Informal Modes of Governance:

Negotiating Evictions and Housing Rights in Lisbon, Portugal

Saila-Maria Saaristo

Published in Issue 4.1 // The Long Read

Keywords: Occupations, modes of governance, informality, housing exclusion, Portugal


Recent literature has drawn the attention to the impact of neoliberal and financialised urban policies on the enjoyment of access to housing by the urban poor, as well as on how these policies limit the spheres of action that are possible in urban margins. Yet literature tends to pay less attention on the modes of government the state actors use to manage access to housing. Examining housing exclusions and their contestations gains relevance in the current context, in which homelessness is growing and evictions are increasing in numbers. This paper examines how council housing managers negotiate access to housing with occupying families, using neoliberal and disciplinary modes of governance. The concept of informality is used as an analytical device to explore diverse interpretations on occupations as well as to shed light on the management practices of council housing estates. The article is based on ethnographic fieldwork, conducted from December 2017 to April 2019 in the Metropolitan Area of Lisbon, in close collaboration with the Association Habita. It contends that while occupations are criminalised, the state itself also resorts to extra-legal practices in the governance of homelessness. The forms of governance employed by council housing managers are enmeshed with diverse forms of informality, producing both housing exclusions and inclusions.

Saila-Maria Saaristo defended recently her doctoral dissertation entitled “Transgressive Participation: Housing struggles, occupations and evictions in the Lisbon Metropolitan Area” in Global Development Studies at the University of Helsinki and University of Coimbra. Her research interests include urban governance, homelessness and housing precarity, and housing movements.

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