Towards a radical housing responsibility

Hanna Hilbrandt, Ifigeneia Dimitrakou and Luca Pattaroni

Published in Issue 5.1 // The Long Read

Keywords: Responsibility, liberalism, care, radical politics; housing injustice


Responsibility—as an analytic or topic of political debate—is out of vogue in critical housing studies. Rather than offering progressive potential, the call for responsibility has been seen to foster neoliberal governance, racial structural violence, and forms of dependency. Conversely, this paper posits that a critical engagement with notions of responsibility can provide a domain for critique, everyday engagement, and legal political struggle against housing injustice when the concept’s foundational premises are radically revised. To develop this radical notion of housing responsibility, we combine a multipronged theoretical approach with a discussion of housing struggles in different empirical domains. Our theoretical intervention is based on a critique of how liberal notions of responsibility that forefront liabilities for past damages dominate moral claims around housing (e.g., who ought to provide, care for, and profit from housing). As these liberal understandings of responsibility organize the intersection of legal, spatial, and material interventions in housing, they hinder a more encompassing assumption of responsibility. Drawing from feminist, legal, sociological, and philosophical scholarship, this paper develops an alternative and propositional account of a radical housing responsibility. Rather than from notions of individualized subjectivity, this notion of responsibility derives relational commitments from our co-being in one common world. To explore how such a notion of responsibility can play out in contemporary housing struggles and guide a decolonial, feminist, radical political practice, we join up three empirical domains focused on housing struggles in Berlin (Germany), Athens (Greece), and Geneva (Switzerland). In conclusion, we bring these theoretical and empirical domains together into a discussion of how a radical housing responsibility can be used to cause effective political change.

Hanna Hilbrandt serves as a Professor in Social and Cultural Geography at the University of Zurich. Hanna’s work explores spaces of mundane transgression, planning conflict, and housing precarity. Her most recent book Housing in the Margins explores informal dwelling practices in the context of Berlin’s increasingly tight housing market.

Ifigeneia Dimitrakou is UZH postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Geography – University of Zurich. Her research focuses on housing and urban policy, urban precarity, and segregation.

Luca Pattaroni is senior scientist at the Laboratory of Urban Sociology and co-supervisor of the Housing/Habitat orientation of EPFL’s Master of Architecture . His work is concerned with the expression of differences and the making of the common in contemporary cities.

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