Transformative Actions? Occupations and Evictions in Lisbon Metropolitan Area, Portugal

Research summary

This study explores inequalities in access to housing. In the light of the premise "Leave no one behind", the case study on occupations and struggle against evictions in social housing estates of Lisbon metropolitan area (LMA) draws the attention to the groups of population that are excluded from access to housing. In particular, gendered and racialised aspects of housing exclusions are examined. In addition, the role of civil society in contesting housing exclusion is analysed.


Inequalities in wealth and income have become a critical question of our times, with the gap between the poor and the rich being the highest around the world in decades. At the same time, the objective of “leaving no one behind” is prominent on the agenda of international organisations, with the promise of combatting these inequalities and discriminations. This thesis investigates inequalities and discrimination from the perspective of housing. Forced evictions have increased dramatically in frequency and level of violence, and equally, housing costs and homelessness have raised steadily in the EU countries. The commodification and financialisation of housing, larger market-based housing models, and withdrawal of the state from direct housing provision have been identified as the causes of this rise. Yet, these processes do not occur automatically, but are actively produced by various actors, such as the state, private investors, real estate companies, and the banking sector. Parallelly, housing exclusions are being contested by other actors, such as some politicians, housing activists and urban dwellers facing homelessness. Given this, it is important to examine in what ways exactly housing exclusions are being produced and contested.

This thesis investigates the agency and subjectivities of three groups of actors involved: municipal employees, social movement activists, and women who occupy to contest their housing exclusion. It does so by combining various approaches, involving multi-sited, engaged ethnography, policy analysis, and theoretical and historical inquiry. This synthetic approach is founded on the idea of reflexive science, which understand the research process as a constant interplay between theory and the research findings. The thesis starts by providing an introduction to housing exclusions in the context of Portugal, laying also the conceptual foundations to enable the analysis of these exclusions. It then proceeds to examine the question that motivated the specific research design of this study: why do single-parent, low-income mothers must result to occupations to try to solve their housing problem? The analysis reveals gendered forms of subalternisation, which are also at times actively produced by the state agents. The thesis then investigates the forms of agency that are used to contest these exclusions. Here the thesis pays particular attention to several themes relating to stimulating subjectivity. These include issues of challenging invited forms of participation, hegemonic readings of informality, and promotion of strategies of improvised lives and transgressive forms of agency, such as occupations. The thesis ends by examination on the potential of these forms of participation and agency to contribute to transformation, defined as a capacity to bring a different kind of everyday and to invent new democratic practices.

Research info

Research title
Transformative Actions? Occupations and Evictions in Lisbon Metropolitan Area, Portugal

Research timeline
1.7.2017 - 1.12.2021

evictions governance housing occupations social movements


University of Helsinki
Development studies
Helsinki, Finland

Funding instrument

Project budget
0 - 200,000 euros

Head of research
Saila Saaristo

Research team
Saila-Maria Saaristo

Centre for Social Sciences, University of Coimbra (co-tutorship agreement with the University of Helsinki

Contact information
Saila-Maria Saaristo

Record last updated