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An Introduction to Spatial Justice

Excerpted from Spatial Justice: A Frame for Reclaiming our Rights to Be, Thrive Express and Connect (2011-12)

| 2 min read

Spatial justice, most simply, is the intersection of space and social justice. As Henry Lefebvre first pointed out fifty years ago, human societies organize spaces, and when we inspect these spaces, we can see how justice and injustice are played out in the visible and invisible structural arrangements of space. (An example of a visible arrangement would be looking at the history of a town and seeing who got to use the most and best land areas. Researching further, we might find invisible arrangements like the fact that women weren’t allowed to own land or the richest landowners also owned slaves to work their land.) With a stronger understanding of the relationship between space and justice, we can create counter-moves to fight spatial injustice and also begin to answer the question, “How can we create spaces that promote equity, access, health and justice?”

Historically, there were many ways in which different peoples made sense of space. Some people saw space and place as opportunity, and they created practices for moving through space. Some people saw space as an anchor, settled down and developed roots in place. But what happens when one set of people want to determine and create grids of truth for everyone about what space is and isn’t?

we can create counter-moves to fight spatial injustice

Practices of domination, subjugation and resource depletion have been historically honed and brought to bear through space. The taking of land, the massive capturing of bodies and taking them from one space to another, environmental exploitation, forced movement through economic deprivation; all of these practices of injustice tend to have a fairly clear spatial dimension to them. Most wars, conflicts and genocides have at their core spatial claims and have resulted in distinct spatial power and consequences. In fact, it is clear that any and every marginalized group has had space itself used as part of the terrain through which they experience injustice in their day to day lives.

Spatial justice can function as a lens that can help diverse social justice struggles find common ground and offer a way of thinking across traditionally siloed sectors. A spatial justice perspective allows us to recognize links between cultural rights, housing and economic rights, rights to a public and rights to health.

For context, see Part 2 and Part 3 of this series.

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