Conceptualizing Urban Inequalities as a Complex Socio-Technical Phenomenon

Ruth Nelson*, Martijn Warnier, Trivik Verma

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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The United Nations World Social Report (2020) reveals that more than two thirds of the world's population live in countries where urban inequalities have increased in the last three decades. While urban inequalities are traditionally characterized as an economic issue, scholars are increasingly applying methods from geospatial analysis to study them. In the context of these advancements, it remains unclear what underlying perspectives are guiding decisions to concentrate on certain aspects of urban inequalities, while potentially ignoring others. We address this gap by reviewing the literature centered on the geospatial analysis of urban inequalities and identify three predominant research lenses from accessibility, distribution, and policy and stakeholder perspectives. As a primary contribution of this article, we connect the perspectives with ideas drawn from complexity theory to develop an overarching socio-technical framework for how urban inequalities emerge over space and time. While traditional scientific frameworks seek to increase knowledge through causality, complexity science acknowledges the inherent challenges in defining, understanding and solving complex problems such as urban inequalities, which has profound implications for their representation, modeling and interpretation. We critically reflect on the framework through key relational themes and insights drawn from the literature and close with considerations for future research.
Original languageEnglish
JournalGeographical Analysis
Publication statusPublished - 2023


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