(January 2010) Social Justice and Urban Sprawl—Toward A Theoretical Measurement of Capital Resources

Social Justice and Urban Sprawl—Toward A Theoretical Measurement of Capital Resources image

Justice and injustice have always fed fundamental societal deliberation. Although the meaning of justice has been vigorously deliberated over history (Sandel, 2009), the question of how to translate it into measurable indices reflecting the complexity of the social space remains unresolved. In the spatial sciences, the discourse with regard to justice appeared in order to understand, measure, and cope with the social consequences of urban sprawl (Williamson, 2010). In spite of the developing discourse, research in this field is somewhat lacking. Much of the urban sprawl literature has focused on methodological and conceptual problems, and many attempts were designed to define and quantify the phenomenon (for example, see Frenkel & Ashkenazi, 2008). Moreover, the literature has focused on economic and environmental costs, but neglected social aspects that followed unrestricted suburbanization processes (Burchell et al., 2005). Therefore, aspects of life chances, equal opportunities, and social reproduction have been ignored in most of this body of literature. One explanation that may be suggested for this unsatisfactory discussion might be the elusiveness of the concept and meaning of justice. Thus, it seems that new empirical tools are required in order to translate justice into measurable values. Accordingly, the purpose of the paper to be presented is to suggest a conceptual model that can generate empirically tested hypotheses in future research. The proposed model is based on a human resources sketch consistent with the theoretical conceptualization advanced by the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. The present paper uses the class structure of modern capitalist societies, based, among others concepts, on the production, accumulation, and transmission of three forms of capital posited by Bourdieu (2001): Economic, Cultural, and Social. These three forms of capital enable individuals and social groups to achieve social goods in a variety of fields of life that later translate into capabilities (or opportunities and chances) enjoyed by the social subject. Although Bourdieu was not directly referring to spatial assessment, the social stratification analysis he proposed defined some distributional patterns that might erode spatial justice. It is believed that social processes within built environments influence the patterns in which social goods are distributed (Hillier, 2008; Florida, 2005). According to the model suggested, the Bourdieuvian types of capital are generated in individual and spatial-municipal platforms that are dependent on high-standard amenities and creative social environments. These amenities constitute, among others, a function of local policy directed at attracting and supporting households with ample resources. Therefore, the local environment that has been formulated sets the social reproduction and stratification patterns in space and determines to a large extent the individual’s own exposure to life chances (i.e., social justice). Thus, it is believed that achieving a social position is greatly influenced by the way forms of capital are distributed in space. Impairing the capability of producing and accumulating Bourdieu capital forms, as it is suspected that the phenomenon of sprawl does to many urban inhabitants, might be an explicit sign of social injustice in space. This model needs to be empirically testable. Therefore, future analysis is required toward this end.