racial justice must attend to inter-generational white opportunity, yet in this event of how whites have done so we can focus on how white people have hoarded positions of advantage in civic life, and therefore does little to correct our problematic embodiment of racial justice. I would argue that Threadcraft’s sustained engagement with Rawls, whose theory of justice is most concerned with establishing fairness with regard to the subjects ability to exercise control over political and material environment and considerably less, if at all concerned with ensuring fairness in the realm in which the subjects physical and emotional needs are met, does nothing to help matters at the end of the day. Threadcraft relates spatial justice as a means to keep people accountable for their mistreatment of minority groups. Explaining ways that they are unable to access jobs and opportunities that most have. Whether it be because of the sexual orientation, gender, or race, Threadcraft argues it must be a fair and even process.



     Spatial justice can be a real complex theory to try and navigate, whether you are looking at the physical space of an entity, or you are describing a dominating force over a minority group one thing is that there always needs to be a side gaining more than a fair amount. The word fair comes in association with the idea of spatial justice, along with finding spatial injustices. As pointed out, it is easy to find the spatial injustices that happen around the world, but it is incredibly difficult to find a solution concrete enough to solve these issues. Which is really the central theme around justice. It is very simple and easy to find injustices, yet it is very hard to describe how to make things just. Which brings up my idea of justice can never really exist. Spatial justice through the articles explored have made me come to realize that the definition of spatial justice is really pointing out the injustices of the world. Unfortunately there is no right or wrong way to destroy all the spatial injustices of the world, but one theory that has been relevant in all of the articles is education. Being able to educate people about injustices and how we can work to prevent them. Education seems to be the closest thing we have to preventing further injustices.



Ansaloni, Francesca, and Miriam Tedeschi. “Ethics and Spatial Justice: Unfolding Non-Linear Possibilities for Planning Action.” Planning Theory (London, England) 15, no. 3 (2016): 316–32. https://doi.org/10.1177/1473095215591676 


Israel, Emil, and Amnon Frenkel. “Social Justice and Spatial Inequality: Toward a Conceptual Framework.” Progress in Human Geography 42, no. 5 (2018): 647–65. https://doi.org/10.1177/0309132517702969.


Jones, Rhys, Bryonny Goodwin‐Hawkins, and Michael Woods. “From Territorial Cohesion to Regional Spatial Justice: The Well‐Being of Future Generations Act in Wales.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 44, no. 5 (2020): 894–912. https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-2427.12909.


Mandanipour, Ali, Mark Shucksmith, and Elizabeth Brooks. “The Concept of Spatial Justice and the European Union’s Territorial Cohesion.” European Planning Studies ahead-of-print, no. ahead-of-print (n.d.): 1–18. https://doi.org/10.1080/09654313.2021.1928040.


Marom, Nathan. “Activising Space: The Spatial Politics of the 2011 Protest Movement in Israel.” Urban Studies (Edinburgh, Scotland) 50, no. 13 (2013): 2826–41. https://doi.org/10.1177/0042098013477699.


Shatema Threadcraft, Intimate Justice: The Black Female Body and the Body Politic (2016), Oxford University


Stanley, Anna. “Just Space or Spatial Justice? Difference, Discourse, and Environmental Justice.” Local Environment 14, no. 10 (2009): 999–1014. https://doi.org/10.1080/13549830903277417





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