Banner of research team Social Justice

Photo credit: Ben Sutherland via Visualhunt / CC BY

Social Justice

The Social Justice team studies phenomena of social or spatial justice/injustice. Our research focuses on the forms of subalternity, vulnerability, inequality and difference in their social, spatial and territorial expressions, and in their ramifications in identity and biography (gender, age, etc.). In particular it addresses the use of resources by individuals and groups, the social uses of public policies and the way in which territory constitutes a relevant place for observing, producing and correcting inequality, division and discrimination, for instance unequal access to healthcare and the practice of assistance and welfare.
We also propose post and de-colonial critical approaches, de-centering the focus of research, particularly in conceptual terms, and analysing power relations. Within this framework the team has carried out ‘bottom up’ or participatory research, with particular emphasis on experimentation in qualitative methodologies.
Lastly the team is exploring the structuring of alternative territorial imaginaries through innovation and experimental methodology such as science-art practices.

Director : Myriam Houssay Holzschuch


1. Querying principles and values; articulating critical though and an approach from the margins
We use a theoretical approach that involves de-centering the focus of epistemes, be it geographical or thematic. In particular this is based on unpacking the circulation of concepts between ‘North’ and ‘South’ to reconstruct the paradigms they use: for instance working on nearby regional conditions using a frame of reference originally designed for somewhere else. We aim for more inclusive epistemologies, such as Southern Theory and decolonial thoughts, to engage differently with the type of reflexivity and processes of domination induced by traditional social-science methodology. This may mean choosing off-centre objects and way of thinking (socio-spatial margins and their inhabitants, gender issues and queer approaches), but not exclusively. We maintain that such radical approaches can be applied to broader issues such as social geography, transition economics, critical sociology and political science.

2. Vulnerability, discrimination, capacity
The aim here is to better understand efforts to fight discrimination by analysing public policy, representations, stakeholders’ practices and the journeys of ‘victims’, thus contributing to more effective public action. Our comprehensive, pluridisciplinary and comparative perspective combines analysis of the careers of purported victims of discrimination with examination of corresponding political, judicial and social measures. In particular we aim to renew the theoretical paradigms and concepts for understanding the practices of institutional actors and individuals fighting discrimination, and situate them in more general analysis of vulnerability due to inequality, injustice or failure to uphold the principles of social justice. Our research analyses the forms of vulnerability, and social and territorial exclusion jointly produced by public policies and actors, and the impact of policies to combat inequality and discrimination on the principle of equality. It also seeks to focus attention on the social and institutional practices of a given territory, and to determine in what respect territory is the place where inequality and discrimination are produced, but also where they can be observed and corrected, including with regard to alternative imaginaries of territory. Our work also looks at how individuals use resources to reduce vulnerability, particularly through bottom-up public action with (professional or not) actors and users.

3. Borders, migration, exile and segregation
The border is one of the particular objects of interest to researchers working on exile. It is primarily seen as a geopolitical place, which has recently regained political importance as a complex filter of the flows arising out of globalization. The aim is not to treat it as an issue crucial to international relations, but as a type of space where processes of opening and closure take shape, making it possible to conceptualize questions related to passage, hospitality and incarceration. This topic thus connects to various fields of study: border studies and migration studies, but also critical urban studies.

4. Welfare, health, age, generations
Starting from this topic a group of researchers is working to grasp how  public policies are designed  at a local and national level, but also to some extent from a comparative international standpoint.
The main thrust of their work is to analyse the conditions under which public policy takes shape, the power struggles, bottom-up and top-down dynamics that shape categories, produce frameworks for action and ultimately bring out new ideological references for public action. Particular attention is paid to changes in the arena for actors at various levels and to the hybrid (producer/recipient) position of users and social mediators, namely welfare and healthcare professionals. The group has also launched an original approach rooted in a quotidian ethnography. Fields of research include welfare, healthcare and gerontology. Through such situated analysis the group seeks to understand user access to, or distance from, the services targeting them, and territorialized forms of public action, and thus enhance the concepts of fragility and inequality.

5. Territorial development and socio-spatial inequality are analysed at various scales, in terms of characterization (dimensions and level of development), comparison with other territories, and an understanding of their dynamics (mobility and factors for locating business, particularly regarding local resources and tourism). As for the link between tourism and local development, our work addresses two main points: the role amenities (locally specific attributes that make a territory more attractive) play in relation to tourist and leisure activities; the role of tourism as a collective action rooted in a territory, analysed using Sen’s capability approach in order to address more broadly the question of local well-being.
Our team uses gender approaches to question the construction and deployment of gendered social relations, gender in the organization of society, space and territory. In particular we analyse crossovers between social, cultural and political rationales in relation to the production of the norms present in gender categorization in public policy, spatial organization, individual experience and imaginary. Such analysis connects directly to the recognition of women’s rights, revealing the ‘voice’ of women’s collectives and networks, but also highlighting the blind spots and areas of resistance inherent in such non-recognition.
We have selected several objects of particular interest: shared gardens, public space, mobility, territorialized schemes promoting gender equality, inter-territorial relations. Similarly we have focused on several sites, often with a view to comparison: big cities in Europe and North America, mountains worldwide, borders, rural territories around the Mediterranean basin.

6. The Social Justice team has relocated a team to Rabat, Morocco, an international, CNRS-affiliated laboratory focusing on Inequality, Development and Political Equilibrium. It aims to address not only inequality and public policy designed to remedy it, but also to understand the relations between such policies and the quest for social balance, capable of maintaining social cohesion and the legitimacy of government bodies. In this respect Morocco is a particularly interesting case. The aim is to study the connection between political regimes and the modalities of the welfare state (Esping-Anderson), but making more immediate allowance for government’s need of legitimacy, and hence the relation between the truly manipulatory (directly political) properties of public policy – intended to avoid blame or accrue a legitimating effect, and those (genuine policies) designed to solve problems.




Research projects of the team


Y-Nove. Pour que les jeunes construisent leur avenir

Observatoire de l'Innovation urbaine

Observatoire de l'Innovation urbaine

Extra Sup

cdp trajectories


Accès aux droits et barèmes sociaux




Seminar series

  • Writing workshop - Contact : Laura Péaud
  • Research keywords : involving the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme-Alpes and the Regulations and Social Justice teams at Pacte, this seminar contributes to building the following research object: why members of the public do or do not use services, and more broadly the relation of citizens to public policy. Contact:


Team news

Jeff Carney
Jeff Carney