The Right to Dignity
Housing Struggles, City Making, and Citizenship in Urban Chile
Miguel Pérez


Contents and Abstracts
1 Housing the Poor in a Neoliberal City
chapter abstract

Chapter 1 sets forth the main argument of the book by posing a critical question: can recipients of housing subsidies effectively contest neoliberalism when taking part in welfare programs through which they expect to become homeowners? To untangle this issue, the chapter starts describing Chile's neoliberal, subsidy-based housing policies, highlighting their systemic segregation of the poor in Santiago. Chapter 1 demonstrates that the exclusionary character of these policies has resulted in a remobilization of pobladores (poor urban residents) who, by making strategic use of the subsidy-based programs, have built a new political language to claim urban rights. By showing that pobladores' anti-segregation protests are primarily organized around the demand for the right to "live with dignity," this chapter finishes with reflections on the significance of moral categories in the development novel types of political agencies.

2 Peripheral Struggles for Housing: The Pobladores Movement
chapter abstract

Chapter 2 positions the argument of the book in a historical and regional context. Emphasizing the similarities and differences between right-to-housing protests in Chile and elsewhere in the Latin America, I analyze the role of poor individuals' aspirations for homeownership in the appearance of social movements within urban peripheries. I concentrate on what scholars describing the squatters' movements of the mid-twentieth century have called the movimiento de pobladores (pobladores movement). The chapter scrutinizes the institutional and political context in which this movement emerged, as well as the role of social sciences in the production of such an urban social movement. Drawing on both archival research and oral history from poor residents who participated in these movements, I reflect on how these protests help us frame the contemporary housing movement in a historical context.

3 Mobilizing While Waiting: The State-Regulated Comités de Allegados
chapter abstract

Chapter 3 offers an ethnographic account of contemporary housing protests in Santiago by discussing the case of the Don Bosco housing committee. This comité de allegados (state-regulated housing assembly) consisted of around seven hundred families, many of whom became homeowners after participating in subsidy-based housing programs for almost ten years. Through this case study, I show that pobladores' enrollment in housing programs is structured around different modalities of waiting—to be recognized as eligible for welfare, to receive subsidies from the state, to have the housing projects built, and so on—that frame their activism. Several scholars have understood welfare programs as technologies of government that regulate, civilize, and pacify the poor. To challenge these approaches, the author argues that female pobladoras' experience with waiting emerges as a specific modality of social action through which they articulate their right-to-the-city claims.

4 Performances of City Making
chapter abstract

Chapter 4 reflects on the process of subject formation of Chilean poor residents, drawing on what scholars have referred to as performative theory. This chapter inquires particularly into the types of subjectivities that have emerged from the housing movements. I first analyze genealogically how the autoconstruction (self-building) of squatter settlements (campamentos) between the mid-1950s and early 1970s provided the urban poor with the capacity to claim rights. Then, by looking ethnographically at an allegados committee, I explore how such a capacity develops when contemporary housing activists obtain housing through neoliberal housing programs. This chapter concludes that poor residents in neoliberal Chile re-create their political agencies as city makers by both reclaiming the legacy of the old housing movements and evoking land seizures and autoconstruction through collective memory. Likewise, I show that contemporary housing activists draw on effort-based narratives to morally differentiate themselves from other poor residents.

5 Politics of Effort: Urban Formulations of Citizenship
chapter abstract

Chapter 5 discusses the primacy of the idea of "effort" in pobladores' ideas and practices of citizenship. I show that contemporary housing mobilizations have given rise to an urban formulation of citizenship that is grounded in pobladores' subjective recognition as producers of space. Urban activists think of their housing assemblies as political communities formed by members who bear political and moral obligations. This helps them establish a particular criterion for allocating rights: the right to have rights is reserved only for those who struggle (luchan). This chapter thus shows that housing activists consider the acquisition of rights to be essentially a matter of effort, responsibility, and self-sufficiency. This politics of effort illuminates the transversal rationalities of housing movements in contemporary Chile: although pobladores' concept of urban citizenship rests on a moral ground specific to a neoliberal regime, their struggles are structured by demands that challenge market-based urban policies.

6 Toward a Life with Dignity: Ethical Practices, New Political Horizons
chapter abstract

Chapter 6 focuses particularly on the right to "a life with dignity" (la vida digna), which pobladores understand as the new political horizon of housing movements. It critically engages with contemporary anthropological debates on ethics and morality, which have been concerned with how practices of self-fashioning and self-subjection turn individuals into ethical subjects. While these approaches examine how vulnerable populations' search for dignity results in ethical practices performed mainly in the private and domestic sphere, I show that the quest for dignity also gives rise to political demands that are expressed in public. Thus, moral concepts such as dignity, while allowing for the formation of ethical subjects, enable vulnerable people to signify their everyday experiences in political terms. This chapter concludes that moral concepts can take the form of political signifiers, by means of which poor urban residents frame their claims to rights, equality, and social recognition.

7 Conclusion: "Until Dignity Becomes Custom"
chapter abstract

The conclusion reflects on the shifting nature of housing protests in Santiago de Chile. I do so by highlighting the paradoxical nature of social movements organized around vulnerable populations' engagement in neoliberal welfare programs. This chapter focuses on three points in particular: (a) how new generations of pobladores constitute themselves as citizen-subjects by both looking to the past as a source of symbolic power and producing ethical narratives of themselves as dignified individuals; (b) the extent to which pobladores' understanding of rights and citizenship contributes to questioning the commodification of social rights beyond housing; and (c) the extent to which the use of moral categories such as dignity enable excluded populations to articulate broader claims for social transformation, such as those that led to the 2019 social uprising.