Accepted Paper:

Contested housing and urban space in Baku: a comparison of state-citizen relations in Soviet and post-Soviet Azerbaijan  


Sascha Roth (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)

Paper short abstract:

By comparing Soviet archival sources and recent ethnographic examples from Baku/Azerbaijan, this paper analyses state-citizen relations with a focus on the issue of urban housing. It illustrates different spheres of contestation and addresses more general developments in many post-Soviet cities.

Paper long abstract:

In the former Soviet Union cities were represented as the main drivers towards modernization. The Soviet state, by means of centralized planning, control and redistribution of resources applied a top-down implementation for materializing its ideological visions. Urban housing and the continuous discourse on its scarcity has been among the daily concerns of Soviet citizens and states alike. After the end of socialism, housing has increasingly become a contested sphere in most post-Soviet cities. In contrast to many narratives that emphasize the official workings of the Soviet government, this paper emphasizes the potential capacity of Soviet citizens and other urban actors in negotiating and contesting the local state's procedures in allocating housing to citizens. Archival material and public media on housing allocation in a notorious district in Baku/Azerbaijan provide vivid sources for state-citizens relations in Soviet society more general. By comparing this historical case with a recent ethnographic example on urban restructuring and demolition of a whole Baku neighborhood in the very same district, the paper aims at describing the transformations and continuities of Soviet and post-Soviet state-citizens relations in contemporary Azerbaijan. By embedding concrete conflicts about housing into their wider historical, social and cultural context, this paper contributes to the understanding of negotiating urban space and the right to the city. At the same it argues that the allegedly restrictive Soviet regime allowed far more ways for negotiating civil rights than in contemporary Azerbaijan.

Panel Urba01
Urban development from below