Surplus to the city: Austerity urbanism, displacement and ‘letting die’

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Urban scholars have traditionally associated displacement in cities of the global North with gentrification, generally understood as a class-based process of neighbourhood change. This article expands this scalar focus and adopts the larger scale of the local authority district (in this case the London borough) as its epistemological starting point to study the displacement of homeless people by the local state. Participatory action research was undertaken with housing campaigners in the East London borough of Newham to explore who is being displaced, their experiences of displacement and the impacts of displacement on their lives. Empirically, the article argues that displacement in this case is a product of national welfare state restructuring - or ‘austerity urbanism’ - implemented through a localised regime of ‘welfare chauvinism’ in which some groups are framed as economically unproductive and therefore undeserving of access to social housing. Displacement has the effect of reinforcing the surplus status of these groups by separating them from employment, education and care networks and eroding their physical and mental health. The article draws on research on the biopolitics of surplus populations in the global South to develop an original theorization of the relationship between welfare state restructuring and displacement. This theorization reveals that displacement is the spatial expression of a biopolitical shift away from the logic of ‘making live’ associated with the post-war welfare state towards a logic of ‘letting die’ more traditionally associated with postcolonial contexts.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironment and Planning A: Economy and Space
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jun 2021

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Global Development Institute


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