Rising inequality is widely viewed as one of the most urgent problems of contemporary society, and we must be better equipped to meet the needs of underprivileged populations. While research into inequality has commonly examined its negative externalities, approaches seldom examine how qualitative methods can be utilized to engage with inequality as a spatial structure, composed of elements of the built environment. My research therefore aims to determine and analyze these structures according to a set of tools derived from the social sciences, primarily the fields of geography and sociology.
I conducted my dissertation, entitled Thinking through Peripheries: Structural Spatial Inequality in Johannesburg, in consultation with multiple non-academic partners, including several NGO’s and community leader groups from across Johannesburg’s informal settlements. This work undertakes a multi-scalar analysis, from the urban region to the individual resident, in order to understand the structural reproduction of socio-spatial inequality. In this project I developed a smartphone application (in collaboration with the private sector) to track the mobility patterns of participating informal settlement residents. The method was deemed so promising that one of my local research partners funded an additional study from 2016-2018 with 368 participants. As part of the GCRO’s Untangling Transit series, it included a wide expanse of demographics to evaluate the geographies of privilege across greater Johannesburg in a project entitled myJoziMoves. I believe the analytical strategies and results garnered from this research are highly relative to other extended urban contexts. I plan to explore this methodology further in my future research and teaching, in order to develop my research tools into a framework for the analysis of inequality in the built environment.
All images © 2017 Lindsay Blair Howe.