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The RELOCAL project undertake a critical review of the literature about spatial justice associated with territorial cohesion, sustainable development and solidarity and develop a theoretical framework for the project through the review of these concepts and European territorials models.


Two Key Concepts:

1. The concept of Spatial Justice

The concept of spatial justice is one of the two key concepts of RELOCAL. Spatial justice closely relates to, and overlaps with, the concepts of territorial cohesion, sustainable development, and the European Social Model. The European Social Model is one of the ways in which the EU pursues its interest in social justice, but the Model does not engage with spatial justice. Territorial Cohesion Policy, with its focus on just distribution across space, would seem to be more closely related to the concept of spatial justice. Both, to an extent, address the more institutionalised forms of social and spatial justice through their emphases on improving some of the systems that could mitigate against oppression, vulnerability and disadvantage.

The concept of spatial justice indicates equity in social space, integrating five dimensions of justice: social, procedural, distributive, spatial and temporal, which distinguish it from these related concepts.

2. The concept of Locality

The second key concept of RELOCAL is locality, as the spatial focus of research and the nexus of a range of forces that contribute to spatial (in)justice and democratic legitimacy. Localities are not bound enclaves, but porous and interlinked parts of wider contexts. Therefore, RELOCAL adopts a critical and relational approach, analysing the locality from a critical and open perspective, through four interrelated dimensions: differential, vertical, horizontal and transversal.


Conceptual Framework: 

  • A spatial ontology: the localities approach

By adopting spatial justice as its starting point, the RELOCAL project’s key assumption, and the focus of its empirical data, are localities, the places in which the challenges of spatial justice and democratic deficit, and the responses to these challenges and inequalities, can be analysed and understood. Such a spatial focus facilitates the investigation of various challenges and responses within given territories and in their relations to other places, particularly under the conditions of crisis. This would respond to the European Commission call’s invitation to ‘explore the links between territorial cohesion, sustainable development and spatial justice in Europe in times of crisis’.

  • A relational epistemology 

Justice is a comparative concept: it is a process of judgement on the quality of relations between two or more states of affairs. On their own, the number and composition of agents and material objects are not judged to be just or unjust. It is only when they mediate the relations between people and territories, and only in comparison with others, that they find such meanings. Relations, therefore, are the focus of analysis. Through them, the power arrangements that make up spatial governance, behaviour of actors, access to material goods and services, spatial and social relations between them, composition of localities and their relations with other localities become just or unjust.

  • A mixed methodology

The locality and its relations form the unit of analysis, where spatial (in)justice will be studied. The local area under investigation, however, does not need to be defined in a strict sense. We will not make try to draw rigid and final boundaries around particular areas, but see them as flexible definition of an area with porous and potentially changing boundaries. To undertake this investigation, the project will use a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods.

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