Resistance as resilience: A comparative analysis of state-community conflicts around self-built housing in Spain, Senegal and Argentina

Eva Álvarez de Andrés, Cecilia Cabrera, Harry Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
35 Downloads (Pure)


Since the 2007/08 financial crisis and during the ensuing period of austerity, government agencies and ‘conventional’ markets have shown little interest in meeting low-income housing demand. Land and housing are increasingly commodified and financialised, and ‘formal’ access to housing has become unaffordable to ever larger sectors of the population. Those excluded from formal systems continue to provide themselves with land and housing via alternative means, as has been documented for over five decades. This phenomenon has intensified in some places and reappeared in others. Despite international agreements and exhortations to recognise the urban poor's efforts to house themselves, which now also promote the notion of urban and community resilience, government agencies continue to criminalise and quash such initiatives, thus contributing to inequality.

This paper aims to examine and illustrate the type of bottom-up housing process and official response that is taking place around the wold, with a focus on the role of two key actors: state and community. It adopts a transformative interpretation of urban resilience based on making the concept of resistance central to this, in order to reflect the realities and priorities of low-income and vulnerable settlements. This ‘resistance as resilience’ is explored in three self-built settlements by examining Giddens's structuring types of relation: allocative structures, authoritative structures and systems of meaning. These case studies are located in national contexts with different income levels: Las Sabinas in Spain (recent settlement in a high-income country); Guinaw Rails Nord in Senegal (medium-term settlement in a low-income country), Villa 31 in Argentina (long-standing settlement in a middle-income country). The case studies show how communities in all three cases have been the most active and effective in creating settlements that meet their needs in an integrated way, while government agencies have implemented policies of exclusion and abandonment. The case studies highlight that communities do not operate on a level playing field, but their actions can bring about changes in the types of relation identified by Giddens. So-called ‘informality’ thus becomes a political question, related to the position of low-income communities within their political economy and social structure, and their relationship with power structures.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)116-125
Number of pages10
JournalHabitat International
Early online date29 Mar 2019
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019


  • Conflict
  • Resilience
  • Resistance
  • Right to the city
  • Social mobilisation
  • Urban governance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Urban Studies


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