The SAGE Handbook of Housing Studies


Edited by: David F. Clapham, William A. V. Clark & Kenneth Gibb

  • Citations
  • Add to My List
  • Text Size

  • Chapters
  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
  • The Natural Home

    SAGE has been part of the global academic community since 1965, supporting high quality research and learning that transforms society and our understanding of individuals, groups, and cultures. SAGE is the independent, innovative, natural home for authors, editors and societies who share our commitment and passion for the social sciences.

    Find out more at:


    View Copyright Page

    List of Contributors

    Michael Ball is Professor of Urban and Property Economics in the School of Real Estate and Planning, Henley Business School, University of Reading. His books include Markets and Institutions in Real Estate and Construction (Blackwell Publishing, 2006) and the co-authored textbook, The Economics of Commercial Property Markets (Routledge, 1998). He jointly chairs the housing economics group of the European Network for Housing Research; led the expert advisory panel on housing markets and planning for the UK government's Communities and Local Government department from 2007 to 2010. He has produced a series of reports for the UK government which have focused on the economics of the housebuilding industry; the impact of regulation and land-use planning on housing supply; and the consequences of the economic downturn on housing supply. His recent research has focused on issues related to inter-relations between markets and institutional frameworks, specifically concerning housing supply, the private rented sector, and specialist housing for the elderly.

    Bo Bengtsson is a Professor of Political Science at Uppsala University, Sweden, where he divides his time between the Department of Government and the Institute for Housing and Urban Research. He has published extensively in the field of housing policy and politics, and in recent years also on integration politics and ethnic organization. He has analysed housing policy and politics on the macro level in perspectives of citizenship, rights, and universal vs selective housing regimes. On a micro level he has explored the role of housing organisations, and the conditions of tenant participation and collective action in housing. He has been keynote speaker at a number of international conferences and is a member of the editorial board of Housing, Theory and Society.

    Christopher Bitter is an Assistant Professor of Urban Design and Planning at the University of Washington in Seattle and is affiliated with the Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies. He earned his doctorate in Geography at the University of Arizona, and, prior to pursuing an academic career, he worked for many years as a real estate and urban economist in the private sector. His current research focuses on clarifying the implications of demographic change for cities and housing markets and the market context for more compact and sustainable forms of urban development.

    Gideon Bolt is an Assistant Professor of Urban Geography at the Faculty of Geosciences of Utrecht University, the Netherlands. His research focuses on urban policy, residential segregation and neighbourhood choice. He was (co-) guest editor of three recent special issues on this theme: Combating residential segregation of ethnic minorities (Journal of Housing and the Built Environment, 2009) Housing policy and (de)segregation: An international perspective (Housing Studies, 2010), and Linking integration and residential segregation (Journal of Ethnicand Migration Studies, 2010). Dr Bolt is an editor of Journal of Housing and the Built Environment and Tijdschrift voor de Volkshuisvesting (Housing Sector Journal).

    Tim Butler is Professor of Geography at King's College London and the Vincent Wright Professor in the Centre for European Studies at Sciences Po. He is the author of several books on the gentrification of London and most recently (with Chris Hamnett) of Ethnicity, Class and Aspiration: Understanding London's New East End (Policy Press, 2011). He has also edited two books on the regeneration of East London and one (with Michael Savage) on Social Change and the Middle Classes (UCL Press, 1995). He is the author (with Paul Watt) of Understanding Social Inequality (Sage, 2007). He has edited a book on social mixing and urban regeneration (with Gary Bridge and Loretta Lees) Mixed Communities: Gentrification by Stealth? (Policy Press, 2011 and University of Chicago Press, 2012). He has authored several articles on gentrification and more recently on the geography of education and specifically on school choice. He is currently involved in a joint ESRC–ANR research project (with Gary Bridge and Marie Hélène Bacqué) on the Middle Class, Social Mixing and the City (MiCCY), comparing the relations between the middle classes and the city in London and Paris. He is a trustee and treasurer of the Foundation of Urban and Regional Studies (FURS) and a Board Member of the Research Committee (RC21) on urban and regional research of the International Sociological Association and a member of the Editorial Board of the London Journal.

    David Clapham is Professor of Housing in the School of City and Regional Planning at Cardiff University in the UK. Recent books include The Meaning of Housing (Policy Press, 2005). He is also editor of the journal Housing, Theory and Society published by Routledge. His current research interests include homelessness, the application of social theory to housing, housing for disadvantaged people, and the inter-disciplinary analysis of the housing market.

    William A.V. Clark is Professor of Geography at the University of California Los Angeles with a joint appointment in Statistics. His research focuses on demographic change, models of residential mobility and the sorting processes that bring about residential segregation in the urban mosaic. He has been a visiting scholar at the Universities of Amsterdam, Utrecht, Victoria University Wellington and St Andrews, Scotland. He is an honorary member of the Royal Society of New Zealand and a member of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA. He has published extensively on both internal and international migration, including most recently Immigrants and the American Dream: Remaking the Middle Class (2003).

    Suzanne Fitzpatrick completed her PhD on youth homelessness at the University of Glasgow in 1998 and subsequently held a number of posts in the Department of Urban Studies at the University of Glasgow. From 2003 to 2010, Suzanne was Joseph Rowntree Professor of Housing Policy and Director of the Centre for Housing Policy at the University of York, and took up her current post as Professor of Housing and Social Policy at Heriot-Watt University in July 2010. Suzanne specialises in research on homelessness and housing exclusion, and much of her work has an international comparative dimension. Suzanne is Editor of the International Journal of Housing Policy.

    Ray Forrest is Professor of Urban Studies in the School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol, UK and Chair Professor in Housing and Urban Studies, City University of Hong Kong. He has been Head of the School for Policy Studies at Bristol (2001–2004), co-Director of the ESRC Centre for Neighbourhood Research (2001–2005), and Acting Head of the Centre for East Asian Studies (2007–2008). He is a founding member of the Asia-Pacific Network of Housing Researchers. His research interests focus on social change and social division in the contemporary city. His most recent book (co-edited with Yip, Ngai-ming) is Housing Markets and the Global Financial Crisis – The Uneven Impact on Households.

    George Galster is the Clarence Hilberry Professor of Urban Affairs at the Department of Geography and Urban Planning, Wayne State University, Michigan. He earned his PhD in Economics from MIT. He has published over 150 scholarly articles, primarily on the topics of metropolitan housing markets, racial discrimination and segregation, neighborhood dynamics, and urban poverty. His authored and edited books include Homeowners and Neighborhood Reinvestment, The Maze of Urban Housing Markets, The Metropolis in Black and White, Reality and Research, Why NOT in My Back Yard?, Life in Poverty Neighborhoods, and Quantifying Neighborhood Effects.

    Kenneth Gibb is a Professor in Housing Economics at the University of Glasgow. Current research interests include the economics of social housing, behavioural economics and urban housing market analysis. He has published widely in journals such as Housing Studies, Housing, Theory and Society, Environment and Planning A and C, Journal of Housing Economics, Real Estate Economics, International Journal of Housing Markets and Analysis and the Journal of Property Research. He is co-editor of Sage's forthcoming Reader in Housing Economics (with Alex Marsh). He is also the editor-in-chief of Urban Studies.

    Chris Hamnett is Professor of Geography at King's College London. He is the author of several books, including Unequal City, London in the Global Arena (Routledge, 2003) and Winners and Losers: Home Ownership in Britain (Taylor & Francis, 1999). He is co-author (with Tim Butler) of Ethnicity, Class and Aspiration (Policy Press, 2011) and co-author of number of other books on the housing market. He has held a variety of visiting positions, including Sciences Po, Paris; the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Studies; Nuffield College Oxford, and George Washington University. In addition to his previous work on gentrification, social polarisation and housing in London, he has recently published several articles with Tim Butler on education in London and is currently working on ethnic change in secondary schools in England and the impact of government policies on housing benefit in Britain.

    Phillip Jones is Chair of Architectural Science and Head of School at the Welsh School of Architecture, Cardiff University. He also chairs the Wales Low Carbon Research Institute (LCRI), which is a consortium of six universities in Wales representing energy research across a broad range of subjects. His teaching and research activities are in the field of energy use, environmental design and sustainability in the built environment. He is a visiting professor at Chongqing University and Tianjin University. He chaired the EU COST Action C23 ‘Low Carbon Urban Built Environment’, which produced the European Carbon Atlas (2009).

    Roderick Lawrence is a Professor of the Faculty of Social and Economic Sciences at the University of Geneva and heads the Human Ecology Group at the Institute of Environmental Sciences. He has been an Associate Member of the New York Academy of Sciences since 1997. His recent research and publications focus on interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary contributions to tackle housing and urban planning while promoting health and quality of life. He has been a Scientific Advisor to the World Health Organization on housing and health and also to the WHO Healthy Cities project.

    Julie Lawson is a Senior Research Associate for the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute. Her interests include international comparative research, urban development, land and housing policy and social housing finance. She has worked for institutes and universities (OTB TU Delft, RMIT University, University of NSW, University of Sydney, University of Amsterdam and Institute of Housing and Urban Studies, Erasmus), the United Nations (Habitat, Nairobi), the Dutch and Australian government as well as city governments and community organisations. Julie has published numerous investigations on housing finance and urban planning including International Measures to Channel Investment Towards Affordable Housing (AHURI, 2010) and International Trends in Housing and Policy Responses (AHURI, 2007). She is on the editorial advisory board of Housing Theory and Society and is author of Critical Realism and Housing Research (Routledge, 2006) as well as numerous articles in the field of path dependence, comparative historical analysis such as Path dependency and emergent relations (Routledge, 2010), Comparative housing research in the new millennium (UNSW, 2010) and Comparing the causal mechanisms underlying housing networks over time and space (Springer, 2001). She is currently based in Geneva, Switzerland and is writing about federal state structures and designing a bond financing instrument to channel investment towards limited-profit housing.

    Chris Leishman is Professor of Housing and Urban Economics at the University of Glasgow. His work centres on modelling housing markets, including determination of house prices, rents, development activity, tenure choice and affordability. He specialises in working with large scale micro and macro datasets, econometric modelling and simulation models. A particularly imporant aspect of his work involves bridging academic research and sophisticated modelling approaches with the needs of policy makers and advisors. As such, a great deal of his career has been spent working on public sector policy-related research projects. Chris is currently Editor-in-Chief of the leading housing journal Housing Studies.

    Duncan Maclennan is an applied economist with interests in cities, neighbourhoods and housing. He is currently the Director of the Centre for Housing Research and Professor of Economic Geography at the University of St Andrews and Adjunct Professor at RMIT, Melbourne. He was previously at the University of Glasgow and Directed the ESRC Centre for Housing Research there from 1984–99. He has also held major posts in public policy as adviser to the First Minister of Scotland and as Chief Economist (DSE) in the Government of Victoria (Australia) and at Infrastructure Canada: (Federal Government of Canada).

    Walter Matznetter is Assistant Professor at the Department of Geography of the University of Vienna, Austria. In 2004, he was a Fulbright Visiting Professor at the University of Minnesota, USA. His research is in comparative urban and housing research, mainly within Europe. He is (co-) author and/or (co-) editor of eight books and 54 articles, mainly in German, and some in English, such as European Integration and Housing (1998, Routledge, with Mark Kleinman and Mark Stephens). He is currently co-editing a special issue of BELGEO, on international student migration (in English), and a book on European metropolises (in German, 2011, Mandelbaum).

    Geoffrey Meen is currently Professor of Applied Economics and Head of the School of Politics, Economics and International Relations at the University of Reading. He also holds an Adjunct Professorship at RMIT University, Melbourne. Prior to joining the University of Reading, he worked in the private sector and in the Government Economic Service. Professor

    Meen specialises in quantitative housing market analysis at different spatial scales. He has published in most of the major academic journals in housing, and in numerous policy publications, as well as being author of Modelling Spatial Housing Markets: Theory, Analysis and Policy (Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2001).

    Alexis Mundt is research associate at the Vienna-based IIBW – Institute for Real Estate, Construction and Housing Ltd. He received universal training in economics and history at the University of Vienna and the Vienna University of Economics and Business. His areas of research include the history of the welfare state, social policy evaluation, international housing policy and social housing. He has worked on a number of projects that have investigated and evaluated housing policy in Austria and Europe.

    Sako Musterd is Professor of Urban Geography and Director of the Centre for Urban Studies at the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. His main research interests are in the fields of spatial segregation, integration and neighbourhood effects. He has written and (co-)edited a dozen books in this field, including Urban Segregation and the Welfare State (Routledge, 1998); Neighbourhoods of Poverty (Palgrave MacMillan 2006); Mass Housing in Europe (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), and wrote extensively in international scientific journals as well ( He is a member of the editorial/management/advisory boards of the journals Urban Geography; Urban Studies; International Journal of Urban and Regional Research; and Housing Studies.

    David A. Plane is Professor of Geography and Regional Development at the University of Arizona, Tucson. His research focuses on migration systems, population distribution in the United States, and the modelling of spatial interaction. A Fellow of the Western Regional Science Association and of the Regional Science Association International, he has served as President of the Association of Pacific Coast Geographers, the Population Specialty Group of the Association of American Geographers, the Pacific Regional Science Conference Organization, and the North American Regional Science Council. He co-authored, with Peter Rogerson, the highly acclaimed text: The Geographical Analysis of Population: With Applications to Planning and Business.

    Hugo Priemus is Professor Emeritus in Housing at OTB Research Institute for the Built Environment, Delft University of Technology. He was educated in architecture (Delft) and general economics (Erasmus University, Rotterdam). He was Dean of the Faculty of Architecture and Dean of the Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management of TU Delft. He has written many books and journal articles on housing, spatial planning, urban development and infrastructure, and planning. He has conducted advisory work for the United Nations, the World Bank, the European Commission, the Dutch Parliament, Dutch Ministries and local governments.

    Steven Rowley is Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Property Studies, Curtin Business School, Curtin University, Perth. Steven is also Director of the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute's Western Australian Research Centre. Steven holds a PhD in property valuation and has published numerous reports for the UK Government, as well as book chapters and papers in journals such as Urban Studies and Town Planning Review. He is currently working on research aimed at increasing the supply of affordable housing in metropolitan and regional Australia.

    Maarten van Ham is Professor of Urban Renewal at the OTB Research Institute for the Built Environment, Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands. His research interest can be broadly defined as the causes and consequences of family migration: Why do people move residence and what are the consequences of moving for the housing, household and labour career? Maarten is an expert on neighbourhood effects, residential mobility, housing and tenure choice, urban and neighbourhood change, segregation, population and household change, and the geography of labour markets. He has published widely in these areas, and currently has projects in the UK, Sweden, Germany, Estonia and the Netherlands.

    Ronald van Kempen is Professor of Urban Geography at the Faculty of Geosciences of Utrecht University, the Netherlands. His research focuses on urban spatial segregation, divided cities, the effects of housing and urban policy on neighbourhoods and residents, urban enclaves, high-rise housing estates, social cohesion and residential mobility, especially of low-income and minority-ethnic groups. He has co-edited a number of special issues of international journals on this theme (Urban Studies, Housing Studies, Urban Geography, Housing, Theory and Society, Journal of Economic and Social Geography). He also co-edited Restructuring Large Housing Estates in Europe (Policy Press), Mass Housing in Europe (Palgrave Macmillan) and Globalizing Cities (Blackwell).

    Christine M.E. Whitehead is an internationally respected housing economist. She is currently Professor in Housing in the Department of Economics, London School of Economics. Until the end of 2010 she was also Director of the Cambridge Centre of Housing and Planning Research, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last September. Her latest book with Sarah Monk, Making Housing More Affordable, published by Wiley Blackwell, was launched at the celebratory conference. She has been working in the fields of housing economics, finance and policy for many years, covering both UK and international issues. She was awarded an OBE for services to housing in 1991.

    Judith Yates is currently an Honorary Associate in Economics at the University of Sydney, following a career of more than 30 years in academia. Her research has been in the fields of housing economics, finance and policy and, in the past few years, has focused on housing affordability, the supply of low-rent housing and housing taxation. She has served on numerous government advisory committees and on a number of boards and is currently a member of the government's National Housing Supply Council and on the board of the not-for-profit National Housing Company.


    Housing studies as a field of study in the social sciences has a relatively recent pedigree. There have been studies of housing dating back to the Industrial Revolution, but before the 1970s they tended to be few and situated within particular social science disciplines. From the 1970s onwards, housing became a subject in its own right, largely because of government interest in research for the policy process in a number of European countries. In Britain, this coincided with a growth in professional education in the housing field, supported by government concerned with a perceived lack of skilled professionals to cope with housing problems. There developed a specific field that one can call housing studies. Although many academics reached into the field from their own disciplinary base, others saw themselves as ‘housing specialists’ who often drew from a range of disciplines to analyse housing phenomena. In the field of economics, the growth of the sub-specialty urban economics included specific studies of housing and housing markets. Within urban economics a number of people specialised in housing and there developed a subdiscipline – somewhat peripheral to mainstream economics – but drawing inspiration from it and from links with housing researchers from other disciplines.

    Although there are no university departments devoted entirely to housing studies, a number of research centres were established with housing as their primary focus and in this way the development of a housing field of research became institutionalised. In Britain, the Housing Studies Association was formed to organise dialogue between housing academics and policymakers. The European Network for Housing Research soon followed, with the Asia Pacific Network for Housing Research close behind.

    This Handbook is designed to review the ‘state of the art’ of this field of housing studies. It is a diverse field, with research being undertaken from a number of disciplines as well as some multi-disciplinary work. The focus of research varies from ethnographic studies of homeless people to econometric studies of the relationship between the housing market and the wider economy. Therefore, any review cannot hope to be comprehensive, and we are aware that there are many gaps not covered in this volume. Nevertheless, we have attempted to capture as many as possible of the different dimensions of the field. Furthermore, we have attempted to highlight ways in which there is potential for the field to develop in the future. Contributors have been asked to review where we have got to and to chart future directions, which may be research topics or the development of particular concepts or approaches or policy directions. It is the belief of the editors that much can be gained through multi-disciplinary research and so contributors have been specifically asked to highlight areas where there is potential for this.

    We have divided the Handbook into four sections. The first section examines the basic structures of a housing market. First, the concept of a market is reviewed and our existing ways of thinking about it are re-examined. How do we think about a market and how does it operate? There follow chapters on different elements of the market. One reviews knowledge of the supply of housing. Another examines household decision making and the factors that influence that. A third looks at the processes of housing mobility that are the essence of the sale and purchase of the housing product. The final chapter in this section examines the concept of neighbourhood that is at the heart of the functioning of housing markets.

    With the basics established, Section 2 reviews different approaches to the study of housing. We argued earlier that housing has been a multi-disciplinary field and the major elements are reviewed in this section. It starts with a review of the neo-liberal economics approach to housing markets that can perhaps be seen as the dominant approach to the analysis of housing markets. But this is followed by a chapter that examines alternative economic approaches such as behavioural and new institutional economics. Other disciplinary approaches are also reviewed, such as the geographical focus on space and the psychological emphasis on people–environment studies. Political science is included by means of a chapter that takes a politics perspective and reviews research on housing that focuses on political institutions (state and non-state) and processes of interaction between political elite actors as well as between elite actors and citizens in general. Sociology is represented by two chapters: one evaluates the contribution of the social constructionist perspective to housing studies; the other reviews structuralist sociological paradigms and their application to the field of housing. A theme running through many of these contributions is the need for a more multi- or interdisciplinary approach to the housing field and some ways forward in identifying possible starting points are charted.

    Section 3 focuses on the different elements of the context within which housing markets operate. Housing is related to many other fields in reciprocal relationships of influence and five such areas are highlighted here. Perhaps the most important is the relationship between housing and the wider economy covered in the first chapter. But a growing influence is the concern about the natural environment and its finite resources. One element of this, which is receiving increased attention from governments, is the need to reduce carbon emissions in the construction and use of houses and this is the focus in the another chapter in this section. Other chapters examine the link between housing and urban form; the concept of neighbourhood and the link between housing and social life. Housing is also linked to other elements of state welfare spending, and the final chapter of this section reviews the research on these links through the concept of welfare regimes in different countries in which there are different scales and types of housing intervention, linked to differences in state provision in other fields.

    The final section focuses on government policy towards housing. The first chapter examines research on the nature of homelessness and government responses to it. Another reviews the provision of affordable housing in its many forms. Two chapters look at residential segregation, examining the processes involved and on government attempts to counteract it. One focuses on the concentration of ethnic minorities in particular neighbourhoods and the other on poverty or social exclusion. Another chapter examines the rationale and impact of different types of government subsidies to the producers and consumers of housing. The final chapter looks at research on the management of public housing stock.

    In the conclusion, the editors tie together some of the themes emerging from the contributions on the future direction of housing studies. It offers some thoughts on future research priorities and trends. What are the hot topics for the future and where is there most potential for developing the inter-disciplinary approaches that are so badly needed?

    Finally, at the outset Bengt Turner was one of the three editors. Unfortunately, Bengt passed away before the project could be completed. Therefore, we would like to dedicate this volume to him. He contributed as much as anyone to the field of housing studies, both through his writing and in his capacity as Chair of the European Network of Housing Research for many years. He was a personal inspiration to many scholars in the field and will be missed.

  • Conclusion


    The primary aim of this collection has been to provide a ‘state-of-the-art’ review of research on housing as well as to highlight some of the key issues and approaches for the future. So, what kind of state is housing studies in?

    The collection was intended to be as comprehensive as possible, given the constraints of space, but it is clear that there are gaps in our coverage. Nevertheless, the wide scope of the contributions shows the complexity of housing analysis. Some of this complexity relates to the nature of housing itself. Many chapters have reflected on the wide array of benefits or attributes that a house and home have for individuals and households.

    It is this complexity that is one reason why the house purchase decision is a difficult and protracted process that is difficult to model accurately. But housing is also complex because it impacts on many areas of private and public life. The complexity of housing has problems and opportunities for housing analysis. It precludes partial or simplistic analysis, but it provides an incentive and opportunity to undertake comprehensive and trans-disciplinary research.

    Section 1 showed that the basic concepts underlying our understanding of housing are contested. For example, there is no consensus on the nature of the micro foundations of the housing market. The traditional neoliberal approaches have been increasingly criticised by adherents of behavioural economics and other approaches such as material sociology. There is agreement that housing as a commodity has many features that differentiate it from other commodities. For example, Whitehead in Chapter 6 gives a list which includes its longevity, its complexity and the difficulties of information collection by buyers. People do not move home often and each time will have to update their knowledge of the market and the movement of house prices. These issues lead to complex patterns of consumer behaviour which most analysts accept are not reflected accurately in neo-liberal models, which assume perfect information and rational choices. However, the disagreement seems to be over whether this matters. Whitehead argues that the test of such models is not whether they seem to conform to reality, but rather whether they provide accurate predictions. It is difficult to see how they could do the one without the other, although I suppose that it could be argued that neo-liberal models just simplify by ignoring factors that cancel each other out. It is clear that this is an important argument that will run for some time. Progress in reaching a satisfactory conclusion will depend on two things that are highlighted in this volume.

    The first is more empirical work on actual local housing markets. Surprisingly, there is little empirical work in this area and, without it, the quest for a deeper understanding of market functioning seems to be futile. Neoliberal analysts have tended just to assume the nature of markets, but the new approaches in economics outlined in Chapter 13, with their psychological and sociological borrowings, offer the beginnings of a way of approaching the study of real markets. Therefore, the second important factor necessary for an understanding of housing markets is trans-disciplinary analysis. The effective fusing together of insights from different disciplines is necessary to understand the complexities of consumer behaviour and the actions and interactions of different agents in the housing market. Behavioural and new institutional economics provide a starting point for this, but have so far been very limited in their scope. The need is for a wider framework that incorporates insights from material sociology and other approaches. However, trans-disciplinary work is not easy and there are many barriers to be overcome.

    Section 2 showed the wide array of theoretical perspectives that have been used to illuminate housing and, again, although we have attempted to be as comprehensive as possible, there are inevitably gaps in our coverage. The large number of approaches reflects the complexity of housing and the many different analytical or policy questions that it poses. Even single issues such as consumer market behaviour can be viewed in many different ways and each can offer its own particular insights. So the approach taken is often dictated by the precise research question being addressed. Nevertheless, the lack of a coherent and comprehensive theoretical framework for the analysis of housing is a substantial weakness, because it becomes impossible to transcend the individual partial analyses. How do you put together different insights to understand how they relate together? How do you devise a policy when all you have to go on are partial insights?

    Of course the lack of a comprehensive framework reflects the situation in the social sciences more broadly and there is a strong argument that transcendence needs to start at that level. However, it has been argued in this Handbook that housing is a good place to start because of the need for a comprehensive analysis and the existing inter-disciplinary networks that have formed around it. Housing has already been the focus of transdisciplinary work in behavioural and institutional economics because of its unique features. Also, King (2009) has argued that housing provides a good base from which to devise theory because of its particular nature. Moreover, King argues for the need to devise a specific theory of housing, because it requires more than the application of general theory. Therefore, there is a strong argument for housing studies to be at the forefront of trans-disciplinary theory generation and research.

    However, the difficulties of undertaking trans-disciplinary research must not be underestimated. The reason that some psychological theories have been incorporated into behavioural economics is that they share common epistemologies and ontologies. The reason that sociological and geographical theories have not been incorporated is because of the lack of this common underpinning. In Chapter 10 in this Handbook and in a previous article (Clapham, 2009), I have attempted to outline the conditions necessary to combine a positivist economics and psychology with a social constructionist sociology, and have used the terms ‘limited positivism’ and ‘fixed constructionism’ to indicate the possibility of transcendence. Social constructionism accepts that certain elements of social life become ‘reified’ or accepted as fact in certain places at certain times. Is it then possible for social constructionists to accept positivism in these fixed or situated circumstances? Clearly there is much work to be done before progress can be made in this direction, but housing has proved to be a good testing ground for such endeavours.

    Section 3 examined the context of housing. An issue which has come to the fore in recent years and is reflected in many contributions here is the embededness of housing in the global and national economies. This has created a situation of volatility in housing markets and a need for households to manage risk. There is an ongoing debate, reflected in this Handbook, about the cause of the boom and bust cycles in many national housing markets. Some analysts situate their analysis in a neo-liberal assessment of changes in the ‘fundamentals’ of housing demand and supply. Behavioural economists focus on consumer behaviour and ‘irrational exuberance’ in creating booms. Yet others focus on the globalisation of finance markets brought about by their deregulation and internationalisation. The result has been massive flows of capital across space and in some instances risky investment that, when it has gone ‘bad’ as in the sub-prime mortgage market in the USA, has had deleterious impacts on housing markets and national economies. Clearly what is needed here is the trans-disciplinary analysis posited earlier that can incorporate all of these factors.

    Section 3 has also shown some of the public policy areas that relate to the field of housing. The most obvious are the economy and welfare policies, but others are coming more to the fore, such as the increasing concern with the environmental agenda.

    One element of the context facing housing markets has only been touched on in this collection, but could become a major research focus in the near future. This is the environmental impact of housing. Here we have focused on current interest in carbon reduction in housing design, but the need to tackle climate change and the increasing price of oil and other materials and energy sources could result in change in many aspects of housing production and consumer behaviour.

    A number of chapters have focused on the neighbourhood as a key component of the attributes of housing. But the location of households in space is a key element in the social impact of housing and so has been the focus of much government policy attention. Three chapters have focused on the social and ethnic segregation of households as ‘a problem’ sometimes for the households involved, but often for the wider society. It is likely that a concern with the neighbourhood as an important mechanism for social cohesion at a time of increasing individualism and mobility will be a key feature of government policy on housing. The neighbourhood may also be a key element in the search for a more environmentally sustainable form of living in cities. Therefore, it is a concern that government policies towards neighbourhoods seem to have had limited success. Policies designed to promote a mixed population have not succeeded in promoting personal interaction, although they do seem to have overcome some problems of stigma. There is little evidence that ethnic segregation is declining at a time when ethnic conflict is perceived as being a major problem. Therefore, further research on the causes and consequences of segregation, as well as on the mechanisms of location selection by consumers, is required in order to be able to identify effective intervention mechanisms for governments to pursue.

    Two chapters in Section 4 focused on government policies towards low-income households. In many countries social rented housing is the preserve of the poorest sections of the population and has been stigmatised. How to provide quality housing and services to this population within the constraints of declining public expenditures is a crucial issue, as of course is dealing with those people who become homeless. Despite the increased quantity and quality of housing in many countries, homelessness persists. Increasingly, the focus is on inequalities in housing opportunities that exclude some people from adequate housing and on the personal attributes and problems such as drug abuse and poor mental health that hinder some people in their pursuit of somewhere to live. Here is another example of the need for trans-disciplinary research to provide the holistic analysis to allow for all the complex factors involved in homelessness to be understood and related together.

    So this review finds housing studies in a robust state of health, as shown by the wealth of research covered here. But there is the potential for a greater contribution. There have been examples where housing studies have been at the forefront of transdisciplinary thinking and research and there is a wide scope for this approach in the future.

    ClaphamD(2009)A Theory of Housing: Problems and Potential,” Housing, Theory and SocietyVol. 26, No. 1 pp. 1–9.
    KingP.(2009)Using theory or making theory: can there be theories of housing,” Housing, Theory and SocietyVol. 26, No. 1 pp. 41–52.

    • Loading...
Back to Top