Topic: The right to the country? Ruralising spatial justice
Keywords: spatial justice, inequalities, rights
In the heady year of 1968, French philosopher Henri Lefebvre championed ‘the right to the city’: the rights of the people to access and use urban space. For Lefebvre, when economic inequalities, social discrimination or state edict obstructed these rights, spatial injustices were made. Over the past decade, the concept of ‘spatial justice’ has been revisited in the social sciences as a normative ideal associated with progressive politics. Yet despite the clear significance of distributive inequities and access to space (or land) in rural areas, spatial justice is almost exclusively conceptualised as an urban ideal. What about the right to the country? If such a set of rights were recognised, what would they look like, and who should have them? In this primarily theoretical paper, we directly engage with the conceptual task of ruralising spatial justice. This task, we insist, is not as clear-cut as simply transposing Lefebvre from the high street to the back field. Indeed, an unreflective shift of locale would merely replicate the already troubling tendency of spatial justice scholarship to treat space as little more than a container in which justice is (or is not) to be found. By centring and interrogating ‘the right to the country’, we seek to move beyond space-as-container readings, attending instead to how enduring state and social imaginaries of what rural space is and should be actually contribute to the re/production of rural inequalities. Policies that position cities as drivers of economic growth, for example, can condemn rural communities to chronically inadequate infrastructures while idealistically requisitioning ‘unspoilt’ landscapes for urban leisure consumption. But, as we show, while rights of rural access risk pastiche, other rights-based logics can preclude the participation of those who do not – to revisit the community studies staple – ‘belong’. Ruralising spatial justice, we argue, allows us to problematise the concept in ways that productively illuminate how patterns of inequality are created and perpetuated, and consider how more ‘just’ outcomes can be achieved.