25. Between financialization, resistance and everyday life: ethnographies of housing in historic centres

Panel organizers: Nick Dines, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice (nicholas.dines@unive.it) and Cristina Mattiucci, Federico II University of Naples (cristina.mattiucci@unina.it)

This panel is interested to explore how ethnographic research can contribute to a more complex and critical understanding of housing issues in the historic centres of cities. By ‘historic centre’, we mean the core of any city in the Global North and South – generally dating back to before the twentieth century and irrespective of any physical changes it has subsequently undergone – that from a certain point in time has found itself surrounded and demarcated by urban expansion. Examples include the centri storici and cascosantiguos of southern Europe, the medinas of the Arab world and the centros coloniales of Latin America. 

During the last century many such areas and their residents were subject to neglect or disruptive redevelopment as local authorities and planners concentrated their efforts on modernising the infrastructure and productive capacities of cities; a state of affairs that in some cases persists today. In recent decades the revalorization of historic centres, coupled with the financialization of housing, deregulation of rental protections and withdrawal of state housing provisions, has seen these urban areas increasingly implicated in processes of gentrification, heritagization, (over) tourism and, most lately, in the rise of short-term rental (STR) markets through platform companies such as Airbnb. As a result, historic centres across the world have also become key loci of housing struggles, from occupation movements to anti-eviction campaigns. The transformation of the demographic composition of many historic centres, however, does not simply reflect a growing presence of tourists or middle-class residents but is also the outcome of multiple factors such as ageing populations or the settlement of internal and international migrants in less desirable housing units. 

The question of housing in historic centres is thus complex and beset by contradictions, and in many cities our knowledge is limited by a notable dearth of statistical data and in-depth research. Nevertheless, today the historic centre has been accorded quasi-totemic status in critical urban studies insofar as it is seen to encapsulate the negative impacts of contemporary extractive urbanism. This new interest is accompanied by popular (if questionable) claims about the ‘death of the historic centre’ and the end of social mixite therein. This panel is premised on the belief that ethnography can challenge linear arguments about the transformation of historic centres and potentially enrich our understanding of housing markets, trajectories and inequalities in these areas. 

Possible themes include, but are certainly not limited to the following:

* Experiences of hosts and/or guests of short-term rentals in historic centres;

* Multi-sited ethnographies of STRs including across global North and South historic centres;

* New homeownership and rentier classes in historic centres;

* Relationship between ‘new’ and ‘old’ residents of historic centres;

* Evictions and displacement in historic centres;

* Housing movements and squatting in historic centres;

* The housing trajectories of migrants in historic centres.

Keywords: historic centres; housing markets; short-term rentals; housing struggles; gentrification; tourism; displacement.

Disciplines/subdisciplines: sociology, geography, anthropology, town planning, housing studies, urban studies, migration studies

Aalbers, M.B. and Haila, A. (2018) ‘A conversation about land rent, financialisation and housing.’ Urban Studies 55(8): 1821–1835. 

Arbaci, S. (2018) Paradoxes of Segregation. Housing Systems, Welfare Regimes and Ethnic Residential Change in Southern European Cities. Oxford: Willey.

Cocola Gant, A. and Gago, A. (2021) ‘Airbnb, buy-to-let investment and tourism-driven displacement: A case study in Lisbon.’ EPA: Economy and Space 53(7): 1671–1688.

Dines, N. and Mattiucci, C. (2022) ‘Constantly evoked but under-researched: the conundrum of vertical stratification in Naples’. In: T. Maloutas and N. Karadimitriou (eds) Vertical cities: Micro-segregation, Social Mix and Urban Housing Markets. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

Laino, G. (2016) ‘Il palazzo delle donne sole. Dinamiche urbane in un condominio napoletano.’ Territorio 78: 7–25.

Lancione, M. (2017) ‘Revitalizing the uncanny: Challenging inertia in the struggle against forced evictions.’ EPD: Society and Space 35(6): 1012–1032. 

Lees, L., Shin, H.B. and López-Morales, E. (2015) Global Gentrifications: Uneven development and displacement. Bristol: Policy Press.

Ronald, R. (2011) ‘Ethnography and Comparative Housing Research.’ International Journal of Housing Policy. 11(4): 415–437.  

Semi, G. and Tonnetta, M. (2020) ‘Marginal hosts: Short-term rental suppliers in Turin, Italy.’ EPA: Economy and Space 53(7): 1630–1651.

Short bios: 
Nick Dines is Assistant Professor of Sociology in the Department of Asian and North African Studies at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice. His research interests include migration and cities and urbanization in the Mediterranean region with a particular focus on Italy and Morocco. He is author of the monograph Tuff City: Urban Change and Contested Space in Central Naples (Berghahn Books).

Cristina Mattiucci is Associate Professor in Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Naples “Federico II”. Working at the intersection between urban planning and critical urban studies, her research focuses in particular on the links between housing, socio-economic inequalities and urban inclusion.

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