Environment & Urbanization

World leading environmental and urban studies journal

Geographies of Forced Eviction: Dispossession, Violence, Resistance

Katherine Brickell, Melissa Fernández Arrigoitia, Alexander Vasudevan

Palgrave Macmillan



These chapters discuss dispossession in cities including Accra, Colombo, Rio de Janeiro, Shanghai, London, and Berlin. The range of the case studies shows that this practice is not limited to low-income cities. And the overview shows that it affects a large number of people: between 2007 and 2009, for instance, more than 4.5 million people were affected by forced eviction.

Forced removals of residents have escalated in the last two decades due to factors including financial crises, intensifying urbanization, and climate change. Yet it would be misleading to characterize this phenomenon as a natural response to environmental and historical change. The chapters examine the increasingly globalized financial and political interests that stand to benefit from the ejection of low-income and minority residents from city centres.

The forcible evictions discussed in this book are more complex than a tenant simply being unable to pay rent. From demolition of informal settlements to taxes on social housing, from forced relocation to peripheral locations and criminalization of traditional practices of occupying unused space, these evictions are not just about the individual level.

The case studies document not only the sometimes invisible political and economic threads justifying forced eviction, but also the resistance movements that have formed in response. These include the Spanish activist group Plataforma de Afectados Por la Hipoteca (PAH), which has campaigned to end evictions, re-classify mortgage debt as non-personal debt, and create social housing out of empty property owned by financial institutions. In Colombo, residents of informal settlements have sought to replace the official, pejorative term “slum” with the word watta (meaning “garden” or “land”).

Unfortunately, while resistance activities like those described in Sri Lanka and Spain show how suspect official narratives can be, these activist movements have not resulted in much change in policy or legislation. Progress may need to be measured in terms of undermining state legitimacy, as well as having more people question the logic of austerity, capitulation to transnational capitalism, and displacement.

Geographies of Forced Eviction is also interested in an aspect that is infrequently discussed in scholarly circles: the emotional impacts of forced eviction and housing insecurity. The residents quoted in this book explain their resentments about unfulfilled promises after being relocated to new housing projects; the loss of place-specific social ties that particularly hit women hard; and the mental health effects of lost livelihoods after displacement. These feelings are complicated. In Rio de Janeiro, some people resettled through the Minha Casa Minha Vida programme were more or less satisfied. Another chapter focuses on the emotionally draining work of UK bailiffs tasked with enforcing eviction. However, the overall impression is of the importance of considering residents’ loss of dignity and choice, in addition to all the tangible detriments of forced eviction.


Further reading:

Bhan, Gautam (2009), “‘This is no longer the city I once knew’: Evictions, the urban poor and the right to the city in millennial Delhi”, Environment and Urbanization Vol 21, No 1, pages 127–142, available at http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0956247809103009.

du Plessis, Jean (2005), “The growing problem of forced evictions and the crucial importance of community-based, locally appropriate alternatives”, Environment and Urbanization Vol 17, No 1, pages 123–134, available at http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/095624780501700108.

Environment and Urbanization (1994), “Evictions”, Vol 6, No 1, available at http://journals.sagepub.com/toc/eaua/6/1.

Patel, Sejal, Richard Sliuzas and Navdeep Mathur (2015), “The risk of impoverishment in urban development-induced displacement and resettlement in Ahmedabad”, Environment and Urbanization Vol 27, No 1, pages 231–256, available at http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0956247815569128.


Book note prepared by Christine Ro

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