On squatting practices and research methods

My attempt thus far has been to keep the posts on this blog related to my study abroad in Amsterdam fairly generalizable — anyone should be able to, without prior context, pick up and read any post made on this page. Unfortunately, this has become more and more difficult as time has progressed, and I would like to apologize in advance to my readers for how contextual this post is.

On Monday, we were able to hear about three of the research projects that our group will be collectively executing during our stay in Amsterdam. Here is some commentary on the one I personally found the most interesting, the squatting group.

I must admit that I only had faint shadows of an idea about what exactly “squatting” is prior to hearing their explanation. My impression on the subject was that squatters were very little differentiable from the homeless, an impression which now would seem to be very much incorrect. As it turns out, there is a very definite distinction that squatters have – they own a space. This is not to say that they bought and paid for it, but rather that the Dutch government has enabled anyone to take over any abandoned private or public space a year after it has fallen into disuse. As long as the new occupant “claims” the space by means of populating it with a bed, a desk, and a chair, the space is legally theirs.

This is a fascinating take on a few of the more oblique issues with urbanization, and I certainly wish Isaac and Fiona luck on studying it, as it is a very compelling topic. From what I gathered, Fiona wished to study the aesthetic nature of squatting spaces: how the squatters decorate their squatting space. While this is a good way to investigate perhaps the squatter culture, I am not entirely convinced that a clear pattern will emerge – in my mind, squatters are mostly connected together by virtue of being squatters, and I have doubts as to whether there is indeed a unified culture that will extend as far as aesthetics. Rather, I think a perhaps more directly relatable issue would be perhaps to use the measure of aesthetics (and of course interviews) to determine the squatters’ attitude towards their space. How much do they see the space they occupy as being “theirs?”

Isaac, on the other hand, wished to study something quite a bit broader – whether the practice of allowing squatting makes Amsterdam more habitable. This seems at first glance highly counterintuitive – how would allowing the homeless to just take over spaces make the city more habitable? In fact, however, there are numerous advantages to this practice. First, it gets people off the street, and gives them a means to perhaps get on their feet. Second, it prevents buildings from falling entirely to disuse – squatters usually pay to keep the utilities running, and naturally do what they can to keep their space from falling into disrepair. This is an extremely interesting topic on a societal and a policy level, and learning more in this direction could be extremely illuminating about urbanity and urban planning in general. My only thoughts are that the topic is perhaps too broad; even with a focus on gastronomy, I think that perhaps contextualizing the actual research down to a particular district or even building/block would make it a much more palatable and digestible piece of investigation.

I unfortunately did not catch exactly what Cassie wanted to do with her research, as she was sadly not here in person to explain in depth her topic. However, I wish all three of them luck in their research, as the topic seems extremely interesting and compelling, and should be rather illuminating as urbanity pervades more and more into human culture.

2 Responses to “On squatting practices and research methods”

  1. 1 JB

    Good post. I’m glad you’re plain about what you don’t get. Isaac ventriloquized Cassie’s angle: she’s looking at homelessness in order to capture the other side of squatting: whether in addition to creating a new form of habitus, it disenfranchizes others, in this case the (or a) homeless population.

  2. 2 Isaac

    Thanks Clint. I think you’re right that it might be easier to focus on one or two specific physical locations (as Clifford has been suggesting for many groups as well…). Hopefully I will somehow be able to extrapolate from these points to get a general idea of the shape of the general squatting culture (even if there’s bound to be some noise).

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