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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Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
ES/N014022/1 12/02/2016 31/07/2018 £422,422
ES/N014022/2 Transfer ES/N014022/1 01/11/2018 30/08/2019 £97,689
Description The research has provided an enhanced understanding of spatial inequalities in South Africa. A core strand of the research has been to generate maps of changing population and deprivation patterns through time. The team has made use of data from the 2001 and 2011 Censuses to create composite deprivation measures, incorporating information on income, education, employment, and living environment deprivation. These measures are provided for zones called wards for all South Africa and 100m by 100m grid squares for CapeTown. In addition, we have provided a novel assessment of the lived experience of inequalities via focus groups undertaken in Cape Town and new questions on inequalities in the South African Social Attitudes Survey.

The project outputs include a geographically-detailed assessment of changes in deprivation across South Africa (with more focused outputs for Cape Town specifically), with insight into spatial inequalities - differences in deprivation in neighbouring areas. The project team has undertaken analyses of the associations between measured inequalities and the lived experience of, and attitudes to, inequalities. As examples: do people living in areas which have high levels of deprivation compared to neighbouring areas think that taxes should be raised to help provide equal educational opportunities for all children; do people's perceptions of inequalities match well with measured levels of inequality?
Exploitation Route The findings and resources developed as outputs from the project could have considerable value in assessing interventions and designing new schemes to reduce deprivation and inequalities between areas within South Africa. The team has secured funding from the Queen's University Belfast ESRC Impact Accelerator Account and this new programme of work is taking outputs from this project and using them to assess local-level changes in deprivation and provide tailored guidance to local government in South Africa on how areas have changed and identifying schemes which may have contributed to those changes.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Healthcare,Government, Democracy and Justice

Description Our findings are informing development of future data resources in South Africa and we are in ongoing dialogue with central and local government departments about how our findings can be used to chart and understand changes in deprivation and inequalities in South Africa. Over the coming year, we will be developing our relationship with the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME) by co-designing guidance on the use of our project outputs for assessing past interventions and shaping new interventions.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

Title Focus group transcripts: inequalities in Cape Town 
Description The data are transcripts from focus groups conducted in Cape Town. The focus groups explored attitudes to inequalities and the ways in which these inequalities are experienced. The data are not yet freely-available, but they will be made so after editing. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Once freely released we anticipate that the data will become an important reference source for policy. 
Title South African Social Attitudes Survey (SASAS) inequalities questions 
Description The project funded the inclusion of additional questions on inequalities in the South African Social Attitudes Survey. Responses to these questions are available as one of the outputs from the most recent round of the SASAS. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact It is too early to say, but the team anticipates that the data will be very widely used. 
Title Ward level deprivation scores for 2001 and 2011 
Description The measures were produced using Census data for consistent ward boundaries for 2001 and 2011. The measures incorporate data on income poverty, education deprivation, employment deprivation, and living environment deprivation. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The resource has been used as the basis of a training course for government researchers in Pretoria. It will be a core part of a new programme of work supported by a Queen's University Belfast Impact Accelerator Account award. 
Description Project workshop in Pretoria, South Africa 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact This was the key end-of-project dissemination event and it was attended by researchers in central government (Human Sciences Research Council; Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation) and universities (approx 35 people). The event included several presentations from team members. There were detailed discussions around the findings and it is anticipated that interested created will result in future collaborations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019