EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

Home loss: house-ownership and credit in the austerity regime
Location U6-37
Date and Start Time 22 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 2


  • Ana Luísa Micaelo (University Institute of Lisbon (ISCTE-IUL)) email
  • Joao Pina-Cabral (University of Kent) email

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Short Abstract

What is it like to lose your home in contemporary urban Europe? How are credit conditions and foreclosure processes affecting the population's right to dignified housing? How is the impossibility of buying a house for the young affecting family relations throughout Europe?

Long Abstract

Throughout urban Europe, the rhythm of home foreclosure due to mortgage defaulting does not seem to have abated over the past few years. Furthermore, young people who remain unemployed or underemployed in large numbers are finding it impossible to achieve home ownership. This alters family relations, people's lifecycles, and people's sense of self-worth but it also corresponds to a general trend affecting the class composition of European society. Compounded with a sharp reduction in the quality of state support, this means that a large part of the population is experiencing a sharp reduction of their rights of citizenship. How do people deal with the impending loss of residence and the related class implications? How does this process of destabilization and dispossession affect people's relation to their future? What are the implications of the lack of a house of one's own for kinship networks, social life and personal dignity? How is credit inaccessibility affecting transgenerational property transfers? Recognised as a fundamental human right, the right to dignified housing is also established in most European constitutions and yet, throughout the Europe of austerity, this basic right is being systematically bypassed. People lose their houses most commonly because they lose their salaried work. Youth unemployment and underemployment, however, are here to stay. What is the impact of this process in people's position as citizens, as kinsmen, and on personal self-worth?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


A fairytale: buying a house in Amsterdam during the crisis

Author: Nikkie Buskermolen (Leiden University Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences)  email

Short Abstract

Debt is a social phenomenon that is embedded in social relations. How do people who bought a house during the crisis understand their debt? Can we understand the foreclosure better if we explore how people frame their housing purchase as an investment and sign of personal success?

Long Abstract

During the financial crisis the housing market in the Netherlands was heavily affected. There was a gigantic credit crisis, banks collapsed, unemployment rates rose and people were losing their homes. The expectations about the recovery of the economy were pessimistic; fewer houses were sold, for less money than before the crisis and the regulations around tax benefit and other stimulating efforts were decreased. Banks were reluctant to give loans, because they needed to enlarge their liquidities.

Housing brings together the intimate, private space and financial products. Through the case of housing, moralities about debt, success and expectations of the future become particularly visible. I researched people in their late twenties and investigated why they obtained large loans in times of crisis. They were still willing and able to obtain a loan to buy a house in Amsterdam during the crisis and considered themselves highly successful. They turned their debt into a discourse of investment, rather than in terms of risks and liability. What is striking, is that even though the reality had shown that housing prices could go down, they still considered buying a house an investment. Buying a house was the logical, almost unavoidable next step in their lives, something - in their view - everyone wants and dreams of. How do personal and structured expectations of the future play a role in the purchase of a house?

Assembling optimism: traffic of debts on the Georgian Black Sea coast

Author: Tamta Khalvashi (Free University)  email

Short Abstract

Based on fieldwork among debtors on the Georgian Black Sea coast, the paper discusses the work of optimism in maintaining attachments to lost properties.

Long Abstract

The right to a house was recognized as a use right throughout the Soviet Union, not as a property right that could be monetized. But, heavily mortgaged houses along the Black Sea coastline of post-socialist Georgia demonstrate the emerging tensions between houses as assets and as homes. Based on fieldwork among debtors on the Georgian Black Sea coast, the paper discusses the work of optimism in maintaining attachments to lost properties. By focusing on a number of events that take place in debtors' heavily mortgaged houses, some of which function as sites for transnational prostitution and pimping, the paper demonstrates how debts can bring together and integrate diverse actors and visions that otherwise are dispersed between Georgian and Turkish Black Sea coast. While these debts allow for the potential of better future, they however create the context of social and economic "traffic" and uncertainty. An analysis of debts hence reveals problematic relation to the moral and material arrangements around people's properties, which actualize marginal social and historical sensibilities.

Building castles in the sky: planning the future during austerity

Author: Ilektra Kyriazidou (University of Kent)  email

Short Abstract

Under a regime of austerity and cultivated uncertainty young adults in Thessaloniki, Greece, find it difficult to plan an "independent future" and are forced to cope with limited choices for living arrangements.

Long Abstract

Ethnography and autoethography blend in this paper in an attempt to narrate living arrangements that emerge in the Greek "crisis zone". Focusing on the realities of young adults that live amidst economic hardship in Thessaloniki, and on numerous accounts of household survival, it appears that household structures often disintegrate into "house of cards". Stability gets interrupted abruptly by unemployment and dominant precarious labour regimes, and balance shifts between care and mistrust, while often support by family, friends, institutional and grassroots aid schemes act as external strength. As it becomes impossible for young adults to cover rent and all the more achieve home ownership in face of precarity, they have no choice but to experience hospitality and/or to return to parental households and discover the perils and pleasures of intergenerational living. Merging indebted households and combining resources, as a strategy for securing survival, nurtures kindness and sharing, but also at times knits household reality with tensions and conflicts. While household members negotiate life in debt and deal with economic insecurity, everyday practices of 'getting by' engender moral claims negotiated through shifting gender idioms and cultural values.

Housing as a livelihood strategy: gender, multi-generational households and financial interdependence

Author: Lucia Petrovičová (Commenius University)  email

Short Abstract

The paper deals with household strategies connected to house proprietorship in Ukraine. Based on anthropological research in Ivanofrankivsk region, it argues that multi-generational financial interdependence represents the main strategy, shifting gendered hierarchies of power between generations.

Long Abstract

In contemporary Ukraine, it is almost impossible to acquire a house through mortgage, due to low incomes and high interest rates; however, house or flat ownership is embedded in more complex livelihood strategies of families and households. This paper is based on long term anthropological research in a small district town in western Ukraine, Ivanofrankivsk region. The research shows that my informants were actually quite well shaped to face economic hardship connected with inflation, increasing prices and house proprietorship. Even if during socialism, the housing was allotted by state and most often distributed to young families, social rights officially granted often had to be claimed with help of family, friends or other social networks. These became even more important during the nineties, when the whole state monetary system collapsed and large masses had to rely on self-subsistence, mutual cooperation, pooling household resources etc. I argue that these livelihood strategies, based on cooperation within extended family have paradoxically helped younger generation to start their own family at quite an early age. These strategies also comprise help with raising children, financial support, sending remittances etc. Worth to note, it is most frequently older women, near retirement age who travel abroad to finance studies or housing of their children. This financial interdependence obviously produces gendered hierarchies of power within household, but also allows much appreciated model of young women exclusively taking care of children. On the other hand, it incites criticism on men, supposedly stripped off their manhood and their provider role.

Looking for a house to govern: occupying and living in a public housing in contemporary Milan

Author: Giacomo Pozzi (Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca)  email

Short Abstract

Based on an ethnographic study in Milan, the paper explores ideas of ownership of a house in certain public housing neighbourhoods in the city. In what way can squatting practices and public housing assignation policies transform the ideas of house property and home loss?

Long Abstract

In the Italian context, buying a home is considered one of the most important economic, social and cultural investments in people's lives. Local, regional and national policies, as well as the inhabitants' imaginary, tend to convey and reinforce the idea that ownership of a house represents a source of psychological and economic stability for the majority of Italian citizens. Specifically, it is seen as offering the ability to have a good future.

The recent economic crisis has not only hindered the purchase of new housing, but in many cases it has made it impossible to meet rent costs; in 2014, 13,000 evictions were recorded in the city of Milan. This "housing crisis" has strengthened social movements that deal with the right to housing. Based on an ethnographic study in progress in the city of Milan, the paper explores different ideas of " ownership" of a house in certain public housing neighbourhoods in the city.

In what way can squatting practices and public housing assignation policies transform the ideas of house property and home loss? Included by socio-economic exclusion, a part of the population of Milan finds itself in a position to construct new forms of access to housing; others, who use the local welfare housing services, face situations of marginalisation, hardship and loss. In both cases, the problems of access reveal a complex and contradictory dialectical relationship between ideas and practices of dwelling.

Unconventional ownership strategies: when your home is not a house

Author: Laurie Daffe (Catholic University of Louvain)  email

Short Abstract

In this communication, we will show that the current economic context doesn’t abate people’s wish to acquire a place of their own. Unconventional and non-institutional home strategies are created as valid and viable solutions to the housing crisis, as houseboats ownership in Belgium illustrates.

Long Abstract

In this communication based on an ethnographic work conducted with private houseboats inhabitants of public fluvial areas in Belgium, we will show that the current economic context doesn't abate people's wish to acquire a place of their own. Even more, unconventional and non-institutional home strategies are created as valid and viable solutions to the housing crisis.

First of all, these inhabitants often speak about the autonomy and the freedom they get by being the owner of a houseboat. Ashore, as tenants or dependent on housing benefits and mortgages, would they have had the opportunities that the boat offers (e.g. a garden, a central location of their choice, the liberty to organize their home)?

This is even more true considering that banks are never part of the equation. Indeed, as these houseboats are not real estate, mortgages are not an option. For their acquisition, future fluvial inhabitants rather rely on their own resources (savings, inheritance, familial loan…). The sum of money needed is often paid in cash and in one go to the former owner. When it comes to renovation, other alternatives (DIY, support of friends and relatives, etc.) are relied upon and time is often the best ally: the boats are always under work, as the money comes and go.

As a consequence, owning a boat implies social and familial configurations that are particularly telling of new ways of relating to others, envisioning one's professional choices and leaving a legacy for one's children.

Unsettled homes: interruptible futures and violable space among working-class households in England

Author: Ryan Davey (London School of Economics)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines the anticipatory condition of the possible future loss of the home, showing how this possibility interacted with working-class tenants’ aspirations for home-ownership. It argues that class in Britain incorporates differences in subjects’ exposure to possible dispossession.

Long Abstract

Adding to studies of actual incidents of default and dispossession (Deville 2015, Stout 2016, Dudley 2000), this paper examines the widespread condition of anticipating the loss of home. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork among tenants living on a “deprived” housing estate in the English city of Plymouth, it explores their aspirations for home-ownership, the interruptibility of these and other tenurial futures, and the violability of their domestic space. It considers how such homes came to be exposed to uncertainty about whether they would be subject to intrusion or dispossession, showing that, for working-class tenants in the UK, the liberalisation of housing and property markets has been accompanied by an isomorphic florescence of the potential for dispossessive legal violence. In these conditions, the impulse for permanence of dwelling could but coincide with aspirations for home-ownership, yet I show that these tenants vacillated between such aspirations, on the one hand, and, on the other, defending against more immediate threats to their tenure, such as possible eviction. I show that residents strived to imbue their homes with a sense of bright futurity, in particular through the unswervably progressive futures of home entertainment technology, whose sights and sounds offered relief from an affect of anticipatory uncanniness with which tenants encountered the materiality of their homes. The paper finally argues that social class in contemporary Britain not only involves differentials of property ownership, but also incorporates differences in subjects’ exposure to the possibility of dispossession.

When the house is lost: responsibilization and individualization in policy and social work narratives of migrant homelessness in the Netherlands

Author: Tirza Snoijl (Radboud University)  email

Short Abstract

Based on qualitative research in Amsterdam, this paper explores how migrants and ethnic minorities who have lost their house are confronted with policy and social work interventions influenced by individualizing discourses, post-racialism and colorblindness.

Long Abstract

This paper explores how individualizing discourses and colorblindness in policy and professional praxis influence the interventions on homelessness among migrants and ethnic minorities in Amsterdam. It investigates to what extent these discourses affect the way structural causes of homelessness and loss of housing are addressed. The findings are based on a study in a homeless shelter in the Netherlands through participant observation, qualitative interviews and an analysis of policy documents of the Action Plan Social Shelter 2006 -2015.

Despite the fact that men with migrant backgrounds are overrepresented in the homeless population in the Netherlands, interventions focus on addressing individualized and medicalized causes of homelessness in policy and social work practice. The findings show that homelessness is treated as an individual pathology, which could affect anyone. Subsequently, ethnoracial inequalities in education, employment and housing that aid in the production of homelessness are largely invisibilized, as colorblindness is adopted as good professional practice. Simultaneously, a specific narrative of individual and cultural undeservingness is reserved for homeless individuals of migrant descent. The individual and his culture are thus constructed as both the cause of homelessness or loss of housing and the locus of intervention. Adherence to colorblindness in policy and profession does not seem to leave any room to address the increase of first and second generation migrants in the homeless services, the structural inequality that causes such an increase, nor biases that shape the social work environment. It strengthens the culturalizing and individualizing narratives on ethnoracial inequality in the Netherlands.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.