Housing Theory: Impoverished, Ethically Speaking

Mark Stephens

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
122 Downloads (Pure)


In this commentary on the Focus articles by David Clapham and Hannu Ruonavaara (this issue), I argue that whilst it is not possible to construct a single theory of housing, economics (properly applied) provides sufficient concepts to provide a rich explanatory tool kit. I illustrate this with reference to the role of housing in the Global Financial Crisis, and suggest that the failure of economic forecasting should be distinguished from the ability to explain what happened and why. A narrowly economics approach pays insufficient attention to institutions, especially social institutions, but these are correctable. I go on to argue that economics lacks the necessary ethical dimension to underpin the evaluation of public policy including housing. “Wellbeing” can help us to devise better outcome indicators, but it is another iteration of utilitarianism. As such it lags behind the advances made in moral philosophy that would help to provide an ethical basis for assessing distributional questions arising from housing systems, and, more recently, the arguments advanced in favour of a more plural capabilities approach as a basis for evaluating policy. I conclude that housing could be a fertile testing ground for such approaches, and indeed for informing their development.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)246-252
Number of pages7
JournalHousing, Theory and Society
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 3 Apr 2018


  • Housing theory


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