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inequality, spatial

  The unequal distribution of some particular kinds of attribute among spatially defined population aggregates. Whereas spatial differentiation refers to the uneven incidence of any condition, inequality refers to those over which moral questions of right or wrong can arise (see ethics, geography and). It is generally recognized that some differences among individuals do not raise moral questions (for example their height or free choice of leisure activities), whereas differences in their wealth or educational qualifications could be described as inequality. Thus regional variations in topography or the type of goods produced would be differentiation, whereas regional variations in income or health would be inequality.

The geographical expression of inequality was an important element in the welfare geography of the late 1970s and 1980s. Attention was drawn not only to inequality in living standards and elements thereof, but also in spatial accessibility to sources of need satisfaction. Trends in spatial inequality over time can also be useful diagnostic devices, providing clues to the trajectory of society with respect to inequality more generally. However, preoccupation with spatial patterns can obscure inequality by individuals or groups, such as race and class, and risks losing sight of the structural basis of inequality. While equality is an enduring political ideal (see egalitarianism), capable of motivating action, spatial inequality cannot automatically be judged wrong. It might even be approved of, especially among the \'new right\', as a reflection of local entitlement to make the most of people\'s resource holdings (see libertarianism). However, it might be asked what moral justification people in particular places have for monopolizing resources to which they have access purely by the good fortune of having been born there.

The crucial and extremely difficult question of social justice concerns the circumstances under which spatial inequality can be justified in some moral sense. In a world with such extreme inequalities as are evident today, the onus may well be on those advocating inequality to justify their position, or at least to explain the morality behind the actual degree of inequality manifest in real life. (See also uneven development.) (DMS)

Suggested Reading Smith, D.M. 1994: Geography and social justice. Oxford: Blackwell.



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Other Terms : Malthusian model | utilitarianism | aid
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