SO480      Half Unit
Urban Inequalities

This information is for the 2023/24 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Fran Tonkiss STC.S205


This course is available on the MSc in City Design and Social Science, MSc in Inequalities and Social Science, MSc in Regional And Urban Planning Studies, MSc in Urban Policy (LSE and Sciences Po) and MSc in Urbanisation and Development. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

This course has a limited number of places (it is controlled access). Priority will be given to students on the MSc in City Design and Social Science, for whom the course is an ‘optional core course’. Places are allocated based on a written statement. This may mean that not all students who apply will be able to get a place on this course.

Course content

This course offers a critical introduction to key issues and processes in the study of contemporary urban inequalities. This course puts contemporary processes of urban growth in the context of another major urban trend: deepening patterns of inequality in many cities across the world. It examines the continuing role of ‘older’ bases of urban inequality - access to land and property, gender inequity, ethnic and racial discrimination, legal exclusion and informality – as well as significant emerging patterns, including extreme concentrations of wealth at the top, middle-class stagnation, privatisation and spatial secession, forced migration and insecurity. It also examines the complex of ways in which urban inequality is experienced, not only in terms of income or property wealth, but also in consumption inequalities, inequities in access to housing, transport, urban services and legal protections, spatial disparities and environmental risks and injustices. The course considers the range of social, economic, environmental and political factors that shape, and also might help to address, urban inequality in these different contexts.

The course will:

• provide a critical introduction to current and emerging patterns of urban inequality

• consider the production of urban inequalities through social, economic, political and spatial processes

• explore common themes and critical differences across cities in developed and developing economies

• address key debates in a range of urban disciplines, and situate these in specific urban contexts and examples


Key themes

• Urban growth and the growth of inequality

•Wealth, income and inequality

• Spatial injustice: segregation and access

• Environment and inequities

• Informality and insecurity

• Social inequality in the city: gender, race and legal exclusions

• Governing inequality


This course is delivered through a combination of lectures, online materials and seminars totalling a minimum of 20 hours in the AT.

Reading Weeks: Students on this course will have a reading week in AT Week 6, in line with departmental policy.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay in the AT.

1 x 2000-word essay

Indicative reading

• Beall, J. and Fox, S. (2009) Cities and Development. London: Routledge.

• Brenner, N., Marcuse, P. and Mayer, M. (eds) 2012) Cities for People, Not for Profit: critical urban theory and the right to the city. London: Routledge.

• Davis, M. (2006) Planet of Slums. London: Verso.

• Goldsmith, W.J. and Blakeley, E. J. (2010) Separate Societies: Poverty and Inequality in U.S. Cities.  Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2010.

• Graham, S. and Marvin, S. (2001) Splintering Urbanism: networked infrastructures, technological mobilities and the urban condition London: Routledge.

• Nightingale, G. (2012) Segregation: A Global History of Divided Cities. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

• Roy, A. and AlSayyad, N. (eds) (2004) Urban Informality: transnational perspectives from the Middle East, Latin America, and South Asia. Lanham, MD.: Lexington Books.

• Soja, E. W. (2010) Seeking Spatial Justice. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

• Tannerfeldt, G. and Ljung. P. (2006) More Urban Less Poor: An Introduction to Urban Development and Management. London: Earthscan

• Wacquant, L. (2007) Urban Outcasts: a comparative sociology of advanced marginality. Cambridge: Polity.


Essay (100%, 5000 words) in the WT.

An electronic copy of the assessed essay, to be uploaded to Moodle, no later than 4.00pm on the first Wednesday of Winter Term. 

Attendance at all classes and submission of all set coursework is required.

Key facts

Department: Sociology

Total students 2022/23: 39

Average class size 2022/23: 20

Controlled access 2022/23: Yes

Lecture capture used 2022/23: Yes (LT)

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication