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Abstract

Recent social research that links people's position in society to their ability to access employment has shown the centrality of spatial mobility in the (re)production of patterns of inequality. This is particularly evident in regions where economic activity is unevenly distributed and concentrated in an urban centre and where daily travel patterns reflect a spatial segregation between places of work and residential areas. This paper presents a spatial analysis of accessibility to employment for Galway City and its environs, a predominantly rural region in the West of Ireland dominated by its urban centre. Travel-to-work data from the 2006 Census of Population of Ireland were used to present a comparison of district-specific accessibility levels across three socio-economic groups. Network analysis and Geographic Information System visualisation tools are used to map existing socio-spatial topographies of (in)accessibility. This is done to test two contrasting sets of theoretical proposals in the social science literature regarding the relationship between spatial mobility and social status. Advocates of the first position conceptualise spatial mobility as a form of capital that helps to maintain many existing social hierarchies. This contrasts with the views of those who anticipate the dissolution of established social boundaries (“fluidification”) as a result of increased spatial mobility of people, goods, and ideas. It is argued that these contrasting positions are highly relevant to current transport policy debates, including discussions around the impacts of recession-related cuts in transport infrastructure investment on patterns of accessibility. In addition, they encourage reflection on the impacts of sustainable transport initiatives on different social groups that are more or less mobility disadvantaged, a fact that has hitherto received little attention in policy research and practice.