NIMBYism and Public Bads

Political philosophy typically assumes the sovereign state with jurisdiction over a large, usually national, territory, a focus that has recently been challenged by salutary calls to attend to the macro politics of the international order, or the micro politics of the family. However, still neglected is the politics of municipal jurisdictions, despite their significant implications for questions of social justice. Moreover, the dimensions of social life regulated by local government are important sources of a life well lived, an antidote to the ‘neutralist’ preoccupations of much contemporary political theory. One example of controversy in local jurisdictions is the ‘NIMBY’ problem, a term used to characterise resistance to development policies by local inhabitants as a matter of personal, selfish interests being put ahead of the public good. In this paper I argue that the NIMBY appellation mischaracterises the issues at stake in the fights of community activists against unwanted development. NIMBYs’ actions are usually rational and reasonable, and far from being at odds with the public good, they in fact may seek to ward off public bads, and thus shed light on the complex nature of human flourishing in communities.

About the presenter

Christine Sypnowich's research and teaching focuses on political philosophy, jurisprudence and feminism. She studied at the University of Toronto and did her D.Phil. as a Commonwealth Scholar at Balliol College, Oxford. Before coming to Queen’s in 1990 as a Queen’s National Scholar, she taught in Europe at the Universities of Oxford, Leeds and Leiden and in North America at the University of California, San Diego, and York University. In 2001-2002 Christine Sypnowich was a Visiting Fellow at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and at the Oxford Centre for Ethics and the Philosophy of Law. Her principal publications include Equality Renewed: Justice, Flourishing and the Egalitarian Ideal (Routledge, 2017), The Concept of Socialist Law (Clarendon, Oxford, 1990), The Egalitarian Conscience: Essays in Honour of G.A. Cohen (Oxford, 2006), (which she edited), The Social Self (Sage 1995) (edited with David Bakhurst), and a number of chapters in books and articles in such journals as Political Theory, Politics and Society, Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, Political Studies, Praxis International, Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, and the New Left Review. Christine Sypnowich is currently working on a book commissioned by Polity Press on G.A. Cohen, as well as starting a new project on heritage and political philosophy.

Date & time

Thu 10 May 2018, 12–2pm


LJ Hume Centre, Copland Building, ANU


Professor Christine Sypnowich


Feodor Snagovsky


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