RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2019

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332 Critical Geographies of Occupation, Squatting and Trespass (1): Shelter, Housing, Home
Affiliation Urban Geography Research Group
Convenor(s) Samuel Burgum (University of Sheffield, UK)
Alex Vasudevan (University of Oxford, UK)
Chair(s) Samuel Burgum (University of Sheffield, UK)
Alex Vasudevan (University of Oxford, UK)
Timetable Friday 30 August 2019, Session 2 (11:10 - 12:50)
Room Skempton Building, Lecture Theatre 201
Session abstract Cities in the global North have recently witnessed an upsurge in squatting, trespass and other forms of occupation. Ordinary citizens and activists have fought against intense displacement and marginality, increasingly criminalisation and repression, by providing shelter and refuge, creating alternative infrastructures and socialities, and developing new modes of endurance, resistance and survival. This session seeks to examine this latest cycle of urban occupations by tracing the spaces and practices produced by such actions and how, taken together, they might be understood as offering a new platform for re-thinking and inhabiting the city.

The main aim of the session is to extend and re-centre recent attempts to develop a critical geography of ‘occupation’. The session is organised around three broad orientations:

1. A critical historical perspective that examines how cities have been transformed by residents into living archives of alternative knowledges, materials, and resources;

2. An empirical focus that re-traces the generative micro-politics of squatting and urban occupation. This is an optic that places particular emphasis on the different practices adopted by squatters – improvised, makeshift and often uncertain –and the challenges that they face in composing alternative urban infrastructures.

3. A theoretical lens that highlights the emotional geographies of urban squatting. At stake here, is a recognition that squatted spaces are not only sources of intense conflict and struggle. They are equally sites of hope, liberation, and possibility.

This session seeks papers which touch on one or more of these orientations in diverse contexts, with the aim of developing a special issue on critical geographies of occupation, squatting and trespass. We particularly welcome papers which seek to interrogate and build on existing concepts – including autonomy, commoning, endurance, informality, prefiguration, and the ‘right to the city’ – as well as research that recognises and challenges existing theoretical commitments. We are especially interested in developing a more hopeful and speculative geography of theory that moves beyond North/South binaries and recognises the alliances, practices and resources that connect activists and residents living in the global North and South.
Linked Sessions Critical Geographies of Occupation, Squatting and Trespass (2): Political Subjectivities & Spaces of Affect
Critical Geographies of Occupation, Squatting and Trespass (3): Spaces of Possibility & Emergence
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: ac2019@rgs.org
Creating “struggling communities” within cities: The social function of housing squats in Rome (Italy)
Carlotta Caciagli (Scuola Normale Superiore, Florence, Italy)
The paper is based on an ethnography conducted during 2016 on the longest standing housing movement organization in Rome (Italy): Coordinamento Cittadino di lotta per la casa. It focuses on the social function played by its housing squats in the neighbourhoods. I argue that the series of actions performed by housing squats (i.e. the anti-eviction struggles, the opening of places for social activities) are to be interpreted as “configurations of strategies” that aim to nurture and spread the paradigm of “class struggle” within deprived territories. I analyse these “configurations of strategies” showing how they are related to the spatial configuration of the neighbourhoods in which squats root. Indeed, squats act within the spatial constraints of the areas, but they change their spatial structure: triggering “struggling communities” beyond the paradigm of consumption and individualism through which neo-liberal cities are constructed.
The long legacy of short-life co-ops in London
Mara Ferreri (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain)
The wave of organised mass squatting that started in 1969 had a profound impact on London's geographies, transforming the built environment and enacting different imaginaries and practices of home. Groups excluded from existing housing provision or seeking unconventional forms of collective dwelling turned to occupying publicly-owned empty properties and set up collective homes as a form of precarious housing commoning. Social infrastructures of mutual support, local alliances and knowledge-sharing made possible for some of them to become formalised into ‘short-life housing co-operatives’, which provided affordable community-led housing for tens of thousands of individuals. Over time, however, their fragile temporary legal agreements succumbed to the pressure of the market and to the changed priorities of local administrations, which recalled the properties. In a few cases, however, they became a stepping stone towards long-term social rented and self-managed cooperative housing. Drawing on archival research and in-depth interviews, in this presentation I take a critical historical perspective to revisit the little-known case of squats that became short-life co-ops in London and examine the specific political and institutional conditions that made them possible, their development over time, and their material and symbolic legacy.
Take Back The City: Occupation, housing activism, and digital contention in post-crash Dublin
Maedhbh Nic Lochlainn (Trinity College Dublin, Ireland)
This paper discusses ‘Take Back The City’ (TBTC), a housing activist mobilisation in Dublin, Ireland’s capital city. TBTC occupied three vacant properties in Dublin during Summer 2018, building upon earlier housing activists’ attempts to politicise vacancy in post-crash Dublin (Hearne et al., 2018; O’Callaghan et al., 2018). This paper interprets TBTC’s occupations as complex socio-material orderings of bodies, objects, and practices which politicise urban vacancy and, in doing so, produce prefigurative urban space (Vasudevan, 2015). Influenced by assemblage approaches and the co-constitution of the human and non-human (Müller, 2015), the paper highlights how digital technologies, and particularly social media, play a key role in TBTC’s practices and attempts to participate in the production of urban space. This empirical focus highlights the role that digital technologies now play in contemporary activists’ assertions of both the ‘cry’ and ‘demand’ for a ‘renewed right to urban life’ (Lefebvre, 1996 [1968]).
Hiding in plain sight: Subverting precarity in London’s squatting scene
Mel Nowicki (Oxford Brookes University, UK)
In the wake of its 2012 partial criminalisation in England and Wales, London’s once-vibrant squatting scene has been severely curtailed. Previously a civil, rather than criminal, offence, a person convicted of squatting in a residential building now potentially faces imprisonment and hefty fines. The practice of squatting in cities such as London has as a consequence become increasingly fragmented, ephemeral and precarious. One response from squatters has been the adoption of unusual methods of resistance, often repurposing the transience and precarity they experience in the everyday to serve as a means of survival in an increasingly hostile socio-political environment. Based on research conducted in London in 2014-2017, this paper considers a range of techniques adopted by squatters that seek to subvert their increased precaritisation. These include the utilisation of hipster aesthetics to ‘disguise’ squats as bike shops in gentrifying neighbourhoods; getting purposefully arrested as a means of highlighting the inadequacies of the new law; and utilising the narrative of occupation to evade penalisation. Such methods that deploy precarity as a tool of resistance reveal a continuing determination to maintain a countercultural right to the city, even in the harsh urban landscape of neoliberal London.
Aragó 477, direct action for the right to housing
Eduard Sala (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain)
Aritz Tutor (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain)
Barcelona has been affected by the arrival of large capital flows that have levered on the city to multiply their profits. Their interest has been set on obvious areas such as those where urban developments need huge injections of money, but also in housing areas. As a result of the inflow of large amounts of capital (which is often managed by “vulture” investment funds), the degree of financialization of the housing market has increased, raising prices and the precariousness of vulnerable individuals in the city. Our target is to describe the housing situation in Barcelona and the struggles for access to housing, highlighting how squatting have been reintroduced into the collective imagination based on actions by the Platform of People Affected by Mortgages (PAH). This study focuses on Aragó 477, a whole building block controlled by the PAH that allows us to analyse the change of discourse (formulating it as a recovery) and the introduction of new inhabiting models.