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Resisting the rentier city: grassroots housing activism and renter subjectivity in post-crisis London

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journal contribution
posted on 18.10.2019, 09:23 by Matt Wilde
This article aims to open up a new discussion about the political potential of the renter to urban social movements by providing a ground-level view of renter activism in contemporary London. Drawing on participant observation conducted as an activist-researcher between 2015 and 2017, I offer an ethnographic social history of Digs, a private renters’ action and support group based in the east London borough of Hackney. Examining the political and organisational evolution of Digs over a six year period, I explore the group’s struggles to cultivate a coherent collective identity for renters, its innovative approaches to mutual support and relational organising, and the difficulties its participants encountered in maintaining participation in a highly intransigent political climate. I argue that although Digs was a relatively small and largely localised group, its members nonetheless cultivated a vital set of knowledge-practices that provided a conceptual and material framework for a citywide renters’ union in London. The case of Digs demonstrates that urban social movements are more likely to evolve effectively when they create the institutional capacity to retain key activists and pass knowledge on.


This article is dedicated to my friends and comrades in Hackney Digs and London Renters’ Union, whose kindness and generosity made this article possible. Sincere thanks also to the editors and reviewers of RHJ for their helpful comments and suggestions. The research for this article was (part) funded by Grant ES/M003825/1 from the Economic and Social Research Council of the United Kingdom for the project “An ethnography of advice: Between market, society and the declining welfare state”, which I gratefully acknowledge.



Radical Housing Journal, 2019, 1 (2), pp. 63-80

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/Organisation/COLLEGE OF SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING/School of Geography, Geology and the Environment


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