Good and Bad Squatters? Challenging Hegemonic Narratives and Advancing Anti-Capitalist Views of Squatting in Western European Cities
Keywords:Squatting, discourse analysis, stigmatisation, polarisation, anti-capitalism
Mainstream mass media and politicians tend to portray squatters as civic evils. Breaking in and trespassing on private property is clumsily equated with the occupation of empty premises. Squatting is often represented as a serious criminal offence even before any legal verdict has been determined. The social diversity of squatters and the circumstances around this practice are usually omitted. Dominant narratives in Western European cities were effective in terms of criminalisation of squatting and the social groups that occupied vacant properties –homeless people in need of a shelter, those who cannot afford to buy or rent convenient venues for performing social activities, activists who squat as a means of protest against real estate speculation, etc. This article reviews the available evidence of those narratives and disentangles the main categories at play. I first examine homogenisation stereotypes of squatters as a whole. Next, I distinguish the divides created by the conventional polarisation between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ squatters. It is argued that both dynamics foster the stigma of squatting and facilitate its repression, although these discursive struggles engage squatters as well. As a consequence, I discuss the implications of ‘reversive’ and ‘subversive’ narratives performed by squatters to legitimise their practices and movements. In particular, the anti-capitalist features of these counter-hegemonic responses are identified and elaborated, which adds to the topic’s literature.
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