Marxist geographies and the housing question: Evictions, urban marginality, and the right to the city

Socialist Circle‘s Marx Festival, 10 April 2018, Polytechnic University of the Philippines

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We know about Marx on capital, Marx on land, and Marx on class, but we ask too few questions and talk too little about the implications and intersections of these relations on the housing and urban question. Who gets to live in Metro Manila? Why are some social groups more ‘qualified’ than others? On what basis is urban citizenship assigned? Why is it acceptable for the homeless and the urban poor to be relocated outside the urban core? What does a just city look like?

This talk draws upon the work of Marxist geographers, but centers attention on Filipino critical urban scholarship (Ortega 2016), to explain how the relations of power that enfold the concepts of capital, land, and class congeal to facilitate the eviction of low-income social groups to give way to more profitable and more ‘optimal’ land uses. Marxist and critical urban scholars refer to this as “accumulation by dispossession” (Harvey 2009) and “gentrification” (Glass 1994); but in Philippine cities, particularly in Metro Manila, this manner of losing life and home to capital is more commonly referred to as ‘neoliberalism’.

While processes of extraction and cycles of expulsion crucially define the neoliberal/capitalist city, I argue that urban marginality is likewise and perhaps even more viciously reproduced beyond capital accumulation. In this talk, I specifically consider the new technologies of class-based dispossession and spatial segregation (i.e., DRRM and ‘resilience’) that systematically banish and vanish Manila’s urban poor.

This discussion on the reproduction of spatial inequality via class-based evictions forwards the socialist alternative of putting non-financialized social housing at the center of city-making and urban transformation. Ultimately, the socialist question cannot be answered to the exclusion of the urban and housing question.

what is the housing question for metro manila

the housing question also asks

danger zone evictions 2009, 2010, 2017


Glass, Ruth L. 1964. London: Aspects of Change. London: MacGibbon and Kee.

Harvey, David. 2009. “The ‘New’ Imperalism: Accumulation by Dispossession.” Socialist Register 40:63-87.

Ortega, Arnisson Andre C. 2016. Neoliberalizing Spaces in the Philippines: Suburbanization, Transnational Migration, and Dispossession. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books.

Author: Khristine Alvarez

I am a critical urban sociologist, geographer, and political activist previously based in Manila, and currently working on a PhD The Bartlett Development Planning Unit (DPU), University College London (UCL). I am the recipient of the 2018 DPU 60th Anniversary Doctoral Scholarship Award, as well as the 2018 Gilbert F. White Thesis Award from the Hazards, Risks and Disasters Specialty Group (HRDSG) of the American Association of Geographers (AAG). My PhD research examines how ‘danger zone’ evictions as a consequence and requirement of resilience-seeking in post-Ondoy (2009-present) Metro Manila transformed coastal and riparian corridors in the urban core and created relocation hubs in the periphery. Through a critical genealogy and ethnography of the Metro Manila Flood Management Project and the Informal Settler Families Housing Program, it aims to weave a critical account of ‘resilient’ city-making and theorise the new drivers and new modes of dispossession that reconfigure urban and peri-urban space in vulnerable Southern coastal cities.

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