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Damned by Place, then by Politics: Spatial Disadvantage and the Housing Policy-research Interface


  • Rowland Atkinson
  • Keith Jacobs


In this paper we engage with some fundamental questions about the focus and conduct of academic research and its potential influence on policy in relation to social problems. We use the example of public housing and social-spatial disadvantage as a basis to advance an analysis of the housing researcher's role in informing and framing the policymaking process and its links to research evidence. Although our paper uses the example of Australia, the arguments presented are also applicable to other nation states, such as the UK and US, that have an under-funded public housing stock. The paper proceeds in three stages. First, we detail the role and function of public housing in Australian cities and the politics surrounding public investment in welfare provision. Second, we discuss a series of models developed around the kind of research narratives that have been linked to policy on public housing and neighbourhoods from the academy, arguing that the social composition and management of 'place' has been emphasised at the expense of structural imperatives. Third, we examine some of the more abstract concerns raised by the linkages we make, and the potentially delimited role of academic research on social problems such as poverty and locational disadvantage. We conclude the paper by arguing that the weak position of housing research has fuelled an internalised narrative-driven pragmatic realism that has occluded more useful accounts about the nature of social problems. It is therefore incumbent on researchers to challenge, in a more vigorous way, the narratives underpinning this self-restraining form of policy-realism.

Suggested Citation

  • Rowland Atkinson & Keith Jacobs, 2010. "Damned by Place, then by Politics: Spatial Disadvantage and the Housing Policy-research Interface," International Journal of Housing Policy, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 10(2), pages 155-171.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:intjhp:v:10:y:2010:i:2:p:155-171
    DOI: 10.1080/14616718.2010.480855

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