Why Universalism Trumps Targeting in Social Policy

How  we provide justice to the disadvantaged – An ongoing situation of too few resources and too many needy. I believe this post and its embodied reports would be well to be read and heeded by our governments and their instruments in South africa as the system of targeting is so embedded in our hand-outs and the sad results of dependency in the face of great need breeds despair.  From [polis]  Posted by Katia Savchuk

These women in Ocotito, Mexico, participated in Oportunidades, a government program that pays women to send children to school. Conditional cash transfers are an example of targeting in social policy. Source: World Bank / Adrian Mealand

In the 1960s and 1970s, a universalistic approach to social policy – under which the entire population is eligible for social benefits as a basic right – prevailed in developed and developing countries. Since the 1980s, however, policymakers have increasingly embraced targeting, which limits eligibility for social benefits to beneficiaries who meet specific criteria. Proponents of targeting claim that it is most efficient to direct scarce resources to those who need or “deserve” them most. The shift away from universalism was conditioned by fiscal deficits, the rise of neo-liberal ideology and shifting priorities for aid.

The choice between universalism and targeting is ideological. If the primary objective of social policy is combating social exclusion, a return to universalism is warranted. Social inclusion involves not only decreasing disparities in material well-being, but also in citizenship, sense of belonging, voice, autonomy and power relations. A universalistic approach promotes inclusive citizenship, equal rights and social solidarity, and has historically been associated with more equitable societies. Targeting, on the other hand can reinforce social disparities, reduce autonomy, exclude vulnerable individuals from accessing benefits and buttress uneven power relations.

Universalistic social policies, by making eligibility for benefits a right of citizenship, define citizens as equal before the state. They also enhance the legitimacy of rights-based claims, which members of society can call upon on equal terms. By placing citizens on equal ground rather than emphasizing difference, universalistic policies can also increase social cohesion and reduce discrimination. Empirically, societies that adopt universalistic policies have had lower levels of social inequality. In a 2000 UNICEF study of developing countries that made the most progress in providing widespread access to social services in the last 50 years, a universal approach to provision was the key commonality.

Read More

Designing the Post-Political City and the Insurgent Polis’: A Recorded Presentation by Erik Swyngedouw

From [polis} a  dissertation on alternatives to top-down design with the limited purpose of serving vested financial and political influences for the benefit of its population – this is particularly relevant to our situation here in Cape Town with the current emphasis on Central Improvement Districts, IRT systems which serve more affluent suburbs rather than the urban poor stuck in ghettos on the periphery and Soccer World Cup stadiums that are now white elephants and a financial noose around the cities neck while the profits accrue in the hands of vested international interests – is there a way to resist this is the focus of a recorded presentation by Eric Swyngedouw on “Designing the Post-Political City and the Insurgent Polis.” Swyngedouw is a professor of geography at the University of Manchester School of Environment and Development.

Swyngedouw points to a climate of global consensus that has become pervasive over the past twenty years, effectively suppressing dissent and excluding most people from governance. He explains this consensus as limited to a select group (e.g., elite politicians, business leaders, NGOs, experts from a variety of fields) and perpetuated through “empty signifiers” like the sustainable/creative/world-class city. He argues that this consensus serves a “post-political” neoliberal order in which governments fail to address citizens’ most basic needs in order to subsidize the financial sector and take on grandiose projects designed to attract global capital. He adds that the flipside of management through limited consensus is rebellion on the part of the excluded, which he views as insurgent architecture and planning that claims a place in the order of things. Swyngedouw calls for open institutional channels for enacting dissent, fostering a democratic politics based on equal opportunity for all in shaping the decisions that affect our lives. He envisions the city as “insurgent polis” — a new agora where democratic politics can take place, where anyone can make a case for changing the existing framework

Listen to the presentation and read more on [polis]

Book Review: Small Scale: Creative Solutions for Better City Living

Posted by Min Li Chan on polis
Keith Moskow and Robert Linn
Princeton Architectural Press (2010)
Fellow Polis blogger, Melissa Garcia Lamarca, and I recently hunkered down with Moskow and Linn’s sojourn into small-scale urban interventions by architects for “making life better for city dwellers” around the world (as the authors describe in the book’s introduction). Paul Goldberger, in his recent New Yorker piece on Frank Gehry’s new residential tower at 8 Spruce Street in Brooklyn, observed that:

For the past half century, there have been two ways to build an apartment building in New York: an architect’s way or a developer’s way.

In reviewing the genuinely creative, fascinating projects put forth in “Small Scale,” we wondered aloud if the criteria and measures of success used by the authors was too steeped in the architect’s way, leaving us with lingering questions on the projects’ process and true impact, particularly with our respective backgrounds in urban politics/development and technology/ethnography. One may argue that the architect’s way lives too much in the world of Utopian ideas (while the developer’s way is largely pragmatic, functional, at the risk of being overly utilitarian).
Still, the format appears to repudiate that of an architectural coffee table book and warrants thoughtful debate. Thus, we’ve taken a slightly unorthodox approach to this book review by presenting it in the experimental form of a free-flow conversation, conducted via online chat between New York and San Francisco. With fond apologies for any errors of web-speak that are to follow, Continue reading

Spatial layout, urban movement & human transaction (via The power of the network)

Tim Stonor of Space Syntax gives a detailed account of the role of design in achieving sustainable mobility and all that goes with it in cities

Spatial layout, urban movement & human transaction Download my presentation "Designing mobility for democracy: the role of cities" #demobility Thursday, 14th April 2011 from 1pm to 5pm NYU, Kimmel Center, Eisner & Lubin Auditorium 60 Washington Square South, New York Summary Given the title of this event: "Designing mobility", I want to turn to the subject of design and the role of architects. The key message of this presentation is that cities need architects, not only to design the building … Read More

via The power of the network