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SP07 - Housing as commons: Sites of struggle and possibility

Convened by Suraya Scheba (University of Cape Town, SA) Andreas Scheba, Diana Sanchez-Betancourt (Human Sciences Research Council & University of the Free State, SA), Luisa Escobar (HCU, Hamburg, Germany) and Nate Millington (University of Manchester, UK)

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This proposed panel seeks to bring together activists, organizers, and scholars interested in collective housing as practices of commoning and (re-)design, suggesting that these are sites of both immediate struggle and radical possibility. In response to a growing housing crisis, marginalised (urban) residents have increasingly engaged in alternative, collectively orientated forms of housing provision, including occupations, cooperatives, and resident-controlled social housing projects (Stavrides and Travlou 2022). As a disruption to exclusionary property markets and political claim to the right to housing, these housing commons surface “conflicting rationalities” (Watson, 2003) between different valuations of land, raising foundational questions around ‘for whom, by whom, why, and to what end’ are (urban) spaces being designed? Located within this provocation, this panel focuses on housing commons, enquiring into their limitations and potentiality for responding to urban inequality and crises. Whilst we do not wish to romanticize housing commons, we are interested in the ways they can potentially remake urban futures. We therefore invite contributions from Northern and Southern contexts, which offer new insights into the following questions:

  • What types of material and/or social practices are evident in housing commons (e.g. occupations, cooperatives, community land trust), and in what ways are these contributing to urban (re)design from below?
  •  Does collectively organised housing offer pathways towards more just and equitable futures?
  • How do these forms (dis-)engage with the state, what are the contestations (legal, institutional, conflicting logics and strategies), and to what effect?
  • What are the key challenges to transform informal housing commons (e.g. occupations) into dignified housing?
  • What finance and governance models exist to support collectively organised housing practices?
  • How can research and/ or activism support understandings of collective housing practices across Northern and Southern geographies, and across disciplinary boundaries?
  • How can ethical and engaged scholarship be centred in research design and practice?