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Whenever a theory appears to you as the only possible one, take this as a sign that you have neither understood the theory nor the problem which it was intended to solve (Karl Popper, 1972) During the course of this research, I came across the quote above by Karl Popper (1972). The quote made me realise the importance of reading various theories of justice in order to understand and move towards a definition of spatial justice.
Theory building can be described as at least one of the five ways or steps in which knowledge is developed. Soja (2010:67) states that “theory is formed by a link between abstract realms of epistemology and ontology, which respectively make statements about the essence of human beings in the world and develop ways to assure that our knowledge of the world is reliable; and the increasingly concrete modes of empirical analysis and practical application or praxis [leads to] the transformation of knowledge into action [and] theory into practice”. In geography, we are habituated to search for some sort of theory that would guide us in practice. In discussing theory within this context, we refer to an intellective fabrication that helps us to understand the world, a portion of it or the way it is supposed to be. Practice, in this context, refers to the way things are to be done such as executing projects with specific aims in sight which include the chance of gaining a wider knowledge of the world or some parts of it, deducing it and transforming it exceptionally (Smith, 1994). A critical theoretical perspective is important as it aims at generating an insight and broad understanding that is likely to transform the world into a better place (Soja, 2010). For instance, we can explore the use of location theory in the search for how profit can be maximised by industries or how settlements and other characteristics of the space economy could be ordered to reduce distance travelled by people in the search of goods and services (Smith, 1994). Thinking critically is directed by strategic enthusiasm and anticipation and fabricating a theoretical and practical approach, we gain a political sense of the planet we live in so as to perform more suitably and efficiently within that environment (Soja, 2010). Soja (2010:192) further stated “lessons have taught us that the application of a critical spatial perspective has the potential for stimulating continuing innovation and perhaps unexpected breakthroughs in the search for social and greater spatial justice”. It is therefore important to review the theoretical and philosophical background underpinning any study. In defining spatial justice, it would be necessary to have a knowledge and background of the theory behind space, justice and related concepts.


The most insightful and exciting contemporary ways to think about space or spatiality have been coming from a radical contemporary perspective (Soja 1996:3).
Space can be viewed in many ways, a conventional understanding of space is very important to have a wider and better knowledge of the society and urban phenomena in general (Harvey, 1973). Cassirer (1944 as quoted by Harvey, 1973) was one of the early philosophers who had a broad perception of space; he distinguishes spatial experience based on three categories. His first category is organic space, which is the kind of spatial experiences that seemed to be determined biologically and transmitted genetically (Harvey, 1973). His second spatial experience, which is perceptual space, is a more complicated one. It is concerned with the neurological combination of every type of sensory experience, which is kinetic, tactual, acoustic or optical in nature. This combination leads to a spatial experience in which the confirmation of different senses is harmonised. Perceptual space is experienced through the senses, but little is known of the effect of cultural conditioning on the efficiency of our senses. The third kind of spatial experience described by Cassirer was an abstract experience, which he called symbolic space. Here, the indirect experience of space occurs through an understanding of the symbolic representations that possess no spatial dimension in themselves (Harvey, 1973). These levels of spatial experience are not free or independent from one another. The need to construct a theory of spatial form will then rely on identifying some sort of method that represent events as they occur on an organic or perceptual level by means of some abstract symbolic that inevitably forms part of geometry. Alternatively, it could be regarded as seeking some explanation at the organic or perceptual level for ideas built at the abstract level (Harvey, 1973).


In the first discussions on space, most people perceived it as an empty area referring to something geometrical (Lefebvre, 1991). Descriptions of space limited it to being isotropic, euclidean, and infinite, especially when used in a scholarly context. The general idea about the concepts of space was largely a mathematical one (Lefebvre, 1991). From this, we cannot say that the evolving concept of space had been abandoned but it must be made clear that the history of philosophy highlights the gradual liberation of the sciences.
particularly that of mathematics from their shared roots in traditional metaphysics. At a certain period, a Descartes thinking emerged as the significant point in the determination of the concept of space and this was also determined as the key to unlocking its mature form. Historians of Western thought emphasised the idea that the Aristotelian tradition, which defined space and time as one of the categories that assisted in the naming and classing of the evidence of the senses, had been brought to an end by Descartes. Space had entered the realm of absolute with the arrival of the Cartesian logic. Lefebvre (1991:1) viewed « space as object as opposed to subject, as ‘res extensa’, opposed to, and present to, ‘res cogitans’, space came to dominate, by containing them, all senses and all bodies ». The question whether space was a divine attribute or an indwelling to the completeness of what existed was posed, which were only some of the problems that philosophers had faced at the time. Lefebvre (1991:2) further states the mathematicians appropriated space and time as it formed part of their domain in a rather complex way. A deep rift later developed between physical and social reality, which became problematic and led the mathematicians to relinquish their endeavours to the philosophers who were delighted in taking up the opportunity as a way of making up for the ground that had been lost. Therefore, space once again became what the earlier philosophical tradition of Platonism had previously proposed against the doctrine of categories (Lefebvre, 1991). Leonardo da Vinci described space as a “mental thing”. The scope of mathematical theories that existed thus made the question on the old problem of knowledge increasingly complex. After this, the questions were informed by the way in which transitions were made from mathematical spaces to nature and from practice to the theory of social life. The concept of production of space was used by Lefebvre to posit a theory that describes space as that which is basically limited to social reality. He took the argument further by stating that space on its own cannot act as a starting point in epistemology as its existence is not by itself, but rather produced (Schmid, 2008). This implies that space or time cannot be regarded as absolute material determinants or a priori concepts, but that they should be treated as important aspects of social practice. Space and time are social products and the consequence of the creation of the society. Space is described by Lefebvre as a political tool, which is related to production and ownership of property and should not to be described as either a physical or a geographical location or even as a commodity (Lefebvre, 1991b:349, Butler, 2012). Elden (2004:186-187) states that “at the centre of Lefebvre’s argument in the production of space is the popular belief that a specific ‘common-sense’ philosophy has carefully arranged the way in which space and spatial relations in the social science field of study is perceived since the age of enlightenment”.
The intellectual origin of this philosophy described by Lefebvre, is what he calls the ‘absolute conception of space’. This conception of space was, originally developed from the Cartesian differentiation between “res cogtans” which is the thinking being and “res extensa” which is the physical world. Space is understood in geometric terms and as an extension, as opposed to a component, of thought. An effect of the absolute conception of space was the understanding of it as physical whereby it was presented as the view of an empty container or location and represented as mental through its epistemological predominance, which was shaped by mathematical models. This disjointed approach to space is inadequate in connecting the physical and mental because the social aspect of space is disregarded, which is contained in neither or both of the other areas. The intention by Lefebvre is to connect both the physical and mental with the social aspect of space by gaining knowledge on the production of space through human action. In order to achieve this, an alternative to absolute space would be needed (Butler, 2012:39). Reinforcing this rejection of the absolute conception of space stands Lefebvre who describes it “as a social matrix that operates as a presupposition, medium and product of the social relations of capitalism” (Brenner, 1997:140).
Leibniz viewed the concept of space, as an empty receptacle of matter, in a different manner. He viewed space as ‘a set of relations determined by the objects and processes that constitute it’ (Leibniz, 1969:675-721). Such a view appears to be supported by modern mathematics and theoretical physics and forms the basis of much recent work in critical human geography. For example, Harvey relies heavily on Leibniz to argue for both a relational theory of space and time and the importance of a more general theory of internal relations for dialectical thought (Harvey, 1996:69-76, 249-255). Lefebvre attempted to describe the internal relation of the entirety of three dimensions of space which are comprised of the mental, physical and social. He further developed a conceptual triad that shows the intricate synergy and dialectic combination between the three levels of spatial relations. The conceptual triad as informed by Lefebvre (1991) are spatial practices, representation of spaces and representational spaces. Lefebvre describes spatial practice as that which brings together production, reproduction and specific points with spatial sets, whereby each is distinctive from every social arrangement. Butler (2012:38) further describes spatial practices as « the physical practices, everyday routines, networks and pathways through which the entirety of social life is reproduced”. Spatial practice provides for continuity and to a certain extent cohesion (Lefebvre, 1991). In relation to social space and every individual in a society’s connection to it, this cohesion indicates an assured level of ability .
Representation of space refers to that which is linked to the connections of production and to the “order” that is imposed by this connection. Representations of space exist in physical forms such as plans, maps, models and design. They usually have an important and precise role in the production of space and it is in this representation of space that thoughts are expressed in order to become actions (Harvey, 2001). Figure 2 below is an interpretation and graphical representation of Lefebvre’s production of space as presented by Anderson (2003)




The interest in justice dates as far back as the time of Homer, Aristotle and Plato. This interest in justice was informed by law in the formal sense whereas the unwritten moral beginning of social-, economic- and political relations informed this search for justice in an informal sense (Pirie, 1983). Efforts to enhance justice or decrease injustice remains an essential objective in our contemporary societies. While there are many critical debates and arguments over the theory of justice, none of them presents a broad explanation about the spatiality of (in) justice (Soja, 2010). Planning for the future of a city or the arrangement of geographies and spaces necessarily involve thinking about spatial justice. The concept of justice and its affinity to the related ideas of democracy, equality, citizenship and civil rights means something different in the present day context for various reasons. This includes the escalation of economic inequalities as a result of social polarization, especially as it relates to the new economy and neoliberal globalization. These economic inequalities can furthermore be linked to the trans-disciplinary diffusion of a critical spatial perspective. The term “justice” has been established as a notable belief in the eye of political and public awareness in contrast to options such as “freedom” with its present day moderately strong overtones, “equality” which provides a cultural politics of difference and the search for universal human rights. The concept of justice in the present day is usually seen as more solid and detailed than its alternatives. It can be argued that it is more aligned with our contemporary conditions and instilled with a significant force that functions efficiently across different genders, class and race to support a mutual political consciousness and a perception of unity based on a generally shared ordeal. The quest for justice has transformed to something of a rallying call and organising force for contemporary social movements and groups, which extends across the political spectrum, stretching the justice concept from the economic and social to contemporary forms of activism and struggle. Apart from spatial justice, other adverbs related to justice include “racial”, “environment”, “community”, “worker”, “youth”, “global”, “territorial”, “border” etc. The combination of the terms “spatial” and “justice” provides a new insight into possibilities for political and social action, as well as an empirical analysis and social theorisation, that would have been vague if the terms were not combined (Soja, 2010).


In the discussion on justice, conventional accounts normally begin with definition of justice as stipulated in Plato’s republic. The search for justice dates as far back as 350 BC, in a time where Plato attempts to answer the question of justice through his teacher Socrates in the writing, “The Republic”. The quest for finding the meaning of justice, which is now referred to as the “Socratic method”, is used interchangeably between Thrasymachus and Socrates. Thrasymachus defines justice as the advantage of the stronger. He claims that it does not pay to be just and that those who act unjustly usually attain power and eventually become rulers in the society. Thrasymachus presents the argument that each governing class proposes laws that suits them best e.g. a democrat would prescribe democratic laws and a tyrant would prescribe tyrannical laws and so on. These laws describe what is “right” for the people and anyone who in breach of such laws is punishable by law. It is evident that Thrasymachus does not establish a definition of justice through this discussion. (Hourani, 1962). Usually in coming up with a definition, a hypothesis is proposed with some demonstration from contemporary language which is consequently tested with additional examples from contemporary language. Thrasymachus’ explanation goes beyond this and moves toward the practical facts of government and law. This is probably because he was not in fact trying to demonstrate a definition at all, but that he rather attempted to posit a fabricated proposition (Hourani, 1962).
Socrates challenges the opinion of Thrasymachus and provides an alternative explanation of justice in which he argues that justice is good and advantageous and that it is necessary for people to conform to it. Socrates explains that there are two kinds of justice, one is justice within the human soul or individual and the second is justice within the city; both of which are necessary components to include in a definition of justice. He argued that it would be easier to find justice in the city since the city is bigger than the individual. In the second book of Plato’s republic, he constructs the notion of a just city because he believed that it was easier to find justice in the city than in man himself. The purpose in creating such a city is not to make a group of people outstandingly happy, but rather to make the whole city, as far as possible, happy (Plato, Book IV: 86). Socrates’ ideal city consists of three classes of people namely a diversity of craftsmen (Plato, 100-103, 369d-371e), auxiliaries who are assigned to protect the city from extrinsic and domestic conflicts and guardians that govern the city (Plato, 104, 374e).


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