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welfare geography

  An approach to human geography that emphasizes questions of inequality (see inequality, spatial) and social justice. The welfare approach emerged from the radical reaction to the quantitative and model-building preoccupations of the 1960s, which were thought to be insufficiently concerned with contemporary social issues (see radical geography). The 1970s saw a major redirection of human geography towards such welfare problems as poverty, hunger, crime, racial discrimination (cf. racism) and access to public services (e.g. health care and education). This corresponded to a major shift in societal concern, from narrow economic criteria of development or progress to broader aspects of the \'quality of life\'.

Distributional issues assume special importance under conditions of slow economic growth, when policies of redistribution in favour of the poor or socially deprived can be implemented only at the expense of the rich or better-off members of a society (see Pareto optimality). Dramatic political and social change, of the kind which has taken place in Eastern Europe and South Africa since 1990 (see apartheid; post-Soviet states) also highlights distributional issues with a spatial dimension. For example, privatization of state assets such as housing and industrial enterprises in Eastern Europe has generated new forms of inequality, as some people in some places are better able than others elsewhere to benefit from post-socialist society .

As originally formulated (Smith, 1977), the basic focus of the welfare approach is on \'who gets what, where and how?\'.The \'who\' refers to the population of the area under review (a city, region or nation, or even the entire world), subdivided into groups on the basis of class, race, gender or other relevant characteristics. The \'what\' refers to the various goods (and bads) enjoyed or endured by the population, in the form of commodities, services, environmental quality, social relationships and so on. The \'where\' reflects the fact that living standards differ according to area of residence. The \'how\' refers to the process whereby the observed differences arise.

The initial task posed by the welfare approach is descriptive. The present state of society, with respect to who gets what where, may be represented by extension of the abstract formulations of welfare economics, and the practical objective is to give these empirical substance. In a spatially disaggregated society, the general level of welfare may be written as:

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where S is the level of living or social well-being in a set of n territorial subdivisions. In other words, welfare is some function of the distribution of goods and bads among groups of the population defined by area of residence. Social well-being may be defined in terms of what the people actually get, as follows:

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where X represents the quantity of the m goods and bads consumed or experienced. social well-being may also be expressed in terms of the distribution within the area in question:

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where U is the level of well-being, satisfaction or utility of each of the k population subgroups (cf. utility theory). In all the above expressions, the terms may be weighted differentially and combined according to any function, to represent the combination of territorial levels of well-being, goods and bads or group well-being that maximizes the objective function (Wor S).

The empirical identification of inequality in territorial distribution involves developing territorial social indicators (see inequality, spatial). These may combine particular elements of social well-being in a composite measure. Conditions that might be included are income, wealth, employment, housing, environmental quality, health, education, social order (i.e. absence of crime, deviancy and other threats to social stability and security), social participation, recreation and leisure. Alternatively, the focus may be on individual aspects of social well-being, such as inequalities in access to health care or the differential experience of a nuisance such as noise, air pollution and so on (see environmental justice).

Descriptive research of this kind was initially justified on the grounds that it provided information on aspects of life hitherto neglected in geography (e.g Smith, 1979, 1988). It also provides a basis for evaluation, whereby the existing state is judged against an alternative (past, predicted or planned) according to some criteria of welfare improvement. Thus the impact of alternative plans for facility location or closure (e.g. of hospitals) could be judged by the criterion of which would most equally (or least unequally) distribute the benefits (such as access to health care) among the populations of various subdivisions of the area under review. This raises the question of rules of distributive justice (see social justice), and the manner in which they are actually applied (explicitly or otherwise) in the political process.

The early preoccupation with descriptive research in welfare geography subsequently gave way to more process-oriented work on the question of how inequality arises. The abstract formulation of welfare problems based in neo-classical economics was found impotent as a basis for explanatory analysis, and alternatives such as Marxian economics have become useful sources of guidance. Explanation tends to be sought at two different levels.

The first involves understanding the operation of the economic-social-political system as an integrated whole in order to reveal its general tendencies (see mode of production; social formation). Thus a broad examination of capitalism shows that the generation of inequality is inevitable because it is endemic to the system; uneven development is its spatial consequence. socialism as actually practised may have its own inbuilt tendencies towards inequality, apparently similar in spatial expression to some of those observed under capitalism but with different origins and probably with less extreme manifestations among regions and within the city.

The second level of explanation is concerned with details of how specific elements of an economic-social-political system operate. Examples might be the differential distribution of public services in a city, how the location of health-care facilities benefits some people in some places and disadvantages others elsewhere, or how the housing market (under capitalism) or administrative allocation process (under socialism) differentially bestow shelter according to who and where people are. Attention might also be given to how people mobilize locally to prevent the location of facilities perceived to generate nuisance (see externalities; NIMBY).

Although originally proposed as an alternative framework for human geography (Smith, 1977), the welfare approach soon merged with other lines of critical inquiry within geography directed towards the fundamental problem of inequality (cf. critical human geography). The issues in question extend beyond the limits of a single discipline, and in fact render disciplinary boundaries increasingly irrelevant. The welfare approach requires a holistic social science perspective, incorporating economic, social and political factors and also consideration of the moral philosophy which uneder-pins conceptions of social justice (see ethics, geography and). Although the term welfare approach is seldom used in human geography today, in this rapidly changing world where new political and economic institutional arrangements can benefit populations unequally, there is continuing interest in the issues raised by the welfare approach. (DMS)

References Smith, D.M. 1977: Human geography: a welfare approach. London: Edward Arnold; New York: St. Martin\'s Press. Smith, D.M. 1979: Where the grass is greener; living in an unequal world. London: Penguin. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press; New York: Barnes and Noble (published as Geographical perspectives on inequality). Smith, D.M. 1988: Geography, inequality and society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Suggested Reading Herbert, D.T. and Smith, D.M., eds, 1989: Social problems and the city: new perspectives. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Pinch, S. 1997: Worlds of welfare: understanding the changing geographies of social welfare provision. London: Routledge. Smith, D.M. 1988: A welfare approach to human geography. In J. Eyles, ed., Research in human geography: problem, tactics and opportunities. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 139-54. Smith, D.M. 1989: Urban inequality under socialism: case studies from Eastern Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (Update series). Smith, D.M. 1994: Geography and social justice. Oxford: Blackwell. Smith, D.M. 1996: The quality of life: human welfare and social justice. In I. Douglas, R. Huggett and M. Robinson, eds, Companion encyclopedia of geography: the environment and humankind. London: Routledge, 772-9 0.



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