Political Potency in a fragmented neighborhood?

How moral legitimizations of affordable housing discourses enable precarized inner city demographics to counter displacement logics


  • Brigitte Zamzow Institut für Europäische Ethnologie, Universität Wien


Housing justice, Social housing, Affordable housing, Urban core, Solidarities, Precarization, Disadvantage


This contribution investigates the current shift from a dominant neoliberalized public discourse on social mixing privatization in public housing and affordable housing programs to a housing discourse rooted in moral and ethical considerations of Housing Justice(s). Investigating the so-called first “real just rezoning” in Gowanus, New York City as a case study with an in-depth ethnographic perspective, a change in moral legitimization of housing practices was retraced through planning documents and the actual community decision process on housing construction and preservation in their neighborhood. All scales of the investigation led to the overall conclusion that a “doing” of “housing justice” had occurred: a learning process of solidary practices of a specific, yet socially fragmented, inner-city clientele basing their interactions and speech acts on a common value system. This demographic can be found in inner-city areas that have not undergone full gentrification/inversion.

The data suggests that a distinct set of demographics entails a politically educated middle- and upper-middle class that actively seeks solidarity in their everyday decisions and practices on diversity on the one side. The other side are a more socially vulnerable clientele such as public housing residents. What they share is a common experience of actual or simply the fear of displacement in a 2020’s hyper-commodified inner-city based on neoliberal housing distribution logics. Their specific clientele, however, distinguishes itself from fully gentrified neighborhoods not only by their value system, but also in the ideological side they take on in a capitalist system that polarizes increasingly into an elite and a precariat, which makes even a well-earning middle class rather part of a precariat depending on their decision on who to side with and what to advocate for, being well aware of the fact that their actions may lead to consequences like giving up certain securities and privileges.


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Sektion Entwicklungssoziologie und Sozialanthropologie: Urban Moral Economies and the Sociology of Polarization in Global Perspective