‘Squatters rights!’

15th February 2015  |  News

A blog about social movements would be lacking in wholeness if a discussion about space were missing. The sociologist Fran Tonkiss highlights that spatial relations are important because they reveal diagrams of social power. (Tonkis, 2006,p. 50)Space is therefore an essential element of social movements and contentious politics, not only because protests and such take place in a given space, but because they are often over claims to space.

Spatial rights can be seen to be an expression of citizenship and disputes over public space can be seen as larger claims to equality. (Tonkis,2006,p.72) From a social movement perspective, claims about the use of space often demonstrate a conflict of interests between the people and the power-holders.

Examples of this struggle over space use and ownership can be seen in social movement campaigns, particularly those about living space and social housing. For example the London Squatters Campaign of 1968 which attempted to re-appropriate privatized space for claims over public use.

The London Squatters campaign used a method of direct action, to draw public attention to the reality of homelessness. On 1st December 1969 members of the London Squatters Campaign ‘invaded the Hollies, a luxury block in East London’, a block of flats that had been left upon completion for four years. (Carter, 2009,p.18)

This campaign particularly demonstrates the tension between space holding either an ‘exchange value’ or a ‘use value’, a concept that Tonkiss introduces to frame the difference between monetary value and public social use. (Tonkiss, 2006,p.74)

The squatters were trying to change the space value of the privately owned building from a site of exchange to a place for community housing. The squatters actions were asserting that rights to housing for the community should hold above the private property rights attached to the building consequently making greater claims to citizenship rights. The London Squatters Campaign of 1968’s used space to make larger claims about spacial rights. Thus the campaign is a brilliant example of how the importance of space, especially in the context of social movements, manifests itself in a myriad of ways.

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