CRESR Seminar - What kind of urban marginality? Placing council estates in the city

Start date: 
Wed, 19/10/2016
Closing date: 
Wed, 19/10/2016
Sheffield Hallam University, City Campus, Stoddart Building, Room 7139
Event contact: 
Ian Wilson & Will Eadson

Time: 4.00-5.00 pm

Paul Watt, Birkbeck College (University of London)


Urbanists investigating a wide range of Western cities have highlighted how social housing estates are central to understanding contemporary processes of urban marginalisation in relation to poverty, labour market exclusion and territorial stigmatisation (see inter alia Lupton, 2003; Smith, 2005; Musterd et al., 2006; Beider, 2007). Probably the most powerful and influential account of such urban marginality is Wacquant’s Urban Outcasts: A Comparative Sociology of Advanced Marginality (2008). In this Wacquant provides a sharp dissection and searing indictment of how ‘advanced marginality’ is produced and lived out in the US inner city and French periphery – both areas of dense social housing. This paper offers a discussion and critique of Wacquant’s marginalisation approach with reference to long-running research undertaken by the author on London’s council estates. It argues that Wacquant’s framework has some applicability to London estates, notably in relation to issues of territorial stigmatisation and precarity. However, it also emphasises the distinctive features of London council estates, notably processes of bohemianisation, homeownership and tenure mixing, inter-ethnic mixing, and the resilience of place and community ties. The differences between social housing estates in London, Chicago and Paris, both social and spatial, are therefore highlighted. The paper concludes by considering how notions of urban marginality inter-relate with contemporary processes of regeneration and state-led gentrification which are routinely occurring at London’s estates (Watt, 2009, 2013).


Dr. Paul Watt is Reader in Urban Studies at the Department of Geography, Environment and Development Studies, Birkbeck, University of London. His research interests include social housing and urban regeneration, neighbourhoods and communities, the 2012 London Olympics and the regeneration of East London, suburbanization and suburbia. He is co-editor with Peer Smets of Mobilities and Neighbourhood Belonging in Cities and Suburbs (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), and co-editor (with Anna Minton) of a recent Special Feature in CITY on ‘London’s Housing Crisis and its Activisms’ (2016). He is co-editor of two forthcoming books: Urban Renewal and Social Housing: A Cross-National Perspective (Emerald), and London 2012 and the Post-Olympics City: A Hollow Legacy? (Palgrave Macmillan). He is currently writing a monograph provisionally titled The Life and Death of London’s Council Estates (Policy Press).

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