Homo Economicus in a Big Society: Understanding Middle-class Activism and NIMBYism towards New Housing Developments



Matthews P, Bramley G & Hastings A (2015) Homo Economicus in a Big Society: Understanding Middle-class Activism and NIMBYism towards New Housing Developments. Housing, Theory and Society, 32 (1), pp. 54-72.

Problems of housing supply and affordability in England have long been recognized by policy-makers. A key barrier to supply is seen to be community activism by so-called not-in-my-back-yard activists (NIMBYs). The localism policy agenda, or devolving decision-making down to the local level, is central to how the UK coalition government seek to overcome this opposition. This conceives NIMBYism as a demonstration of homo economicus - of the rationality of economic beings seeking to maximize their utility. In this view, residents would not accept large urban extensions in suburban areas because they took on localized costs with no obvious benefits, unless incentivised appropriately. In this paper, we use analysis of British Social Attitudes Survey data as well as the results of the first review of middle-class activism in relation to public services to identify the likelihood of residents being incentivized by this version of localism to accept new housing. We conclude that the evidence on the individual and collective attitudes suggests that it is unlikely that localism will deliver new housing. Importantly, the political power of affluent and professional groups means they can ensure that their opposition is heard, particularly in the neighbourhood plans delivered through localism. The paper argues that planning for housing needs to understand communities as homo democraticus - as actively engaged in negotiating between complex interests with respect to support for new housing.

NIMBYs; land-use planning; localism; Big Society; community activism

Housing, Theory and Society: Volume 32, Issue 1

Publication date31/12/2015
Publication date online26/08/2014
PublisherTaylor and Francis

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Professor Peter Matthews

Professor Peter Matthews

Professor, Sociology, Social Policy & Criminology