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Justice and Injustice in the City




Following a recent growth of interest in questions of justice and the city, this paper considers how the work of contemporary critical urbanists compares with earlier accounts of urban justice and injustice. Our purpose in making this comparison is to consider how scholars concerned with justice and injustice in the city might better articulate the conceptual relationship between justice-thinking and (in)justice-documenting in their writings about the contemporary planned city. Using a selection of influential texts as evidence, our comparative commentary on past and present approaches focuses on three issues we think are crucial to this relationship. First, with the rise of analyses of the politics of difference, concepts of justice stressing procedure, process, and the hearing of multiple voices have come to the fore recently, especially in urban planning. Second, contemporary writers about geographies of justice have queried the value of using pre-formulated, philosophical justice norms to judge outcomes and processes in particular contexts, seeing justice, rather, as intuited in the enactment of social conflicts and practices in those actual situations. Third, questions about the spatiality of justice and injustice have been aired recently asking whether justice and injustice have primarily a social rather than a spatial ontology. The conclusion of our evaluative review is that similar issues are being named and investigated now as were four decades ago, in investigations of justice and injustice in cities, but that concerted debates about theory and epistemology have elaborated the conceptual focus of discussion. We call for grounded investigations of enactments of justice as well as of injustice.