Theses defended

Housing struggles, occupations and evictions in the Lisbon metropolitan area

Saila-Maria Saaristo

Public Defence date
May 10, 2022
Doctoral Programme
Democracy in the Twenty-first Century
Giovanni Allegretti , Barry Gills e Anja Nygren
In recent years, there has been a steady rise in homelessness in almost all EU countries, while forced evictions have increased in frequency, in number, and in violence throughout the world. The main housing and policy agendas have tended to rely upon the creation of market-based housing finance models, and on the commodification and financialisation of housing, with states withdrawing from direct housing production. This doctoral thesis investigates these phenomena by analysing council housing occupations and evictions from council housing in the Lisbon Metropolitan Area. Based on a 15-month study, realised in close engagement with the Habita social movement association, it combines various approaches, involving multi-sited, engaged ethnography, policy analysis, and theoretical and historical inquiry.

The primary objective of the thesis is to understand the reasons for and consequences of occupations, analysing them as an experience pertaining to the everyday sphere of housing exclusions. It examines the current forms of governance of council estates, investigating the extent to which they promote housing inclusions. It explores the notion of occupations and evictions as practices of city-making, inquiring whether and how occupations could potentially (re)produce new forms of urban citizenship that could challenge the dominant capitalist and neoliberal forms of production of urban space. The study looks into the agency and subjectivities of three groups of actors involved with social housing occupations and evictions: municipal employees, social movement activists, and women who occupy to contest their housing exclusion.

The analysis reveals gendered forms of subalternisation, which are also at times actively produced by the state agents. The invited forms of participation in processes of urban governance do not allow for substantial participation in housing issues, which necessitates resorting to transgressive practices. Occupations can be perceived as a transgressive form of participation that marginalised urban dwellers opt for in the case of acute and intense housing exclusion. In this sense, strong similarities in the contexts of the Global South and Global North can be identified. Engagement with social movement actors emerges as a valuable tool for contesting the framings of homelessness as a personal failure, promoting the socialisation of activism for housing rights instead. The thesis concludes by indicating that occupations have a high potential capacity to challenge housing exclusions and to contribute to transformation, yet this capacity is undermined by the stigmatisation they face due to their radical and transgressive character.

Key words: Urban governance, occupations, evictions, social movements, Portugal