Privatisation and Residential Alienation
Updated: Jan 31
In their book “In Defense of Council Housing: The Politics of Crisis”, David Madden and Peter Marcuse explore the concept of ‘residential alienation’ developed from Marx’s concept of alienation. Marx’s Concept of Alienation “is not a symptom of existential malaise but a consequence of the organization of capitalist economies” (Madden and Marcuse 2016) these capitalist economies exploit workers’ time and bodies for profit which they take often leaving workers separated from their creations. Madden and Marcuse apply this concept to the experiences that those in insecure housing face, explaining that “residential alienation is what happens when a capitalist class captures the housing process and exploits it for its own ends” (Madden and Marcuse, 2016).
As previously touched on, the drive to privatise and commodify housing has resulted in extensive housing needs within Southwark. With many developers, the capitalist class, capturing the developing phase of the housing process to exploit profit from delivering homes through financial viability assessments, often claiming that providing social housing makes the development "unviable". This has resulted in a growing number of “market-related rent” properties being advertised, at double the rate of social rent levels, as “affordable” despite being unaffordable to working-class people in housing need. As a result the provision of genuinely affordable housing for those who need it is compromised and has led to further stratification of the most vulnerable working-class, for many families they have been pushed out of London and alienated due to so-called “affordable” rent becoming so expensive. Furthermore, they argue that the current housing system has been designed specifically to produce residential alienation instead of ontological security for poor households (Madden and Marcuse, 2016). We have and are currently seeing this with the stigmatisation and demolition of council estates across Southwark, as thousands of council homes have been replaced with unaffordable private flats, many of which have been left empty.
For example, we are currently seeing people experience residential alienation through the “New Homes Programme” from Southwark Council, which has identified several existing council estates and targeted them for infill, rooftop developments and in some cases demolition, to provide a handful of extra council homes. Many existing residents have set up campaigns arguing for fairer consultation and for the council to listen to the existing residents before taking away their estate’s amenities, building on top of the estate or demolishing it all together. Whilst residents are left feeling disempowered through the council neglecting to listen to their voices, campaign groups have been set up by residents to confront the council for the lack of fair consultation.
Residential alienation can be seen within these campaigns, where residents are now fearful for “losing their home and the only connection to a family and support network” (see figure 1) as a resident of Little Dodson’s campaign group wrote on Twitter recently following one of their vulnerable neighbours contacting them due to the fear and insecurity that the councils’ demolition plans proposed for them. Moreover, returning to the argument of politics of space and class, we are seeing working-class community spaces and estates being targeted for ‘redevelopment’ despite large-scale regeneration plans often providing a majority of unaffordable homes with little to no social housing. It’s becoming clearer that regeneration is for developers to maximise profit through targeting areas that they see these spaces as “on the fridge of an already socially acceptable area” (Bartholomew, 1971) at the expense of working-class communities, many of whom are in housing need. As a result, we are seeing further entrenched class hierarchies through “redevelopment” and “regeneration” which leaves remaining social housing tenants with feelings of precarity, insecurity and disempowerment.