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

Peter Matthews, Glen Bramley, Annette Hastings

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Citations (Scopus)


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 ighbourhood 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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)54-72
Number of pages19
JournalHousing, Theory and Society
Issue number1
Early online date26 Aug 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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