An application of John Rawls' principles of social justice to planning: issues arising from the implementation of the national housing subsidy programme in the inner City of Johannesburg

John Rawl' s conception of social justice has had a fundamental influence on liberal ethics yet its practical implications for distributive planning have rarely been considered in any comprehensive way. This is the key contribution of this thesis. Using the South African housing subsidy system, it examines how distributional policies may be structured to benefit the least advantaged and explores the consequences of their implementation in Johannesburg's inner city. Based on a literature review, it argues that Western planners often place the responsibility for distributional decisions on political processes, or concern themselves with maximising the public good without addressing the consequent allocation of the costs and benefits among members of society. Contemporary planning theory continues to avoid the substantive c.9ntent of social justice. Confronted with what seem to be equally valid, often competing conceptions of social justice, planners focus on the fairness of planning procedures instead of taking normative, principled positions on distributional outcomes. However, just procedure alone does not guarantee a just outcome. This requires adherence to some predefined set of distributional principles, and Rawls' political conception of social justice is presented here as a reasonable and compelling option for planners. Drawing on the author's practical experience, this thesis traces the liberal influence on the formulation of housing subsidy policy in South Africa and argues that national policy generally conforms with Rawlsian distributional principles. However, an empirical analysis of the housing sector in Johannesburg's inner city reveals that its impact is dissipated by a lack of local commitment to the original principles. Conflicting development principles and a failure among many residents to honour the obligations attached to housing benefits compound the problem. This thesis concludes that Rawlsian principles of social justice in combination with the contemporary communicative turn in planning provide planners with a powerful means of placing social justice on the development agenda, but that these principles require championing because conflicting principles and interests continuously place the needs of the least advantaged at risk.
A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy to the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment, School of Architecture and Planning, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, 2003
Social justice, South African housing, Rawlsian principles