Land, Materials, and Construction Site: Decommodification Through Alternative Construction

  • Samuel Holden

Student thesis: Phd


The definition of decommodification is contested. Researchers see decommodification either as a strategy to move beyond capitalism or a way to reform current conditions. Some researchers interpret it as a process that seeks to disentangle society from the market yet others claim it is individual actions that replace profit-based exchange. Through the exploration of, and engagements with, alternative construction practices, this thesis complicates the definition of decommodification by arguing that these competing definitions are mutually existing in dialectical relationships. When decommodification simultaneously suggests an overcoming of the profit motive whilst reinforcing existing conditions, and whilst it can be observed as both action and process, then to fully define decommodification these contradictions must be exposed. From land banking, and construction finance, to subordinated labour, there are standard procedures that have been scripted around financial capital making it appear as though profit based construction practices are the only option. This thesis asks: how does the engagement with, and analysis of, alternative construction practices suggest that the definition of decommodification should incorporate the contradictions - firstly of efficacy, and secondly of actions versus process? The research engages with REACH Homes, a small not-for-profit house builder. It uses a unique, modified participatory action research (PAR) methodology that consists of an initial phase of improving REACH's practice, akin to a traditional PAR project, and a subsequent stage that analyses those practices. The analysis of REACH's alternative construction practices indicates how decommodification can be understood both as an action and as a process. It also shows that whilst decommodification can be used as a tool by capital to overcome its inherent contradictions, decommodification presents an alternative to the reified present and therefore could play a role in moving beyond capitalism. The thesis also adds to the literature on social architecture through the exploration of decommodification. Literature on the purpose of social architecture ranges from arguing that social architecture provides immediate benefit to seeing it act in a vanguard-esque manner of creating realities beyond capitalism. Because this thesis uses alternative construction practices to show that another option to capitalist construction is possible, it adds to social architecture by placing it within struggles beyond capitalism without overstating its role.
Date of Award1 Aug 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorLeandro Minuchin (Supervisor) & Alan Lewis (Supervisor)


  • Social Architecture
  • Design Research
  • Participatory Action Research
  • Politics of Construction
  • Decommodification
  • Political Economy
  • Construction Economics
  • Architectural Economics

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