Conceptualising the commons as a relational triad: Lessons from the grant of use cooperative housing model in Barcelona

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The current crisis of housing affordability in urban environments has drawn the attention of geographers to housing commons. This paper provides a conceptual and operational framework for an empirical study of housing commons. In thinking about the commons as a ‘relational triad’ involving a resource (the object), and community (the actors) and a form of organisation (the activity), I argue that housing commons are hybrid, imperfect social processes that escape binary scrutiny. Drawing on the findings of a research project that took place between 2017 and 2021, I focus on an emerging form of self-managed cooperative housing in the city of Barcelona, known as the ‘grant of use model’. I dwell on the contradictory nature of self-management in the context of a social reproduction crisis. Housing commons can be conducive to solidaristic communities and non-individualist subjectivities outside the financialisation of everyday life via mortgaged homeownership. However, the time and emotional investment required to self-develop housing projects in highly regulated, neoliberal urban spaces are not available for everyone. Housing commons require a favourable political context, economic resources, social connections and technical knowledge, which prevent democratic access. I analyse the origin and causes of exclusionary boundaries surrounding these housing commons to understand how these boundaries can be softened. Departing from disembedded conceptualisations of the commons, I show what type of public-common partnerships and innovative policies can make housing commons more inclusive without renouncing principles such as self-organisation and autonomy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)112-121
Number of pages10
Issue numberNovember 2022
Early online date29 Sept 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2022


  • Housing commons
  • Urban housing
  • Self-management
  • Social reproduction
  • Public-common partnerships


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