CfP: ‘Comparative Approaches to Illegal Housing across the Globe’

Call for Papers

Conference ‘Comparative Approaches to Illegal Housing across the Globe’

University College London, 22/23 June 2017

Deadline for submission: 6 January 2017

Research on illegal housing is still fragmented. Several factors impede a more systematic approach to the topic. Different dimensions, actors, motivations, different social and political contexts, even a somewhat differing terminology make it a challenge to study illegal housing as a global phenomenon.

And yet, it is desirable and promising to open up new perspectives on squatting. A number of pioneering studies have already demonstrated that comparisons can open ‘new niches to investigate what previously never met our eyes’ (Aguilera/Smart).


We are inviting researchers on illegal housing who are interested in challenging the limitations of ‘their’ region, who are open for confrontations with the ‘other’, and also open for discovering their own ‘blind spot’. This Call for Papers appeals to academics from all over the globe who are content to let themselves in for comparisons. Although some of topics would clearly benefit from large sample analysis, we would like to begin with paired-comparisons. We consider comparisons of two, perhaps three regions a viable approach for the conference in planning. Ideally, the comparison should be accomplished by cooperation with someone else. Nevertheless, solitary projects are welcome, too.


We would like to encourage you to submit ideas for comparison of informal/illegal housing in different parts of the world.

Please include in your abstract (500 words maximum):


– Areas/places you are comparing.

– What aspect you place in the focus of your study.

– Why do you think is that comparison meaningful and able to provide new insights?


If you don’t have carried out a comparative project yet but consider a comparison of your topic with studies in other regions a promising idea, you can also submit a brief description of your research, and we could try to form a comparative panel with someone else.

Please find below some suggestions for possible starting points for comparison but feel free to add your own idea:


  1. Transfer of Concepts

It would be interesting to test existing attempts to systematize illegal housing (such as typologies) which work well in certain regions regarding their usefulness in different parts of the world.


  1. Cross-fertilizing

Do squatters in different parts of the world learn from each other? To what extent is there a global transfer of experiences and practices?


  1. Opportunity Structures

Why is illegal housing in some parts of the world more accepted than in others? Is this perhaps related to somewhat different concepts of property in different regions? How different is illegal housing in democracies and dictatorships? To what extent is the fact that some state institutions tolerate or ignore illegal housing related to a specific degree of social acceptance of squatting (and related practices)?


  1. Slums

Can we study informal Roma housing in Europe as ‘Northern slums’ using comparisons with Latin American squatter settlements?


  1. Illegal Housing Construction

What can we learn from comparisons of illegal housing construction at the outskirts of, say, Warsaw, Izmir and Buenos Aires?


  1. Squatting as an Alternative Social Order

Which strategies are developed aiming at maintaining social order within illegally occupied houses/quarters/settlements? Can we understand squatting as a world of ‘indigenous cultural practices’ (Bjoerkman)?


  1. Squatting – a devious route to Capitalism?

Isn’t squatting often just a hidden path to get on the housing ladder? Many Latin American squatter ‘settlements, in spite of their illegality, foster private property’ (van Gelder). To what extent is the goal of informal housing in Latin America to acquire property rights? Is the squatters’ attitude to property different in the South (and perhaps East) and in the North-West? Apart from that, it would be interesting to compare entrepreneurial squatting in different parts of the world and to ask for its potential to provide alternative models.


  1. Squatting beyond Housing

Squatting as lifestyle, establishing social or cultural centres, conservational squatting or the intention to restore more authentic urban places – are these genuine Western ideas or are there equivalents in the global South as well?


  1. Interaction of Political Activists and Squatters

To what extent are ‘ordinary squatters’ just people in need looking for a roof over their head who are keeping a low profile and are not very interested in joining a campaign or a movement? In recent time, there was a certain overlap of squatting and anti-globalisation campaigns in the Northern Hemisphere – are the two associated in the global South as well?


  1. ‘Bad Squatters’

To what extent is crime, drugs, violence a real problem in squatter settlements? Do we create and cultivate a blind spot if we belittle it as an imagination of neoliberal politicians and the media? Shouldn’t we better study it?


  1. Formalization

In many countries, there was a shift from direct repression to creeping but insistent legalisation of illegal housing. To what extent differ processes of formalization in different parts of the world?


Not all of these ideas might sound useful. Presumably, more important ones deserve to be added. Feel free to do so. Of course, the final programme is subject to the expertise of the participants.


Please submit your abstract and a short bio to:

Deadline: 6 January 2017

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