A collective study lab

Report from our ERC Inhabiting Radical Housing half-day conference + Video

On may 16th, 2023, members of the ERC Project Inhabiting Radical Housing (grant n. 851940, PI: Lancione) presented preliminary findings from research work conducted over the last 18 months. Marking the halfway point in this grant, this was an opportunity for us to share our progress thus far and where we are headed in the future.  

The event featured a range of interventions on the intersections of home and housing beyond typical conceptualizations of shelter, featuring a rich discussion across a variety of geographies and methodologies. In this blog post we recollect each contribution, while at the end we provide also the full video of the event.

The conference was opened by a thoughtful introduction provided by Francesca Governa, where she situated this ERC-funded project within the broader institutional and disciplinary context in which we operate. She endorses the IRH as a project that goes beyond problem-solving approach of applied research, highlighting the fact that this project is one out of only two ERCs in Geography within the Italian context, and furthers an ethos of research based on critical and radical stances beyond a technocratic approach. By looking at the ‘minor’, this project focuses on emergent practices to open up spaces, showing the possibilities to go beyond given understandings of dwelling, attuning and searching for ways to politicizing the future. 

Following, the PI, Michele Lancione, provided an overview of the ERC-project, the collective goal to reframe the epistemologies of the ‘housing question’ beyond policy, the ambitions of the team to investigate the ways housing struggles articulate with other fights against class/race/gender inequalities, the collective study practices conducted through the Beyond Inhabitation Lab. Housing is then understood as a terrain of contestation and its related struggles allow for people to articulate other intersecting struggles.  

The first research intervention came from Mara Ferreri, where she invited us to rethink housing policy by asking how housing movements create infrastructures for decommodifcation, respond to deep-rooted mechanisms of dispossession, how they re-imagine inhabitation through and beyond emergent forms of resistance and policies. Providing reflections based on long-term situated research in Catalonia, and incipient research in Piedmont, she urges us to see these radical practices and emergence of new housing models as ‘making kin’, extending notions of commoning, and pushing the notion of policy beyond the containers of the state and the market.  

Next, came two thoughtful and reflexive presentations from Ana Vilenica and Veda Popovici on practices and politics of translocal organizing of housing movements. Focusing on the Americas, and reflecting on her experience as an activist and ongoing work with Tenant International in New York, Los Angeles, and Mexico City, Ana provided a wonderful discussion on the possibilities of research as organizing, ways to use conversations between organizers and intellectuals to enrich cross-border solidarities. This was followed by Veda, who situated her experience as an activist in the European Action Coalition for the Right to Housing and to the City and ongoing research within this organization to ask how transnational housing activist networks might assemble a transnational political consciousness. Particularly, she argued that the European Action Coalition provides space for witnessing struggles from other contexts in a rapport of both ‘otherness’ and ‘sameness’, consolidating subjectivities anchored in anti-capitalist and anti-racist politics, and radicalizing political work through building comradery.  

Conducting work in situated geographies, Rodrigo Castriota, Devra Waldman, Chiara Cacciotti, and Daniela Morpurgo, then presented preliminary findings from ongoing fieldwork. First was Rodrigo, intervening into the intersection of housing and popular economies in Belo Horizonte, Brazil by asking questions about the diversity of ‘home’ as an economic unit, the politics ‘home’ when acquires economic functions, and how the fight for housing articulates with the fight for work. He demonstrated the versatility of spaces in the home used for work (i.e. different rooms in the house, gardens, facades as stores) and different functions the home can provide (i.e. production, storage, exchange, services). Rodrigo also spoke about the ways in which the intersections of home and work impacts affective relationships between residents in the home through negotiations and disputes over use of space for economic activities.

This was followed by Devra Waldman, who working at the intersection of housing and city planning/building in India, discussed how the ‘city’ is made/unmade/remade through housing interventions in the context of extended urbanization. She is interested in how different groups position themselves in relation to the housing and urban future of the city. Devra outlined how developers bet on speculation of the (non)city through starting but not completing large-scale housing projects, migrant laborers and urban-village landlords place bet on continued construction and demolition work circulating through the city, and how the state bets on being able to start over again by issuing approvals to acquire more land in the name housing development and city expansion.

Next, Chiara Cacciotti turned our attention to experiences of squatters’ post-eviction contexts in Rome to ask how the housing political is articulated in the aftermath of eviction, and how these politics intersect with both homemaking and radical practices (such as squatting and housing activist movements). She demonstrated the complexity of practices post-eviction, ranging from a ‘retirement’ of political activist lives and radical practice, to turning to radical activist struggles for social justice (such as anti-racist organizations), to continued investment in the housing movements while managing feelings of loss of networks of sociality and mutual aid that were cultivated through living in squatted environments.

Daniela Morpurgo closed out this part of the conference by discussing her ongoing research investigating the interconnections between sex work and inhabitation. She argued that the intersection between housing and sex work were varied, including that being a sex worker acted as a barrier to accessing housing; that the nature of the work led to feelings of insecurity of being evicted from secured housing; that even housing movements based in squats exclude sex workers due to stigmas associated with their work; that sex workers often face exploitative landlords who charge over market-price for flats; and that affective relationships with housemates are impacted and negotiated because some forms of sex work take place in the home. At the same time, networks of solidarity are formed around searching for housing solutions for exploited workers, and that affective communities around work and inhabitation can be grown.  

Following the interventions from the ERC researchers, we were lucky to be joined by Dr. Erin McEIroy (UT-Austin), Dr. Ryan Powell (University of Sheffield), Dr. Margherita Grazioli (GSSI), Dr. Nadia Caruso (DIST), and Francesco Chiodelli (DIST), who all acted as discussants. Each discussant posed thoughtful, sharp, and insightful feedback, questions, and points to consider in future work. Their comments included a reflection on the spatial dimensions of housing inequalities and the place-specificities of situated, ethnographic knowledges (Nadia); the position of the project within the geographies of housing and urban scholarship, teaching and activism in Turin and Italy (Francesco); questions of care in academic endeavours and the role of research in struggles (Erin); how the presentation of our work in progress is opening up the space to historicize relations of oppression and address further intersections (Ryan); and finally, how this project and its attunement to positionality and reflexivity sit both in relation to the urgency of activism and the timings of productivist academia.   

Because of the diverse backgrounds, geographies, and fields of expertise of the discussants, a rich dialogue transpired around the broad ambitions of the ERC project at large, the positioning of the project within the politics of the academic institution, issues of positionality and reflexivity across space and place, and issues of knowledge production. 

You can watch the video of the entire event at our YouTube channel and below.