On justice, fairness and equity in Gothenburg

Eriksson, L., Isemo, S., and Abrahamsson, H. (2018) On justice, fairness and equity in Gothenburg. 2nd edition. Mistra Urban Futures Report 2018:4

Publication type
Report/Paper/Working paper/Brief
Realising Just Cities
Leif Eriksson Sanna Isemo Hans Abrahamsson
Published year



Mistra Urban Futures intellectual framework for international collaborative research is entitled “Realising Just Cities”. The framework is intended to provoke reflection, engagement and action around the relationships of core characteristics of sustainable cities worldwide. What just cities might look like and how just cities can be realised in different urban contexts is thus of central interest. As an initial way to test the relevance of the concept of the just, fair and equitable city in different urban contexts, Mistra Urban Futures’ international platforms were asked to conduct a small research study in each city during 2016. The report you are about to read is an initial contribution from the Gothenburg platform to the international comparative research on “Realising Just Cities”.
In the first part of the report, a theoretical framework is outlined as a basis for understanding of the concept of justice, fairness and equity (translated to the equivalent term “rättvisa” in Swedish). It becomes clear that these concepts are essentially contested and can be regarded as “floating signifiers”, i.e. concepts over which there is a continuous struggle. There is also a significant overlap between the meaning potential of the three concepts. In part I, an initial distinction is made between two different approaches to justice, namely a) positive “top-down” definitions, related to the principle of equality and b) negative “bottom-up” definitions, instead focusing on situations where there is an obvious injustice.
In the second part of the report the result of an interview study is presented and analysed with help of the theoretical framework. The interview study consists of interviews with representatives from civil society, the local government, the private sector and academia, carried out in Gothenburg in May-June 2016. The interview study shows that there is no uniform understanding of what a just, fair and equitable city means, nor that justice as concept is used in any great extend in a Gothenburg context. However, in a city as Gothenburg with large economic, social and spatial differences, what all respondents seems to agree on is that achieving a more just, fair and equitable city can be seen as a common objective.
Finally, the authors suggest a simple model as a starting point for a preliminary understanding of the concept of a just, fair and equitable city. It is concluded that for deeper insights in how this can be achieved, a continuous process of co-creation is needed. In such a process, stakeholders from different sectors must be involved, through empowered genuine dialogue in order to find ways to adapt to processes of change on the local level. The process must relate to concretely manifested problems and handle these in a socially sustainable way, through a contextualised negotiation of the meaning and practice of justice.

Related publications