Changing Socio-Spatial Inequalities: Population change and the lived experience of inequality in urban South Africa

Lead Research Organisation: Queen's University of Belfast
Department Name: Sch of Natural and Built Environment


This project will provide an innovative analysis of how people's lived experiences of socio-economic inequality are shaped by the complex dynamics of urban change in South Africa and how such experiences in turn shape the country's urban social fabric. The proposed collaboration between the University of Liverpool (UoL), Southern African Social Policy Research Insights (SASPRI) and the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) comprises an inter-disciplinary team (Geography, Demography, Social Policy and Urban Planning) with complementary areas of expertise in relation to socioeconomic inequality and urban population change. The project relates to all four themes of the call but most strongly to the theme of diversity, migration and practice.

South Africa continues to be a deeply unequal society with markedly different standards of living across population groups (or race) and spatially. The current evidence base concerning inequality in South Africa is relatively small, and says little about the changing geographies of inequalities, the associated impacts which are felt on the ground as individuals' 'lived experience' of inequality, and consequences for the urban social fabric of the country. In this project quantitative and qualitative methods are combined to examine the interplay between urban spatial transformation and social attitudes towards inequality, attachment to place, and social inclusion.

The three-year research programme has four parts:
(i) Mapping the changing geographies of inequality across South Africa. Satellite imagery and the 1996, 2001 and 2011 Censuses will be analysed to generate population profiles across South Africa at small area level over time. Measures of spatial evenness and clustering will be generated to characterise the spatial context of areas.Areas where inequalities (variously defined) have increased will be identified using demographic, social, economic and ethnic/racial characteristics of areas. An area typology will be developed which will inform the identification of areas for the qualitative research in Part 2.
(ii) Focus groups will be undertaken to explore the factors and processes that shape people's experiences of inequality, and whether people's experiences of inequality affect their attachment to place and sense of social inclusion. Most groups will be undertaken within Cape Town, with a small number in the Eastern Cape Province due to its long-standing internal migration ties to Cape Town. This qualitative work will also feed back into the construction of new and improved quantitative spatial measures of the lived experience of inequality (Part 1).
(iii) Surveying people's experiences of inequality and their attitudes to inequality. A new module of inequality-related questions will be designed for inclusion in the 2017 round of the nationally representative South African Social Attitudes Survey (SASAS).Analysis of data collected through SASAS will provide an additional means of assessing the lived experience of inequalities and provide important dependent variables for Part 4.
(iv) Testing whether people's attitudes to inequality are associated with their experiences of inequality using new/refined dependent and independent variables in multilevel regression models. The quantitative spatial measures developed in Part 1 will be linked to the SASAS 2017 data to develop a more nuanced analytical appreciation of how inequality impacts on residents' lives and their attitudes about inequality and redress.

The results of this project will offer important new insights which will support national and local government when developing evidence-based policies to tackle inequality. It will enable policies in the areas of housing, urban planning and poverty alleviation to be informed by analysis of the lived experience of inequality, derived from an inter-play of highly context-specific qualitative enquiry and cutting-edge quantitative techniques.

Planned Impact

Who will benefit from this research?
The research findings will be of relevance to organisations (both government and non-government) who are concerned with understanding and alleviating socio-spatial inequalities. The innovative methodological techniques will be pertinent internationally for organisations that intend to undertake comparative analyses of geographic inequalities across different regions, or are concerned about the impact of the lived experience of inequality on societies, for example across the Southern African Development Community, and the BRICSA network. The policy recommendations will help inform evidence-based policy making decisions in government departments responsible for urban planning, housing and poverty alleviation, including the Department of Social Development, Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, the Department of Human Settlements, the National Planning Commission, and the Neighbourhood Development Programme within the National Treasury. The research will also be of relevance to civil society organisations that support deprived and vulnerable groups as well as the South African Human Rights Commission. Networks developed with academia and government during the ESRC/NRF Pathfinder project (RES-238-25-0026) played an important role in shaping this current proposal and we will ensure that these (and other) key stakeholders are engaged from the outset of this new project.

How will they benefit from this research?
A major concern in the project will be to emphasize the social, economic and policy relevance of the findings. As such, the team will disseminate updates on the research at regular stages throughout the project. The provision of the outputs via the project website, along with guidance on how to implement the methods we will use, will enable those with an interest in inequalities to interrogate our results, to use them for their own research or to apply the methods in other national contexts and/or other time periods. The project outputs have the potential to increase the effectiveness of public services and policy in South Africa (for example, by better promoting social integration) and to enhance the quality of life for those in affected areas.

What will be done to ensure that beneficiaries will have the opportunity to benefit from this activity?
Outputs from the project will be available on the UoL, SASPRI and HSRC websites. Where appropriate, outputs will also be disseminated through the P>AN website. Appropriate use will be made of social media, particularly Twitter and LinkedIn which are used extensively amongst the academic and policy making community in South Africa. Regular seminars for key policy makers within government will be held under the auspices of the HSRC and telecast between the HSRC conference suites in Pretoria, Cape Town and Durban. Where possible, seminar/conference presentations will be recorded and uploaded to a project YouTube channel. Themed reports will be produced during the course of the project reflecting the major research themes (see case for support) and at the conclusion of the project these will be collated into an overall final project report. Policy briefing papers will be produced on aspects of the research themes, especially targeted at government and civil society. Policy briefs will be disseminated through well-established channels via HSRC. All project findings will be made available through a dedicated web site. A dissemination conference for government and civil society will be convened at the end of the project in Pretoria. The general public will be informed of the findings through press releases to the media.


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