CONFERENCE – Post-Pandemic Urbanism: Reconceptualizing the nexus between vacancy, occupancy and the right to housing

31.08.2021 - 03.09.2021
University of Leuven & Université catholique de Louvain, -, -, Belgien.


RGS-IBG Annual Conference 2021 31st Aug-3rd September
*Online session*

*Convenors*: Viviana d’Auria (KU Leuven), Elisabetta Rosa (UCLouvain), Jeroen Stevens (KU Leuven)

Often identified as material evidence of “failed” architecture (Hoffman 2017) or urban “debris” (Stoler 2013), vacancy is typically regarded as an indicator or outcome of crisis rather than a viable resource for social emancipation. At the same time, the rise in evictions of unauthorized occupations in different urban contexts has led to the politicisation of the gap between vacant buildings and spaces, on the one hand, and the lack of housing and growing homelessness on the other.
The occupation of vacant buildings to meet the needs of the most deprived (Gonick 2016; Roy 2017) informs us about spatial tactics related to economic and social precariousness and the weakening of the welfare state. Other micro-practices reveal more or less temporary and mobile modes of living, embedded in the interstices of the city, whose scope in terms of urban counter-model remains to be questioned. In any case, the increasingly miscellaneous nature of insurgent “claims” of vacant space indicates radical shifts in comparison to the current state of the art on “urban squatting” (SqEK 2013; Vasudevan 2017), with a growing diversification of occupation practices and populations involved, not the least due to growing migration and governmental failure in refugee reception.
The current Covid-19 pandemic is further exacerbating these dynamics. As companies and businesses were forced to redraw to homework, office buildings are increasingly left unused, and will at least partly continue to do so. Simultaneously, decades of neo-liberal budgeting and austerity measures have left a vast part of the population particularly ill-prepared to cope with a public health crisis (Harvey 2020). With homelessness and forced evictions alarmingly mounting in Europe (FEANTSA 2018) and with a globally estimated 1.8 billion people lacking adequate housing, the existing global housing crisis has both worsened the pandemic and been worsened by it (United Nations 2020). Despite international agreement on adequate housing as a fundamental human right, the universal “right to housing” is ever farther from its factual realization (Taylor, Loubière, and Auquier 2020).
In this context, it appears that current scholarship has hardly considered the contentious intertwinement of urban vacancy and housing needs, and the alternative opportunities to effectuate a basic right to housing through their mutual encounter. This knowledge gap calls for a more profound examination of vacancy, occupancy and the right to housing as closely entangled scientific and societal urban challenges.

The session aims to advance such debates. We welcome submissions from diverse fields that engage with the session themes. Suggested topics include, but are not limited to:

• Theorising the right to housing
• New research methods for urban vacancy-occupancy
• Following and tracing squatting practices and vacant spaces: empirical challenges
• Exploring the nexus between vacancy and occupancy through design thinking
• Doing research on vacancy-occupancy: the Global North and South
• Writing about and re-presenting squatting practices and vacant spaces: ethical and political issues
• The right to housing: from individual to collective claims (and back)
• The gendered dimension of the right to housing
• The iconography and visual culture of diverse squatting practices
• New dwelling cultures and housing types that emerge from vacancy and occupations

Please email a 250-word abstract, including title, your name(s) and affiliation(s) to Elisabetta Rosa (<>) and Jeroen Stevens (<>) by 1st March 2021.

We welcome alternative modes of presentation, and contributions from activists, artists, professionals and scholars alike. We envision a special issue of a peer-reviewed journal on the longer run.

Due to the likely extension of Covid-19 travel/mobility restrictions along this year 2021, the session will be fully online.