In discover inequality in their own distinct ways.

In order to assess the way in which Human Geography
approaches the study of inequality, the two sub-disciplines I feel are most
important to explore are social geography and cultural geography. Social
geography can be described as the study of people and places, with specific
emphasis on social factors or impacts that arise. Whereas, cultural geography
explores how differing cultures are distributed over space as well as focusing on
the patterns of human behaviour. Therefore, in order to explore how each
sub-discipline approaches the topic of inequality, first this essay will
outline what inequality is, then it will move on to discuss how the two
sub-disciplines discover inequality in their own distinct ways. Overall, this
essay will argue that both social and cultural geography work together in providing
a well-rounded argument surrounding a topic or issue, in this case inequality, therefore
will discuss the fact that one sub-discipline does not dramatically outshine
the other for this particular topic of study.

 

”The most important problem we are facing now, today…
is rising inequality.” (Shiller, 2013). According to the United Nations (2015)
inequality is the concept of not being equal, in special regards to: status,
rights and opportunities. DeVerteuil (2009) believes that the resurgence of
global inequality has placed the issue front and centre within the discipline
of Human Geography, due to the divide between the rich and poor broadening more
each year. Deverteuil advocates that inequality goes hand in hand with
globalisation, which is reinforced by Marxist geographer’s beliefs that
capitalism leads to an unfair allocation of opportunities and resources which can
exacerbate inequality on a larger scale. This is also reinforced by the view
that globalisation has exaggerated pre-existing inequalities by advantaging
certain well-positioned regions, which is supported by Dorling (2015) who believes
that new social evils have arisen from greed and elitism, which has therefore amplified
inequality. In his writing, Dorling supposes that elitism has become an excuse
for the behaviours that are causing social inequality, and he believes that if
people change their mind on being born elitist, then ‘other’ people wont be
predestined to absolute failure. As well as looking at inequality from an
economic viewpoint, it is also important to discuss race and gender as a result
of post-structuralist frameworks which are subsequently changing the ways in
which inequality are being viewed in our modern society. This is supported by
Valentine and Harris (2014) who believe that over the last two decades there
has been a focus on ‘difference’, in which experiences of discrimination have
been explored through a variety of lenses such as: gender, race, disability.
They believe that these factors are important in explaining inequality in
recent times, as the issue concerns a lot more than just a divide between the
rich and poor.

 

When looking at the issue of inequality, social geographers
often emphasise the role of class stratification in highlighting an unequal
society. According to Massey (1996), class segregation was mainly the result of
urbanisation. He argues that the rich and the poor both came to inhabit urban
areas, and within these urban areas, effective new transportation and communication
systems allowed the people of affluence to distance themselves from the poor
which therefore led to a rise in the levels of class separation. He also stated
that as poverty becomes more geographically concentrated, its harmful
externalities amplify social problems that the affluent will seek to escape;
which leads to further class segregation as well as underlining inequality in
society. Thus, overall, Massey discusses that giving the high levels of class
segregation in our modern society, it is no surprise that inequality strives in
cities as areas of ‘poor people’ become increasingly geographically
concentrated over time. This idea is reiterated by Hubbard (2008), who denotes
that the sharpest concentrations of wealth and poverty are most apparent in
cities within ‘rich neighbourhoods’. Therefore, if the rich and poor continue
to live separately within cities, inequality will continue to rise due to
different levels of wealth being geographically concentrated, resulting in
unequal development across regions. Consequently, it can be summarised that
social geographers look closely at class segregation in order to highlight
unequal societies within large urban spaces, as these inequalities have led to high
levels of deprivation and conflicting communities within society, which has a
simultaneous impact on social order.

 

Furthermore, another way in which social geography
approaches the concept of inequality is through looking at the social
implications surrounding unequal societies. It could be inferred that health
and social problems are worse in uneven countries, to name a few: obesity, life
expectancy, imprisonment, mental illness, etc. An example of this is the way in
which Wilkinson and Pickett (2009) discuss different social factors that effect
unequal societies, and why these have damaging impacts on the less privileged.
Firstly, they assert that health is directly related to a person’s income, as
higher incomes are related to lower death rates at every level of society. Thereby,
as health is an important gradient that affects us all, the unfairness in
society is stressed by the fact that different incomes often determine a person’s
health. The example that Wilkinson and Pickett use to demonstrate this is the
fact that babies born in the USA, which is the next to last least equal developed
nation, are twice as likely to die in their first year than babies in Japan
which is the most equal developed nation. This infers that inequalities within
society are not only leading to class segregation, but they are directly
impacting many social aspects of human life, even for people living in some of
the most developed nations. Therefore, it could be asserted that attempts to
reduce inequality overall will in turn reduce many social problems as well, as
inequalities in society disrupt social order which causes complications for
society. Thus, it can be summarised that social geographers are engaged with
the problems that arise for society from living in unequal societies, as they are
intertwined in all societies. Therefore, social geographers assess the
implications surrounding the inequalities in order to gain a better
understanding of how unequal societies disrupt social order.

 

On the other hand, cultural geographers are more involved
in exploring the way in which inequality identifies people in unequal
societies, rather than looking at the direct impacts it causes. For example, Tyler
(2013) discusses the fact that moral panic surrounding the introduction of
council estates in the United Kingdom unleashed pervasive forms of territorial
stigmatization, creating a class discourse upon the people who lived in these
objectified zones which therefore created the term ‘chav’; announcing a whole
new class. Ultimately, the figure of the ‘chav’ revealed how class distinctions
continued to be discursively reproduced in Britain, as some such as Edensor and
Millington (2009) argued that lowly working-class ‘others’ were what became to
be encapsulated in the figure of the ‘chav’. Therefore, this negative connotation
surrounding the unemployed or low-paid workers has allowed for a new class to
emerge; highlighting the class struggle that is current in modern society. Valentine
(2010) writes that ‘chav’ is almost always used to demean an individual or
group, and he suggests that this form of class prejudice has demonstrated the extent
to which poverty and inequality have come to be seen through the lens of individualisation
rather than in terms of the workings of capitalism. Therefore, this suggests
that rejection of class has come at a time of rapid growth of inequality, which
allows cultural geographers to see how people are identified in society through
stereotypes that are pinned to groups of people.

 

Another way in which cultural geographers approach the
study of inequality is by looking at place identities, and more importantly
myths that have shaped places which can emphasise inequalities in society.
Holloway and Hubbard (2001) argue that although myths may not be accurate
representations of ‘real’ places, they have effects on the ways in which groups
of people interact with their social surroundings. For example, the
stereotypical representation of the North and South of England was a result of
a long history of uneven development, and leads to the South being viewed as a
wealthier place to live, which therefore expresses an unequal society. Not only
does the North-South divide suggest superiority of Southern values, it proposes
cultural rifts which allows stereotypes to be made about the people from each
region; which Holloway and Hubbard have highlighted in their writing. Therefore,
negative imaging surrounding the economic status of the North of England underlines
inequality in British society, as people from the South of England think they
are better off than people living from the North. Hence, this seeks attention
from cultural geographers who are interested in discovering conflicting
cultures which dominate a person’s way of thinking in regards to myths about
place and identity.

 

After analysing different ways in which social and
cultural geography can be used to approach the study of inequality, it is
important to distinguish how they do this differently. Firstly, it can be
asserted that cultural geographers are more concerned with exploring the ways
in which values and ideas are constructed in our world, and how they influence
identity and place. Yet, in contrast, social geographers are more invested in
the impacts of the issue on factors in society, rather than the myths or
stereotypes that lead to the inequalities in civilisation. Thus, cultural
geography calls for more attention on how social groups were formed (del Casino,
2009) whereas social geography focuses more on analysing the impact a certain
issue has on its society. (Gregson, 2003). Yet, both sub-disciplines are
similar in highlighting the split in society that inequality causes, helping to
emphasise the unequal society we live in. Consequently, it can be affirmed that
both sub-disciplines learn from each others field in order to provide a
well-rounded argument for the issue of inequality when used together. (del
Casino, 2009). This is further suggested by both of the sub-disciplines ability
to approach inequality looking at the racial and spacial segregation that stems
from it, leaving people to feel socially or culturally excluded. In order to
explain this, we can look at the Burkini ban that happened on 30 coastal towns
along the French Riviera, which was implemented because they were believed to
cite risk to public order following a terrorist attack by radical Islam.
(Chrisafis, 2016). Cultural geographers could view this as a cause of myths or
stereotypes being associated with a large group of people, leaving all Islamic
people as scapegoats due to the actions of a few. Cultural geographers may also
be invested in exploring why these myths have become widespread, and suggest
that this is a result of unequal social relationships. Whereas social geographers
could be concerned with the serious attack on these peoples’ fundamental
rights, and discover how this social prejudice has impacted a whole society;
leaving them socially excluded from certain areas. Therefore, ultimately, both
cultural and social geography approach issues slightly differently, as
explained previously.

 

In conclusion, it can be asserted that inequality is a
present topic for debate in a variety of areas within geography, and both
sub-disciplines have altered ways of studying inequality, with few similarities.
Yet, it could be established that if both social and cultural geography worked
together in approaching inequality, then they would produce a well-rounded
argument of the myths regarding inequality as well as the impacts it has on
society. Therefore, I do not believe that one sub-discipline is particularly
more valuable in approaching the study of inequality or thinking about the
causes or experiences that arise from inequality. Due to them both giving a
reasonable line of action regarding the issue, although them being slightly
different in their approach I believe that they both provide a sufficient
approach in highlighting inequality, as well as going hand in hand in
explaining the reasons for and the problems that occur as a result of our uneven
society.