doi 10.4067/S0718-83582015000300001


Intellectuals and power within the production of social residential housing


Lisandro Silva Arriola1

1 Chile, Architect, MA in Urbanism. Associate Professor Viña del Mar University.

Housing and its environment can be identified as some of the main mechanisms for the production of inequalities and socio-spatial segregation within the context of the model of market-oriented development in Chile. At the city level, the housing space —which is one of the socioeconomic dynamics that defines economic behavior and performance — is a key element that determines the distribution of urban income. Likewise, the workforce emerges as another mechanism that, according to household income, may ensure the freedom and access to urban goods and services.

This relationship between urban income and the access to urban assets and services stresses the importance and responsibility of public housing and urban planning policies which, within the Chilean and Latin American context, have adopted a market-oriented approach to privatization. Almost half a century of experience in the implementation of public housing and urban planning policies under the market model allows us to observe the “road to serfdom” concept proposed by Friedrich Hayek follower of liberalism; however, such a road is not paved by the power of the State but by private power.

From the perspective of political economy, inequalities have been generated by the large preponderance and power of macroeconomic capital (private investment and assets); this situation has been verified according to the prevalence of economic return rates over production and income generation rates. This state, which dominated the XIX century, may reemerge during the current century in the form of an involution in the development and equality processes of western societies. Within the context of passive policies, Thomas Piketty in “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” states that “capitalism automatically generates arbitrary and unsustainable inequalities that radically undermine the meritocratic values on which democratic societies are based”.

The so-called “basic theory of capitalism” affects the design of effective public policies and characterizes the situation of “emergent countries” at macroeconomic level. In these countries, such as Chile, economic return prevails over economic growth rates. This generates polarizing and diverging forces of wealth concentration, poverty and inequality; such a situation challenges the effectiveness of public sector and social policies and thus the influence of governments on these forces to counter their negative effects. According to Piketty, the success of countries who have achieved development without further increasing inequality gaps is based on the “good quality of public policies”.

The production of residential housing operates within this “macro” context, in which neighborhood- and city-level socio-spatial segregation issues emerge as the result of ineffective public policies governed by macroeconomic variables and balances. Hence, the Foucauldian question regarding the relationship between power and knowledge that have allowed the permanence and further exploration of the above state for almost half a century. While scientific evidence shows and denounces an increasing socio-spatial segregation in Chilean cities, it has failed to influence the public sector and its mechanisms or strategies of power. Such an intervention has been intended to reverse the negative effects ofhousing and urban planning policies over the last 42 years after the forced imposition of a market model that puts private initiatives as the main driving force of development in emergent countries.

In this way the “art of governing” residential housing, heritage, employment, etc., would turn into a more specific and restricted “art of exerting power through economy”. Macroeconomic rationality would be the practice or the “art of governing” (in accordance with M. Foucault), it would become a paradigm that embraces current public management through the overlapping of thinking, knowledge and power systems.

The production of residential housing is framed within the context of the Lefebvrian thesis that refers to the space as a social product that sustains urban society. Such a proposal is related to a series of economic and social relationships, productive forces, division of labor and shared social practices and, as stated above, it is the main overlapping mechanism for knowledge and power systems in the production of public policies.

Such a bond among development models, production of knowledge and the effects of segregation and inequity in the production of social housing offers a more detailed observation of the relationship between intellectuals and power, theory and practice and the State and social practices. The latter is associated with the adoption of perspectives that allow the elaboration of research questions and frameworks of reference that contribute more effective elements for the design of policies and projects related to social residential housing. Maybe there is a certain risk in further exploring the dominant ideological paradigm, which places research next to the borders of the current model and the relationship between knowledge and power: Is it possible to establish a non-capitalist-based market model?

Within the context of the current thinking that abandons totalizing discourses and the existence of a unique universal reason, we are experiencing a new method for the elaboration of relationships between theory and practice. We are witnesses to a condition that is based on the “multiplicities” of discourses and a contextualized reason that goes beyond the traditional conception in which theory prevails over practice (assuming that practice refers to the application of theory). In this sense, practice is a connection among different theoretical issues and theory is the link among practices. According to Deleuze, intellectuals are no longer represented as subjects or conscience-bearers and those who struggle or act are no longer represented by political parties, unions or other traditional organizations. This author also points out that“there is no representation; there is only action, theoretical action, practical action in terms of the relationships among connections or links”. This explains why our societies, while socially stratified, are based on “social networks” (virtual communities) and organized into “social movements” with concrete and specific purposes. These groups are not related to political structures pursuing public ethics, utopias or a better society. According to Foucault, ordinary people do not have the knowledge-related concerns of intellectuals as they develop their own knowledge, which is fueled by the panoptic power of the mass media; this is a system of power that also involves an important number of intellectuals.

Through research work and scientific dissemination, INVI seeks to develop theoretical practices which are not intended to provide totalizing answers. The intention is to explain local trues and specific situations (theory is multiplied and then multiplies); this is contrary to power, which operates on the basis of totalizing reasons that generate a disconnection with the realities that are intended to be modified. Within the context of such a divergence betweenknowledge and power, reform is the most recurring word in Chile. As Deleuze points out, this concept has no content and is used with certain hypocrisy. On the one hand “reforms are elaborated by people that expect to represent other individuals, they are professionals when talking on behalf of others and only represent the redistribution of power and repression”. On the other hand, this reform is requested, claimed or demanded by relevant social movements. In this event, the reform becomes a revolutionary action which, from a specific perspective, collides with total power and its hierarchy.

The above is at the basis of the conflicts generated by the implementation of any type of reform in our countries, such as the education and urban reform in Chile. As for the production of residential housing, INVI has an important knowledge base and experience that may be used to elaborate a “genealogy” of housing policies in Chile. This exercise may provide flexibility, proper complexity and answers to address the different dimensions involved in the development and production of social residential housing.

Sandra Sánchez and Rodrigo Amuchástegui, in their contribution on the implementation of “biopolitics” in the construction of domestic spaces in the city of Buenos Aires, interact with the institutional, regulatory and historic evolution of the city. These authors use a wealth of bibliographic resources from the origin of the Municipality (last quarter of the XIX century) to show the Foucauldian thesis regarding the use of “biopolitics” as the means for the implementation of the concept “biopower”. Such a concept refers to a series of mechanisms through which the fundamental biological characteristics of the human species become part of politics, political strategies or a general strategy of power focused on the control of the lives of people. These authors use a wide array of historical information to elaborate a “genealogy” that starts with the epidemic events that triggered the creation of multiple institutional instruments aimed at controlling and regulating the urban space, thus greatly affecting the domestic space. In this context, while the beginning of the XX century witnessed the emergence of housing projects aimed at the “poor”, “workers” and “laborers”, the current scenario has seen the implementation of different institutional initiatives focused on the social inclusion of groups with housing needs. This suggests that such a situation is yet to be solved.

On the other hand, César Cáceres reveals a problem of Chilean housing and urban planning policies. Such an issue is based on the fact that people are moving to far-flung and segregated peripheries such as the Ciudades Satelites (Satellite Cities) in the peri-urban area of Santiago, Chile. The author proposes a paradox between residential satisfaction and the economic precariousness of private housing developments aimed at the middle-class market. Rather than becoming “oases of quality of life”, these projects show the vulnerability of middle-income groups with poor resources to inhabit the peri-urban area of the city. In this case, while private real estate developers internalize all construction costs, dwellers have financial difficulties in terms of access due to the private nature of amenities (transportation, medical centers, and sport clubs) and the real socioeconomic background of inhabitants.

The contribution made by Mariela Paula Díaz addresses the conflicting relationships between popular housing and the labor market that emerged as the result of unequal urban development in the city of El Alto, Bolivia. Through semi-structured interviews with key relevant actors and dwellers, the author establishes a relationship among inequalities, the quality of housing units, the provision of domestic public services and the emergence of an informal real estate market .Such an issue has been closely related to the public housing developments located in the peri-urban area of El Alto, which are intended to accommodate rural migrants to the city.

Monica Mejía-Escalante suggests that equity issues could be solved through the satisfaction of basic needs and the proper provision of durable goods and services. Such an objective could be achieved by revising the human rights instruments of the United Nations over housing as the institutional source of housing deficit in Latin America. This author also highlights an inconsistency between local knowledge and the institutional knowledge on housing. The housing deficit index is used to analyze the access to housing in terms of the provision of basic goods and services on the part of the State; however, this index does not include the capacity of households to meet their needs and the access to proper housing.

Rocío Silva and Víctor Fernández explore the Latin American housing issue through the analysis of world heritage areas affected by deterioration and poverty in the downtown areas of certain cities. This paper addresses different conceptualizations, situations and potentialities associated with cultural landscapes from the perspective of Latin American and the Caribbean, critically analyzing the procedures and possibilities for the inscription of new sites and suggesting some guidelines for the management of these landscapes. In this way, a comprehensive socioeconomic analysis of landscapes in Latin America and the Caribbean may contribute fruitfully to the debate on their administration and the sociocultural consequences of relevant policies. This paper analyzes local communities in order to observe the emergence of a heritage-based participative model that rivals the prevailing institutional model.

Gabriela Morais and Carolina Palermo analyze the property ownership process by separating the confusion of satisfaction within the context of the housing programs implemented by the Brazilian State. This paper addresses a problem in which there is a need to isolate “surprising or shocking” feelings of residents associated with their new dwellings. An essential factor of this researcher is the ability to identify the adaptation potential of user families to their new spaces and real levels of housing satisfaction. To do so, this paper includes a case research focused on the dwellers of housing developments build by the State in Santa Catarina, Brazil, over the last four years.

Finally, Constanza Espinosa and Alejandra Cortés address the issue of housing comfort, which is the space where housing practice and theory converge; the latter intended to provide minimum housing conditions. According to these authors hygrothermal comfort has a series of variables such as humidity, temperature and ventilation of inhabited spaces directly related to design and technical regulations, the characteristics of housing units, weather and social practices of dwellers. This research yields challenging conclusions in conceptual and methodological terms. Despite the formal technical deficiencies found by technicians and researchers in social housing units, most of dwellers were satisfied with the quality of their homes in the three housing developments analyzed by this research.

The seven papers offered in this issue of Revista INVI show different aspects of the conflicts in the production and daily experiences of residential housing at private and public level. These contributions also establish relationships within the context of the historical rationality of the State in the provision of housing solutions and the problems raised by real estate market and private models in achieving housing welfare and equity in the access to housing, neighborhoods and the city. This is a pending task for the practice of research and public policy making. Policies that allow the a compatibility between the characteristics of urban knowledge and the totalizing, non-decentralized action of political power (government).