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For a Proper Home

For a Proper Home: Housing Rights in the Margins of Urban Chile, 1960-2010

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    For a Proper Home
    Book Description:

    From 1967 to 1973, a period that culminated in the socialist project of Salvador Allende, nearly 400,000 low-income Chileans illegally seized parcels of land on the outskirts of Santiago. Remarkably, today almost all of these individuals live in homes with property titles. As Edward Murphy shows, this transformation came at a steep price, through an often-violent political and social struggle that continues to this day.In analyzing the causes and consequences of this struggle, Murphy reveals a crucial connection between homeownership and understandings of proper behavior and governance. This link between property and propriety has been at the root of a powerful, contested urban politics central to both social activism and urban development projects. Through projects of reform, revolution, and reaction, a right to housing and homeownership has been a significant symbol of governmental benevolence and poverty reduction. Under Pinochet's neoliberalism, subsidized housing and slum eradication programs displaced many squatters, while awarding them homes of their own. This process, in addition to ongoing forms of activism, has permitted the vast majority of squatters to live in homes with property titles, a momentous change of the past half-century.This triumph is tempered by the fact that today the urban poor struggle with high levels of unemployment and underemployment, significant debt, and a profoundly segregated and hostile urban landscape. They also find it more difficult to mobilize than in the past, and as homeowners they can no longer rally around the cause of housing rights.Citing cultural theorists from Marx to Foucault, Murphy directly links the importance of home ownership and property rights among Santiago's urban poor to definitions of Chilean citizenship and propriety. He explores how the deeply embedded liberal belief system of individual property ownership has shaped political, social, and physical landscapes in the city. His approach sheds light on the role that social movements and the gendered contours of home life have played in the making of citizenship. It also illuminates processes through which squatters have received legally sanctioned homes of their own, a phenomenon of critical importance in cities throughout much of Latin America and the Global South.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-8021-6
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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    (pp. 1-20)

    Perhaps i was overstepping my bounds. It was obvious that Roberto and Carmen—two of my long-term acquaintances in Villa Topocalma, a low-income neighborhood on the outskirts of Santiago, Chile—could use the forty thousand pesos (about US $ 750) I was thinking of giving them.

    They faced expenses they could hardly afford and obligations to extended family members that would be nearly impossible for them to meet. Two of their nephews had recently been arrested and accused of forcing supermarket cashiers to empty their registers at knifepoint. When Carmen told me about this, she had asked, with tears in...


      (pp. 23-39)

      Chile has long held a potent international symbolism, despite its relatively small size and distance from the centers of global power. The country’s political trajectory, especially in the post–World War II era, has made it stand out as a beacon for visions of development that have driven the political Left, Right, and Center throughout much of the world. In moving from a unique experiment in socialism to a dictatorship that was at the forefront of neoliberal restructuring, the country has been an emblem of the promises, tragedies, and conflicts that marked the global Cold War.¹

      The dramatic turns of...

    • CHAPTER 2 PROPERTY, GOVERNANCE, AND THE CITY: A Longue Durée Perspective
      (pp. 40-68)

      While the connection between property and propriety extends into basic practices and expectations—such as the everyday making of a private, domestic sphere—it also operates in particular ways within the public domains of state formation and citizenship. This chapter untangles some of the strongest and deepest historical roots that made the urban politics of propriety so consequential for state formation, citizenship, activism, and residence among pobladores by the mid-twentieth century. Some of these roots precede even the founding of Santiago, such as the value and prestige that Spanish colonists granted to urban property holding. Still others began to grow...


    • CHAPTER 3 A PLACE IN THE STATE: Housing Activism and the Seizure of Land, May Day, 1969
      (pp. 71-100)

      An unrealized, if expected, state of being can provide motivation for action. For many low-income residents in Santiago during the late 1960s, expectations of what home life should be fueled collective struggle, as many did not consider their individual living conditions to be in accord with their rights. Over the course of the twentieth century, important forms of labor mobilization, state development efforts, and housing rights activism had been dedicated to the cause of creating an appropriate domestic life. Yet this activity rapidly increased with the heightened mobilization of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

      Many came to see their...

    • CHAPTER 4 SPECTERS IN THE REVOLUTION: Dilemmas of Home during the Chilean Path to Socialism
      (pp. 101-132)

      In his memoir, Ariel Dorfman, a cultural critic and prolific writer who held posts in the Popular Unity (UP) government, describes the exhilaration and release he felt while participating in the massive demonstrations that became common in the central streets of Santiago during Allende’s presidency. In the midst of the boisterous crowds, Dorfman rubbed elbows and joined voices with socialists from across Chilean society, as labor unions, peasant organizations, student confederations, political party militants, and homeless groups seized the streets. They all shouted support forpoder popular(popular power). Dorfman felt a sense of euphoria as the bodies and voices...


    • CHAPTER 5 LOCATING STATES OF EMERGENCY: The Politics of “Normalization” after the Military Coup
      (pp. 135-163)

      For many Chileans, the military coup of September 11, 1973, initiated a searing break with the past, tearing asunder the sanctity of private life, respect for individual rights, and social solidarities. Many pobladores who lived in neighborhoods established with the sponsorship of the Left felt this historical fracture right away. For them, the violations came early and often. A disproportionate number of those killed and tortured by state agents came from these poblaciones and campamentos. The military junta justified these exceptional measures by declaring that the country was in a “state of siege,” which it defined as “a state or...

    • CHAPTER 6 AESTHETICS OF ORDER: Forging Spaces of Distinction amid Neoliberal Expansion
      (pp. 164-190)

      In January 1979, the chief of the presidential staff, “on instructions from the señor Presidente de la República,” General Augusto Pinochet, sent a memorandum to the minister of housing and urbanism. The president, the chief wrote, wanted to improve the “environmental and aesthetic quality” of the western section of the Alameda, Santiago’s main thoroughfare. Providing access to the capital city from the airport and the country’s principal port, the avenue was the first area that international visitors observed when they entered the country. The dictator was concerned that the neighborhood’s low-income housing, abandoned buildings, sprawling market areas, heavy pedestrian traffic,...


      (pp. 193-218)

      In late 1981 the rapid economic growth of the preceding four years quickly lost steam. The subsequent depression was even more devastating than the contraction of the mid-1970s. In certain fundamental ways, the harshness of the downturn exposed the dilemmas and contradictions of Chile’s capitalist state formation under dictatorship. As the recession painfully deepened, opposition to the regime strengthened and found a powerful forum for critique in the national protests that began in May 1983. Activists questioned the order of the dictatorship with a boldness and openness previously unimaginable. Bringing together a diverse cross section of society, the protestors included...

    • CHAPTER 8 FRACTURES OF HOME AND NATION: Property Titling after the Dictatorship
      (pp. 219-241)

      It was a grey, cool day in early winter. It was threatening to rain but it had held off—fortunately, as it was moving day for the residents of the campamento. After more than six years of organizing and many false starts, these pobladores had finally become beneficiaries of MINVU’s latest “eradication” program, Chile Barrio. They were leaving behind a densely packed neighborhood of some 650 residents, a campamento largely hidden behind eight-foot concrete walls. Residents in two neighboring poblaciones and a villa could not see the campamento from their homes. With only a small opening to the street, the...

      (pp. 242-263)

      For many of the pobladores with whom I worked on this study, the question of dignity complicates their reflections on the trajectory of their neighborhoods. This question makes the connection between the past and the present a troubled one. This is especially the case for those who took part in the land seizures before the coup. In general, these pobladores have a security of land tenure and a degree of neighborhood development that once would have been difficult to imagine. Yet the years between the land seizures and the present have been tumultuous and unstable—shattered by dictatorial repression, punctuated...

    (pp. 264-272)

    Any reader of this book, I suspect, has a strong point of view on the processes of reform, revolution, and reaction that pobladores have been embroiled within as they have struggled to gain a right to housing since the 1950s. Internationally, Chile stands as a poignant example of some of the new possibilities, destructive polarization, and imperial relations that were an integral part of Cold War conflicts in the Americas and the transition to neoliberalism. In a similar vein, I also suspect that the dynamics of urban marginality discussed provoke impassioned reactions. Few tend to remain neutral when considering such...