Property and Democratic Citizenship

In this research project, we explore how real landed property impacts citizenship across five democratic countries: Greece, The Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. The selected countries represent a diverse set of property regimes, but all five are experiencing a housing and eviction crisis that has created new geographies of disadvantage, exacerbated inequalities of race, gender, age and income and led to social unrest.

Why Property?

Understanding the twin dynamics of housing and eviction through the concept of “property” makes two radical shifts in the analysis possible: first, it expands the temporal frame to include an exploration of the entire history of property relations; and second, it expands the spatial and analytical frame so that it is no longer about trends in a specific sector (housing), or about urban transformation as with the commonly used concept of “gentrification” – but it becomes instead about democracy itself.

In this way, we can see the impact of housing insecurity not only on individual people, or a specific neighborhood, but on society as a whole and even on our very way of thinking about what constitutes the “good society” and the “good citizen”.

Why Property “Regimes“?

Property is often considered to be either an object, a bundle of divisible rights, or a social relation. In this project we depart from the idea that real landed property should be understood as a “regime” – a method or system of rule – that merges at least three domains of political action: financial mechanisms, policy regulations and moral discourses.

When we see property as a regime comprised of these three domains, it allows for an analysis of the specific and differentiated ways in which property relations impact the lives of those who make their homes out of such real landed property.

The term regime foregrounds the political power imbued in, wielded by, and reproduced through real landed property. When property is used for housing it is a political power impacting the residents’ ability to meet their most basic needs, and as such it is a form of political power the deserves deep and complex analytic attention.

An analysis of property as a “manner, method or system of rule or government” that articulates financial mechanisms, policy regulations and moral discourses allows for a more complex understanding of what property is and what it does.

This research explores how the particular way a property regime is constructed leads to differentiated experiences of citizenship and diverse forms of contestation. The aim is to generate an unprecedented level of detail about how property regimes function in practice that, in turn, will allow for fundamental re-theorization of property as a central concept of democracy.

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