Skip to main content
Kent Academic Repository

Urban housing, precarity and social movements: A case study of PAH Barcelona

D'Adda, Gabriele (2020) Urban housing, precarity and social movements: A case study of PAH Barcelona. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (KAR id:83335)

Language: English

Download this file
[thumbnail of 22Urban_housing_precarity_and_social_movements._A_case_study_of_PAH_Barcelona.pd.pdf]


Since 2008, despite Spanish citizens benefiting from the right to housing (granted by Article 47 of the Spanish constitution and by several international treaties), thousands of people have been evicted from their homes in Spain as a result of their inability to pay their mortgages. According to official data, more than 770,000 mortgage repossession proceedings were begun in the country between 2008 and 2019. In the same period more than 680,000 evictions occurred. Since 2013 the majority of these evictions have been due to rent-related problems. The mortgage crisis and later dramatic rent increases linked to the 'rent bubble' (Blanco-Romero et al, 2018) and its consequences are the main symptoms of housing precarity and the result of a long-term process of precarization of the right to housing linked to the financialization and commodification of housing (Aalbers, 2009, Madden and Marcuse, 2016, Carr, Edgeworth and Hunter, 2018, Rolnik, 2019). Drawing on the case-study of PAH (Plataforma Afectados por la Hipoteca/Platform of People Affected by Mortgages) - a social movement established in 2009 in Barcelona that uses grassroots activism to support people at risk of losing their homes due to mortgage default - this thesis focus on the possibilities which have emerged from housing struggles in Barcelona in particular, and in Spain more generally, in a context of crisis and austerity. Through a combination of observant participation, semi-structured interviews, and quantitative data analysis it investigates the causes and effects of contemporary housing precarity in Barcelona and Spain and the strategies used by urban social movements to respond to them. Moreover, it evaluates the effectiveness of the right to housing as a key tool in PAH's response to the housing crisis. The concepts of housing precarity and the precarization of the right to housing emerge as theoretical tools useful for investigating and understanding not only the complexity of contemporary housing conditions and their material implications, but also their emotional aspects and effects on people's daily life, as well as on forms of housing struggles and mobilizations. The analysis developed on PAH Barcelona shows that the promotion of processes of the empowerment of people affected by precarity is a necessary pre-condition for urban social movement mobilizations in times of crisis. Indeed, in a context of atomization, individualization, loose and nuanced identities, and a lack of traditional forms of social solidarity, if social movements do not work on people's emotions, breaking the sense of isolation and overcoming the fear and the fragility that often accompanies people affected by the consequences of precarity, there is a risk that any attempt at mobilization will fail. Through considering the double strategy of challenging and changing the law developed by PAH, emerges how urban social movements can effectively combine legal and extra-legal strategies to give substance to the right to housing discourse. While the campaigns of civil disobedience provide solutions for the urgent housing problems of the affected people that turn to PAH by challenging the law, the campaigns to change the law contribute to creating long-term structural solutions that apply to everyone. By sharing a right to housing discourse, the strategies reinforce one another, and together contribute to reframing the housing crisis in Spain by creating an effective counternarrative on its causes but also on its possible solutions. The impacts, limits and effectiveness of this combination of strategies (challenging and changing the law and reframing the crisis through a counternarrative) could be analysed in other contexts and urban mobilizations in times of precarity. Having also analysed the policies promoted by the municipal government of Barcelona in the period 2015-2019, I suggest that the combined but autonomous action of urban social movements and municipal institutions to unmake housing precarity in Barcelona can be considered a relevant attempt towards the decommodification and de-financialization of housing, and, more generally, of the city. The analysis developed through the case study of Barcelona, although far from providing a definitive answer, aims to contribute to the debate on what can be considered a radical politics and on the possibilities both for urban social movements and local governments to develop, even in a neoliberal context, mobilizations and public policies oriented towards a radical right to housing (Madden and Marcuse, 2016). This thesis contributes to the growing literature regarding PAH mobilizations. By investigating the double strategy of challenging and changing the law, my research fills a gap in the literature regarding the relationship of PAH with the law. Furthermore, my analysis also considers how the platform in Barcelona had to adapt to a new context in which housing precarity is related not only to mortgage problems but also to rent and squatting problems. I also investigate the changing relationship of PAH with a political system that has radically transformed in the last decade, especially in Barcelona. In this way, this thesis contributes to expanding upon and deepening the analysis of PAH, its strategies and mobilizations. Looking beyond PAH, my research contributes to the literature on urban and housing social movements in times of crisis and austerity and to the literature focusing on the increasing difficulties in accessing housing through the concept of precarity.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Carr, Helen
Thesis advisor: Ramsay, Iain
Uncontrolled keywords: Housing Precarity, Right to Housing, Urban Social Movements, PAH, Barcelona
Divisions: Divisions > Division for the Study of Law, Society and Social Justice > Kent Law School
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 08 Oct 2020 13:10 UTC
Last Modified: 01 Oct 2023 23:00 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

D'Adda, Gabriele.

Creator's ORCID:
CReDIT Contributor Roles:
  • Depositors only (login required):

Total unique views for this document in KAR since July 2020. For more details click on the image.