[EN] Urban squatting, rural squatting and the ecological-economic perspective

A chapter from Squatting in Europe: Radical Spaces, Urban Struggles

Urban squatting, rural squatting and the ecological-economic perspective
Claudio Cattaneo

In the light of the present energy, climate and economic cri-
ses, it is important to consider the relationship between the ideals of
the autonomous squatting movement and the practical effects that its
activity have in terms of reduced material and energy consumption and
of economic performance.

This article highlights the ecological economics of the squatting com-
munity. To a large extent independent from capitalism, wage labour and
monetary circulation, it is based more on self-organization, mutual aid,
recycling, use of renewable energies and renewable materials; as well, agro-
ecological practices and permaculture principles are applied when pos-
sible. This system, partially independent from financial and man-made
capital, is based on human and natural capital and it can work beyond
capitalistic market arrangements: a type of social ecology (Bookchin,
1997) where the central element is the material environment (be it a city
or the rural and natural countryside) and where people are not separate
because they form part of this living environment.

Going further with this intuition, this article also shows that squat-
ting goes beyond urban movements. As a result of urban growth, an
exodus that has left many rural tenures abandoned, combined with
radical ideals, are the base of the neorural movement which, in many
cases, takes the characteristics of rural squatting. This allows even better
the development of a natural economy.

The principles of squatting rely on political motivations (Martinez-
Lopez, 2002), squatters are related to counter-culture and radical poli-
tics (Prujit, 2004) and the phenomenon, largely present and sometimes
even institutionalized within Western societies, forms part of autono-
mous and political social movements. The underlying hypothesis is that
squatters, because of their radical political vision, want to get free from
certain forms of capitalist control -for example from being employed
on a routine base, or from paying a mortgage to a bank, but also by
keeping some anonymity over the internet. By doing so, they learn
how to satisfy their needs with a great degree of autonomy from the
conventional patterns of paying for rent, of needing a paid job, of con-
suming and spending money. The thesis I defend is that while urban
squatters are to a large extent autonomous from money, rural squatters,
who satisfy most of their needs directly from the surrounding natural
environment, also achieve higher degrees of autonomy from the system
of man-made products. In this way both urban and rural squatters pro-
vide a micro model for local solutions to the ecological and economic
crises such as making the best use of urban waste materials, skipping
for food, developing ingenious DIY applications, promoting coopera-
tion, sharing know-how, practising mutual aid, farming with organic
agriculture, integrated ecosystem management, sharing of experiences
in communal life and challenges in its organization. All these solutions
can be considered social innovations: alternative to many technological
innovations, which increasingly depend on complex artificial systems,
social innovations stem from within personal capacities and social or-
ganization, which is particularly relevant in those cases where the sense
of community is stronger.

In synthesis my positive argument is that, stemming from the politi-
cal, there are further levels of autonomy that squatters can achieve; my
normative argument aims at the inclusion of these experiences within
the spectrum of sustainable solutions both innovative, resilient and
practical against the ecological and economic crises.

Throughout this article I will make wide use of an little known
expression: technically speaking, rather than “economy” – which is
generally too often understood only in relation with money, markets
and capitalist accumulation – it is proper to talk of oikonomy. This, in
Ancient Greek terms means “management of the house/community”,
for Aristotles it represented “the art of living well”. Polanyi (1944) also
considered the distinction between the familiar embedded economy
and the socially disembedded market economy. In the former, typical of
pre-industrial non-capitalist societies, the economy must be considered
in a substantive way, in the sense that it simply looks at how material
needs are met in relation to the social and natural environment, and
where the formal economic principles – such as utility maximisation
or scarcity – cannot apply. Similarly, Weber (1905) considered that the
self-interested acquisitive economy based on rational utility maximiza-
tion was strongly influenced by the Calvinist religious belief oriented
towards the duty of diligent application in labour and of self-restraint
in consumption, with a result in unprecedented capitalist accumula-
tion. On the other hand Oikonomics is only a means to an end, namely
need-satisfaction for a good life; money can be useful, but the squatting
example shows that is not fundamental for a good life. For instance,
rather than selling most of their time on the labour market and rather
than participating in the competitive capitalistic system, when possible
squatters directly employ their time to satisfy their own needs; they do
so by using and developing their own social and personal capacities as
well as by making the best use of the materials supplied by their local
environment, be it urban waste or renewable natural resources.

From this oikonomic perspective it is important to acknowledge
that the squatting movement includes rural phenomenon. The study
of rural squatting is now particularly interesting because, due to the
growing energy and economic crisis, life in the cities – largely based
on non-renewable resources (like agro-industrial food production and
long food miles) – will become more difficult. It is likely that the right
to the land and the issue of how to access it will gain increasing im-
portance. Reclaim the fields! is the example of an autonomous rural
movement recently raising across Europe (www.reclaimthefields.org).
As fossil fuels become extremely expensive, the present global territorial
structure based on urban growth could radically change while living
alternatives, based on renewable energies, re-localized economies and
land exploitation for subsistence purposes will likely become more fre-
quent. To this extent, the practice of rural squatting can well represent
a degrowth society, in which Latouche’s “8 Rs” – namely re-evaluate, re-
conceptualize, re-structure, re-localize, re-distribute, reduce, re-use and
recycle – are manifest. In case of an enduring economic crisis, access to
both a roof and a land represents an opportunity which can allow for
the satisfaction of basic needs with a higher degree of autonomy from
the global economic system: working the land is in fact a source of self-
employment and of natural income. For the future, it is likely that the
urban movements will be joined by rural movements in their social and
political struggles against the respective powerful elites, being bourgeois
or aristocratic.

The rest of the article develops as follows: section 2 presents the
theoretical legacy of squatters’ life-styles and their main characteris-
tics. Starting from the moral motivation towards not paying for rent,
it explains how less money is employed for need satisfaction and why
this behaviour is low-impact, therefore, ecological. Section 3 is a novel
contribution from an Iberian case-study presenting how different rural
squats and neorural communities are collectively managed and orga-
nized across two dimensions:
1. the line between monetary and non-monetary oikonomy and
2. the line between personal economies and communal integra-

In fact communal living can assume different characteristics so that
different degrees of communitarianism and of autonomy – namely,
from the money and from the system of man-made production – are
exposed. The case shows that neorural ideals behind these real-life expe-
riences tend towards the communitarian rural way of life and towards
organic agriculture principles related to material autonomy. Section 4,
finally, offers some insights over the steps that follow political auton-
omy and that differ between urban, rurban and neorural squat com-

This work is the result of participant observation (Cattaneo, 2006
and 2008) during nearly a decade, in which I have been participating
as an academic observer, but primarily as a member of the Barcelona
squatting community and of the Iberian neorural movement.

1. A side effect of squatting:
money-free, low-impact living and
communitarian organization

Among themselves squatters build links not mediated by tradi-
tional parental or social-class rules nor by the market. These links are
extended to the outside social and ecological environment, be it the
local neighbourhood, larger urban movements or the local territory
in rural areas.

Although a rising evidence of urban sites squatted for gardening
shows that the rural phenomenon is entering into the hearth of the cit-
ies, urban squatters’ main occupation does not relate to the work of the
land – they live in the midst of a metropolis, with other political, social
and subsistence priorities. However, their economy has a small envi-
ronmental impact because they tend to shun the market and the mate-
rial impacts associated to market production and distribution. Rather
than buying new products, they prefer to recycle goods and materials,
eventually they buy second-hand; they show a set of ethics opposed to
consumerism, beginning from the fact that they “recycle” abandoned
buildings – in which to live or carry on social activities – and that they
reform them employing simple tools, primary materials and voluntary
semi-professional work.

In contrast with the modern tendency that could be restated as
“become independent, live by yourself, be free”, urban squatters live
instead in a community and consider independence at another level.
They do not need to depend on banks, real estate business or a paid job;
rather, they develop their personal capacities and promote cooperation
within the squat and the local community. They make extensive use of
natural oikonomic means more than monetary or financial ones. To the
extent possible, they also grow their own food and collect rainwater.

Theoretical legacies to autonomous life-styles.

If the conventional economy is characterised by a production side and
a consumption side –supply and demand – which are connected by ex-
ternal and often impersonal markets, in the squatting oikonomy these
elements tend to melt into the same, into a micro embedded economy
as Karl Polanyi (1944) named it. If market action is characterised by
self-organisation, this primarily refers to human processes: the market
is said to be self-organized because there are human beings behind it
acting accordingly to their own interests. The principles of self-organi-
zation however, do also apply to cooperative and social processes such
as squatting or autonomous social movements, and where individual
interest of the market agent is substituted by the communal interest of
the collective.

The squatting self-organized oikonomy is nothing more than a return
to pre-capitalist origins, where market exchange is fairly limited and
is often sought as barter, with face-to-face relationships and common
trust dominating the transactions. Primarily, it is a return to household
modes of production and -in the urban gardens and neo-rural cases- to
communal land management. These are historical economic institu-
tions which are independent from the market and from private or state
property. The original point of squatters’ economies, particularly urban
ones, is to live next to the market and yet to be capable of reviving
an alternative economic system, typical of a time when competitive
economic dynamics were only marginal aspects of life. Neorurals’ and
squatters’ organizations have similarities with Malinowski’s (1922) gift
economy and Sahlins’s (1974) Domestic Mode of Production and re-
late to Becker’s (1976) theory of allocation of time and Kropotkin’s
(1915) biological and historical analysis of mutual aid as a factor of
evolution in social life. The key to understanding these processes is to
consider them as a self-organised bio-economy.

“Tornallom” is a Valencian farmer’s expression which literally means
“return the back” and constitutes the reciprocal exchange of physical
work: “one day you help me, another day I will help you”: this physi-
cal effort, which serves the oikonomic purpose, becomes the reciprocal
currency, without the need of money. This need is an indicator of in-
sufficiency, as opposed to self-sufficiency, with respect to access to the
skills and means that are required for subsistence production for a good
life. Money, originally a concrete means to ease the exchange of goods
and services, within the capitalistic economy and the dominance of
the financial dimension becomes immaterial, more artificial and, there-
fore, impersonal. Its counterpart, a remunerated job, also does so when
is related to alienating economic processes such as the industrial ones
applied both in factories and in farming. The means employed in pro-
duction and the working environment adapted to their optimal func-
tioning are increasingly artificial. In Tools for Conviviality Ivan Illich
highlighted the impossibility of certain complex technologies and of
related production systems to be good for a convivial and well-lived
life (Illich, 1973). Georgescu-Roegen, one of the fathers of Ecological-
Economics, argued that more social inequalities among workers, and
among citizens who can or cannot afford certain consumption patterns,
are a consequence of the ecologically unsustainable industrial economic
processes. He therefore added a political issue to the ecological one
(Georgescu-Roegen, 1971).

On the other hand, the squatters’ self-organised bio-economy is
based on a political reasoning in line to the above mentioned intellec-
tual criticisms, and closely related to the independence of their thought
from the mass behaviour that industrial economic processes promote.
As Marcuse (1954) already sought in his One Dimensional Man, self-
determination of needs and their satisfaction is an act of freedom,
which also seeks to improve autonomy against external control (be this
at the work place or in the determination of standardised living pat-
terns). Moreover, this independence of thought reaches the extreme
point where squatters – if this is coherent with their ideals – are ready
to commit a crime. Direct action and civil disobedience can be traced
back to David Thoreau (1849). Squatters’ independent ethical base is
the necessary condition to be ready to commit the crime of squatting.
The sufficient condition is to be collectively organised towards mutual
political support and to be able to resist repression. By not paying rent
and through collective organization, the doors to a radically different
lifestyle are opened.

The case against paying rent:
the Spanish evidence of real estate speculation

Squatting alien property is a criminal act. However, dignified hous-
ing -which is a democratic right- is still far from common people’s pos-
sibilities, with increasing rent prices that make housing extremely ex-
pensive, so that most life-time needs to be sold on the labour market,
creating a spiral towards individualism, monetary dependency and a
scarcity of free time.

Here follow six statements (Taller contra la Violencia Inmobiliaria y
Urbanisitca, 2006) showing the temporal trend in some aspects of the
“housing question” in Spain.

1. From 1960 to 2005, the percentage of flats for rent of the total
decreased from 40% to 10%.
2. In 1973, 34% of new housing constructions were destined to
be an officially protected home (VPO), but in 2005 it was only
3. While in 1997 industrial credit was 3.3 times more than real
estate credit, in 2005 the credit to the real estate market became
higher than credit to industry.
4. From 1990 to 2004, the average debt of a home increased from
45% to 60%. This means that lenders – mainly banks – virtu-
ally own the majority of the value of all Spanish homes.
5. From 1997 to 2005, the average cost of a flat increased 150%
while average salaries increased only 34.5%. This means that in
one generation (1980-2005) the price of a home equivalent to
lifetime salary increased from 14 months to 14 years.
6. The price of land as a share of the final price of a house in-
creased, between 1985 and 2005, from 25% to 55%. In par-
ticular, banks own 350 million m2 in Spain.

Facing this trend, many people would claim that leaving abandoned
properties, although protected by the law, is an immoral act. However,
squatters also have the capacity to do something against it, by free-
ing spaces for the development of collective living and social projects
which, in turn, allows them the possibility of free time away from the
labour market.

An opposite spiral is created towards the free collective development
of personal capacities and of social capital. A non-consumerist life-style
is likely to occur where not only homes and spaces for social centres
are recycled, but also food, clothes and many other objects that can be
somehow useful. Do-it-yourself becomes the leitmotif of a squatter’s

An explanation of how squatting allows living with less

The following explanation is an oikonomic analysis focusing on money
only as a means and on need-satisfaction as the real goal. The hypoth-
esis is that time availability and different ways to employ is the main
means of production available to all. Time can be sold on the labour-
market – in exchange for money – or can be employed directly for the
satisfaction of needs. All humans have the same basic needs, Maslow
(1954) and Max-Neef (1992, 1993 and 1995) dealt with this argu-
ment. Although what is defined as a basic need varies over time and
space, what is required for survival are the physiological ones (i.e. food,
sleeping) and basic material ones (i.e. a shelter, clothes); then there are
immaterial ones that might, or might not be satisfied through market
or material consumption: in fact needs, particularly immaterial ones,
are satisfied in different ways: how are squatters’ needs met? How do
they get them from outside the market? What is their material nature?
How do they employ their personal and collective working time? This
deep economic issue, central to tackling the ecological crisis, will be
presented here and, with respect to neorural communities, in the next

With respect to conventional lifestyles, squatters adopt several time-
viable non-money alternatives. The first and foremost is housing: with-
in a single night, a squatter can have a home that can last from a few
hours only to -in the best cases- several years. With some luck, a lot of
time and money are saved from paying a landlord or a bank’s mortgage;
the financial costs of squatting mainly refer to the materials required to
refurbish the place and to the legal costs.

The ecological economics of squatting can be said to be free from
barriers to exit from the labour market. Rent is in fact such a big over-
head cost that make it almost impossible for an average person to live
without constant monetary income, which makes the sale of labour
time a very relevant aspect in a person’s life.

Individualism in society and nuclear families of, on average 2 or
3 members, make life more expensive because of the many overheads
that cannot be shared. On the other hand, living in relatively large
communities of around 10 people or more – which is quite common
in many urban and rural squats – allow for economies of scale: costs
are reduced when things are done or purchased in bulk. Therefore,
household economies of scale are guaranteed by the division of ac-
tivities over a large number of community members to contribute to
time-use efficiency in household tasks. For instance in Can Masdeu, a
20-people rurban squat in the hills of Barcelona, communal living im-
plies cooking a meal once a week/fortnight, food shopping once a year,
working to raise money for the communal economy twice a year in a
group of four, working another 10 hours per week maintaining the or-
chard, house and/or social centre, etc. One person is in charge of buy-
ing food, one of keeping the accounts and paying the bills (telephone,
internet, vehicles insurance, magazine subscriptions, etc.), three are in
charge of the orchards, another of organizing household maintenance
and cleaning tasks, six are dedicated to the social centre, community
gardens and environmental educational activities.

Common to many squats is the provision of a “free-shop” where
unwanted clothes can be freely left or taken; the setting up and the
maintenance of home-made squat infrastructure (electricity, water,
kitchen, sanitation, furniture) is very diverse because normally different
people, with a wide range of skills and knowledge, have contributed
to it: no-one has to know each and every skill but still has the poten-
tial to learn them all. No professional services are paid to set-up and
maintain a housing project or a social centre. Moreover, the peculiar
economies of scale enjoyed in a community allow the services provided
by such infrastructure to be enjoyed by many: for instance, not only is
setting up a kitchen is cheaper because it is done with voluntary work
and employing basic tools and materials, but its costs are divided over
a larger number of persons who share it; the same is true for vehicles
which, far from being status-symbols, are used for transportation and
are commonly shared by a larger amount of people. While mainstream
culture is based on individualism, associated to the idea of indepen-
dence, collective organization represents an enriching alternative from
the personal point of view, with positive side benefits in terms of living
with less money and, consequently, with a lower ecological impact.

The third relevant aspect of a squat’s oikonomy is its upstream inte-
gration of production processes (do-it-yourself). This means that rather
than buying a product, this or parts of it can be self-produced. For in-
stance bread is self-produced and only flour is bought. Home and social
centre infrastructures are self-assembled and self-installed (provided the
technical know-how): only the materials are required, and might be
freely recycled from the urban environment. Because its members have
the know-how and the basic skills of a welder, a carpenter, a farmer, a
painter, a mechanic, a plumber, a baker, “do-it-yourself” becomes in a
squat the most basic opportunity for money-saving and collective self-

Differently from conventional households where consumption oc-
curs irrationally and is often driven by consumerism, mass-fashion and
manipulative advertising, living in an urban or rural squat requires a
certain attention to the “how to do it” in a different way. It is at no cost:
collective organization requires an effort towards enhanced communi-
cation and horizontal processes of decision-making (see, for instance,
Piazza, this volume), which can be time-consuming, but that at least
leave open the possibility towards the self-determination of how to live.

2. Rural squatting in the Iberian Peninsula:
self-organized communal systems.

The ecological economic perspective of squatting is even more evi-
dent in the rural context, whose presentation contributes to the con-
figuration of autonomous life-styles. Rural squatting is present in Spain
already since the Revolution, between 1936 and 1939, with large-scale
processes of land collectivization. The Spanish countryside is widely
characterized by rural abandonment. Migratory trends towards the cit-
ies have occurred since the late ‘50s as a consequence of the mechaniza-
tion of agriculture and of the arrival of fossil fuels. With the birth in
the late ‘70s and early ‘80s of the neorural movement the first rural vil-
lages were occupied by groups of people interested in self-organization
and eco-socialism as well as oriented towards economic self-sufficiency.
Magazines such as Integral or AjoBlanco, which focussed on ecological
and communal living and on the return to the country, inspired these
young generations in their moves. An extensive description of the ethics
and realities of neorural squatters is given by Badal (2001), while some
ideological foundations of rural squatting can be found in Colectivo
Malayerba (1996).

In this context, I highlight the value of oikonomic organization
within rural squats because it represents an interesting case of material
autonomy. This is characterized by the combination of a highly com-
munitarian sharing of labour time and a prevalence, over individual
paid work, of non-monetary self-employment within the community
and money-raising collective activities.

Looking from a time-use perspective, the neorural oikonomic activ-
ity can be characterized by:

• labour time employed within the community for the generation
of a monetary income;
• labour time employed within the community for the direct sat-
isfaction of personal and communal needs;
• labour time employed outside the community, sold in the la-
bour market.

As well, individuals undertaking these labour activities can do them
according to their personal needs or to those that are collectively pro-
vided, in a proportion that varies according to how they are organized.

In general the collective project tends to be more communitarian the
more isolated is the community.

In summer 2009 a rural squat gathering (Jornadas de Okupación
Rural) was organized in Sieso, a squatted village in the Aragon Pyrenees.
An afternoon debate was dedicated to sharing knowledge on how dif-
ferent communities organize their economy, which productive activi-
ties are undertaken and how the communal sphere is integrated with
the personal.

Presentations came from the participants in 4 rural squatted vil-
lages (the hosting village of Sieso and, from Navarra, Lakabe, Rala and
Arizkuren); 3 rurban squats (Can Masdeu and Kan Pasqual in Barcelona
and La Casa in Valladolid) and 3 other neorural communities related
to autonomous social movements (Alcoy, in Valencian Community;
Escanda in Asturias and Manzanares in Castilla). The diversity of the
forms of organizing and the different weight of the communal econo-
my among the participating projects was great.

All projects share a collective way to earn and to manage money,
but with large variations. In some cases the community is financially
self-sufficient, in other cases financial support is granted from external
institutions (one case), or through the formal contribution of its mem-
bers (three cases, 20, 50 and 100 Euro/month respectively) who find
individually the way to this income.

How collective income is generated also varies among neorural com-
munities: it can be from primary production (orchard, honey, meat, 3
cases) with direct sales to the consumers; bread making (3 cases, direct
sale); hosting events (international summer camps, courses, bar and
restoration services, local celebrations, 4 cases); or other services (i.e.
horse-keeping). Also, and particularly in the more isolated communi-
ties unable to easily access markets and consumers, some of its members
look for temporary jobs away from home (seasonal recollection, brick-
work) and pass the income to the community once they return.

In general, communal labour time is organized mainly in a collec-
tive way, where everybody contributes equally -there might be systems
to enhance that, like communal working days during the week- and
where work is not remunerated. The most common activities are or-
chard and food production and elaboration; building and infrastruc-
ture maintenance, rehabilitation and construction; energy supply (the
main one is fire-wood collection, chopping and storing) and water and
irrigation system maintenance. All communities have different types
of communal infrastructure and activities, which contributes to the
direct satisfaction of personal needs and communal requirements, thus
diminishing the dependency on monetary income. All have orchards,
chickens, in some cases, bees, goats and sheep, all have access to a bak-
ing oven; they have many tools and at least one general workshop, as
well as capacity to store recycled and construction materials, wood and
primary agricultural products. They are organized to participate in sea-
sonal recollection (i.e. for olive oil) or to collectively manage agricul-
tural crops elsewhere (olive and almond trees). As long as an “income”
of natural products and resources is secured, autonomy from money
and from the system of man-made production is possible.

The weight of the individual economy within the community is also
quite different, ranging from where all kind of income is communal
to mixed-economies, where people can have their own income as well
as a communal income for the community’s expenses. This last case is
particularly relevant within rurban squats because different individuals
might have a preference towards particular personal consumption pat-
terns, which the proximity to the city makes it more possible. In general,
given the precarious situation of squatting -and also of land tenure- the
property of personal capital is not collectivized, although the use of this
capital (which could be a car, or some tools) is widely shared.

The amount of money that the collective economy of these squat-
ting projects requires varies from very little (one case, 20 Euro/per-
son/month), to more considerable levels (250 Euro/person/month,
for one community which is not squatted), although this depends on
how many needs the community is able to satisfy, summing up, from a
minimum where only basic housing and food are provided, to a maxi-
mum where any kind of personal expense is included (such as tobacco,
education or travels).

The two most isolated places rely on extremely little financial needs
(around 200 Euro/person/month, all included), moreover it has to be
acknowledged that a good part of these expenditure is invested in the
re-construction of the villages, with returns on a less precarious quality
of life. Newer communities tend to have higher re-construction costs
and less capacity to self-generate this income.
Marginal barter exchange is often present, particularly among iso-
lated projects relatively close to each other and, if it exists, through the
participation in a barter network.

From an energetic point of view, in the rural cases fuel-wood is
used for almost all basic needs (cooking, heating, baking), and elec-
tricity comes from renewable sources (PV panels in most cases and
wind-generators in 3 cases – 2 of which have been self-made); in very
few cases closer to the city, electricity is freely taken from the grid.
Table 1 shows, as a summary, the difference in energy use -as an
indicator of ecological autonomy- among neorurals, rurban and urban
squatters, and the relevant facts on the importance of human endo-
somatic energy. Table 2 offers a comparison of how vital elements are
supplied in a sustainable community -similar to a rural squat- and in
the commonly known petrol-based civilization. These are the different
points towards a human ecological economy which the squatting expe-
rience shows to be possible.

In synthesis, the rural squatting experience results from the applica-
tion of the traditional squat ideology based on political antagonism,
anti-capitalism and autonomous self-organization, combined with the
neorural perspective, inspired by a return to simpler and more commu-
nitarian lifestyles and by the minimization of human impact on nature.
The evidence of this radical application of the squatting principles is a
political action rehabilitating abandoned villages and the rural way of
life. The life-styles of rural squatters represent an alternative system
with different degrees of autonomy from the main political economic
system characterized by industrial capitalist production. This issue is
discussed in the following section.

3. Urban squats, rural squats: what kind of
autonomy? The steps beyond the political.

Literature on the urban squatting movement can highlight its socio-
political aspects (Adell and Martinez-Lopez, 2004; Martinez Lopez,
2002; Prujit, 2004; Reeve, 1999 and 2005). Within these contexts the
main ambition is built upon motivations that have originated in an
autonomous way from the conventional mentality of the average soci-
ety, which is mainly influenced by the State system (its laws and edu-
cational system), by the capitalist spirit, by social norms often rooted
in religious beliefs which are in turn supported and enhanced by the
mass-media. Be it a counter-culture movement, a housing strategy, or
a direct action with an antagonist political message, they all represent
behaviours very different from mainstream ones, typical of western cul-
ture and life-styles. I intend this as political autonomy, in the sense that
its subjects are able to think in an autonomous way and consequently
they act accordingly, realizing radical and antagonist ideas. In particu-
lar, in the case of rural squatting, a commonly understood paradigm,
contributing to shaping the political perspective, is the necessary inter-
connectedness of the human with the natural milieu which can be char-
acterized as a political ecology. The defence of the environment, its val-
ues and the discourse over the rural way of life play a strong role among
rural squatters, more important than the defence of social-class values,
typically a more urban struggle. Rurban squatters, in particular, act as
a bridge transmitting political ecological ideas to networks of urban
actors. These political avant-gardes, like many other social movements,
generate novel discourses which are independent from the mainstream
ones, rooted in the western-based consumerist imaginary. As seen, in
the context of this autonomy of thought, one can find justifications
for breaking the system of State legality, which is clearly a political act.

However, I have highlighted that this autonomy of thought, mani-
fested in radical political (and ecological) thinking and motivations,
representing the ecological economics of the urban and rural squatting
movement, evolve through direct action into real behaviours. The
resulting reality can be described by two further types of autonomy,
namely economic autonomy (and its relation to employing time for
living with less money) and ecological autonomy (for living with more
natural and less industrially produced means).

Concerned with the capacity to maintain the squatting experience,
I have observed (Cattaneo, 2008) that this relies on the maintenance of
the capitalist system of waste production (and of rural abandonment):
if there were no more abandoned buildings, current forms of squatting
would not be possible; the sustainability of the experience is, paradoxi-
cally, closely interconnected with the existence of a system that produces
waste. The squatting phenomenon can therefore be said to be ecological
insofar as it makes an efficient use of a waste product; insofar as it can
recycle – like in a natural cycle – useless waste into a useful product, by
means of social organization, creativity and originality. Literally, an “au-
tonomous spirit” that manifests into autonomous spaces.

In particular, a relationship exists which proves that, the farther away
from the city, the higher the levels of autonomy that are achieved: pro-
vided that urban squats have limited access to primary natural sources,
in case of a drastic reduction in the amount of products that are gener-
ously given and of real-estate waste that urban squatters can re-use, it is
likely that they would have a harder time to survive than the more resil-
ient rural squats, although their autonomous spirit will make it easier to
adapt and survive than average people. Although largely depending on
the system of industrial production (and waste) urban squats gain easy
access to a large number of people and can be an example of money-free
low-impact living/development of social and political activity/social-
izing, based on non-consumerist ethics and largely working, from the
material perspective, on the recycling of urban waste: in fact, in the
case of people squatting for living/housing, squatting culture can be an
inspiring and visible source of ideas of how to slightly move away from
more conventional life-styles. From the purely socio-political perspec-
tive, the source if inspiration comes from knowledge sharing, solidar-
ity, horizontal relationships and all those cultural traits that, although
integrated within some fringes of civil society, are mainly not common
traits to the dominant political perspective: they have the potential to
manifest radical political aims directly at the core of where the estab-
lished power is set.

On the other hand, more isolated rural squats, although often un-
known – and the aim of this contribution is to start lifting this veil
– have strong socio-ecological values, as highlighted in the Iberian case
study. They are set in physical places geographically isolated, abundant
in land (and capacity of primary production) and are organized in a
way that achieves higher degrees of ecological and material autonomy:
neorural squatted settlements have lower population density, rely on
photosynthetic primary production and develop local systems indepen-
dent from the energy, food and material inputs generated in the urban

To explain it in a similar way, the oikonomic system of urban squat-
ters can be characterised by what they do not consume of the capitalistic
system of production and labour; they are “ecological” because they con-
sume economic waste so to extend the life-cycle of artificial products and
materials; the neorural oikonomy instead is characterised by patterns of
ecological production and consumption and by the management of the
rural landscape where they live in: neorurals are ecological because they
produce and consume less and in a more ecological way.

In the middle between the urban and the rural environment, and
just a few kilometres away from cities, lays the potential of rurban
squats. Here the perspective is that offered from a bridge between two
different squatting realities. For the case of Barcelona, Can Masdeu
and Kan Pasqual are antagonistic projects from both a political and an
ecological perspective and, beyond some autonomy from money, they
show a slight degree of autonomy from the economic system: like in
rural communities, they carry on farming activities and generate energy
from renewable sources; as well, endosomatic (human) energy is largely
employed instead of machines. Cattaneo and Gavaldá (2010) show that
endosomatic energy accounts for 16% and 38% of total energy con-
sumed in Kan Pasqual and Can Masdeu respectively, while the share of
non-renewable energies -mainly coming from cooking gas, petrol for
vehicles and, only in Can Masdeu, electricity- is of 10% and 29% re-
spectively. Yet rurban life is not so fully rural because of the proximity to
cities: notwithstanding the orchards, most food is still introduced from
outside because the land available is not enough for pastoral activities
or cereal cultivation. Neither is food autonomy their mission: higher
achievements towards ecological autonomy must be traded against the
potential for social transformation and political activism within the cit-
ies, so to contribute, among may other political objectives, to the rural-
ization of cities and against further territorial sprawl.

In general, it can be said that the re-vindication of use rights over
certain types of “built capital” of alien abandoned property is visible
both in the urban and in the rural environments. Rural squatting con-
nects with other aims beyond housing and political social activity, such
as living in relationship with agro-natural capital. It implies a particular
relationship with the means of subsistence and capital employed, which
means a further interpretation of autonomy, whose radicality can be
understood as a literal “going back to the roots”.

Table 3 represents in a synthetic form the different typologies of au-
tonomy here considered. Further degrees of autonomy imply previous
ones: a rural squatter’s ecological autonomy implies also an autonomy
of time and money, as well as an autonomy of political thinking char-
acterized by a morality that breaks a law. Common to all is this kind
of law-breaking political autonomy, manifest in choosing certain life-
styles, closely related to vibrant autonomous spaces. The oikonomic
means employed under different squatting modalities are shown in the
last column.

4. Conclusions

In this article I have introduced the ecological-economic perspective of
the squatting phenomenon, by looking at the oikonomic means squatters
employ to live with less money. Doing this, I have also attempted to
bridge the case of rural squatting, less known in the literature. The sub-
stantive findings of this article answer the guiding question: “to what ex-
tent are squatters autonomous from the economic and political system?”
At least as it regards the difference between urban and rural squatters,
the answer shows that urban squatters, able to live with little money and
capable of collective self-organisation, are more autonomous than the
average urban population, both in economic and socio-political terms.
Rurban and rural squatters achieve also increasing degrees of ecologi-
cal (material) autonomy: neo-rural settlements constitute a system with
greater autonomy than urban squats, which are still dependent on the
energy inputs and material recycling of the urban system. Urban squats
are not as ecologically autonomous as neo-rural communities but they
contribute in the shaping of antagonist social and political values.
In analysing the squatting phenomenon, the ecological perspective
cannot be dissociated from the political and economic vision. To this
extent, as an alternative to increasing social control and the erosion
of democratic freedoms perpetrated by the State and its connection
with capitalist interests, the incoming energy and economic crises is
an opportunity to look for the constitution of more decentralized and
autonomous communities, inspired by radical ideals and based on col-
lectivism and self-organization.

For further analysis I see questions related to driving social change
-another fundamental role associated to squatting- and the relation-
ships that rural autonomous experiences can have. What kind of so-
cial change is necessary? What kind of adaptations to more sustainable
lifestyles and relationships are necessary, as a response to the ecological
crisis? These are questions that the ecological economics of urban and
rural squatting can help in addressing.


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[EN] The Squatters’ Movement in Spain: A Local and Global Cycle of Urban Protests

A chapter from Squatting in Europe: Radical Spaces, Urban Struggles

The Squatters’ Movement in Spain: A Local and Global Cycle of Urban Protests

* This is a reprint of the article published in Martínez (2007, The Squatters’ Movement: Urban Counter-Culture and Alter-Globalization Dynamics.” – South European Society and Politics 12(3): 379-398).

Miguel A. Martínez López

“A rhizome establishes endless connections between se-
miotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances
relative to the arts, sciences and social struggles.”
(Deleuze & Guattari 1977)

The emergence of the squatters’ movement in Spanish cities in
the 1980s coincided with the first important crisis of the neighbour-
hoods’ movement. The latter, a protagonist movement for a great part
of the transition period between 1975 and 1982, has been studied by
several scholars (Castells 1983; Villasante 1984) who have emphasized
its combination of demands for collective facilities and democratic re-
form. In reality, although the practice of squatting was very common in
earlier urban movements, these were composed of different generations
(age cohorts) of activists (Villasante 1984; 2004). Squatting activists
were mainly young people who started to adopt lifestyles and ideas
that had spread through other European countries in previous decades
and which they tried to imitate, albeit in a slightly diffused manner.
Although clear lines of continuity may be identified between the events
of May 1968 and the new ‘alternative’ social movements on which
they had a substantial impact, this was not a somewhat delayed revival
of the communitarian and libertarian spirit of that era (Bailey 1973;
Fernandez Duran 1993).

The practice of squatting in abandoned buildings was initially a way
of finding spaces to strengthen the most radical aspects of the new so-
cial movements (NSMs) (conventionally reduced to environmentalism,
pacifism and feminism), but also of other more fringe and alternative
movements (students’ and workers’ autonomy, counter-information,
anti-fascism, solidarity with prisoners, and international solidarity). It
immediately spread as a movement with the characteristic features of
an urban movement, an alternative political scene and counter-cultural
practices that distinguished it from other social movements.

As we shall see later, only sensationalist reports in the media seemed
to acknowledge the movement’s existence in the mid 1990s. Social sci-
entists have paid scant attention during the years of its long journey,
a journey that began more than two decades ago. It is clear that this
social movement has not mobilized large numbers of the population,
as either activists or sympathizers. However, it cannot be excluded so
easily from the political and social analysis of our urban environments.
Its relevance and significance lie in both the actual characteristics of the
movement and its relationships with other movements and with the
key problems of the social context in which it operates.

This article will affirm that the squatters’ movement is an excellent
example of an urban movement with a ‘radical left’ approach and, si-
multaneously, one of the areas to have undergone the strongest political
and social ‘counter-cultural’ innovation, largely as a prelude to what has
since developed into the alter-globalization movement.

Of all the alternative movements to have appeared during the last
two decades in Spain, the anti-militarist movement and, in particu-
lar, the insumision campaign (refusal to serve compulsory military ser-
vice) have been those that have achieved the highest level of political
confrontation and success in terms of their objectives (Aguirre 1998).

This movement managed to enter public debates, draw attention to
protests and channel the broader anti-militarist sympathy of society
in its favour, and all this with relatively few activist and organizational
resources. Its small membership and politically radical nature (reject-
ing alternative national service and calling for the full dismantling of
armies), dealing with issues fundamentally affecting young people in
the process of finding employment and becoming independent from
their families, became an extraordinary paradigm for those who were
new to squatting. The seminal work of Manuel Castells (1983) on the
issue of urban movements pointed to an interesting approach to their
structural dimensions (economic, political and cultural) and effects.
Later criticisms of his model (Pickvance 1985; 1986; Fainstein & Hirst
1995; Marcuse 2002; Martınez 2003) stressed the need to focus on
other social and political dimensions of their context, and on organi-
zational resources, given the difficulties of understanding urban move-
ments such as that of the squatters (Lowe 1986: Pruijt 2003).

Therefore, it is appropriate to explain the genesis and development
of these types of movements and to identify their peculiarities and im-
pacts by complementing the traditional approaches of social sciences
with others that emphasize the movements’ complexity: their networks
of transversal relationships with other movements and with different
social contexts, their own reflexivity, their capacities for creativity and
for providing public goods (Martınez 2002a).

From this perspective, the squatters’ movement will be presented
as a ‘rhizomatic’ movement, with multiple connections between the
‘nodal points’ of networks, composed of these people, ideas, events or
spaces, characterized by non-linear evolution based on ruptures, recon-
stitutions and alliances, with the opening up of new possibilities for
expression, entry and metamorphosis (Deleuze & Guattari 1977). Or
as an ‘immediatist’ movement: criticizing the immediate sources and
impacts of power whilst rejecting utopias and ideologies that project
liberation from the existing forms of domination onto a distant future
(Foucault 1982). Or as a movement generating revolutionary situations
and temporarily autonomous zones, creating workers’ committees that
release the working class from their alienation, experimenting with
urban design to promote community meetings (Debord 1995/1976),
protesting against capitalist domination through insurrections of ‘po-
etic terrorism’, using music and ridicule, guaranteeing the invisibility
and invulnerability of protesters (Bey 1996/1985).

These theoretical approaches draw attention to aspects of the squat-
ters’ movement which are initially indiscernible and normally relegated
and undervalued in more conventional press and academic articles.
They also overcome analytical simplifications that focus almost ex-
clusively on: (a) the criminal nature of the movement’s main activity
(squatting as a violation of private property); (b) the subcultural and
fringe nature of squatting activists (squatting and squatters as an ‘urban
tribe’ with their specific dress code, discourse and original customs)
(Feixa 1999); (c) the juvenile nature of this social movement (squatting
as a passing and transitory collective action, limited to satisfying tem-
porary needs for accommodation—or temporary concerns—of young
people during their period of emancipation from their families).

Based on findings reported in earlier research (Martınez 2002b;
Pruijt 2003; 2004; Adell & Martınez 2004), this study follows an anal-
ysis of the squatters’ movement which, firstly, identifies the persistent
and consistent aspects of this set of urban practices which intervene in
local and global policies. In that sense, this article embarks on a pre-
sentation of the historical evolution of the squatters’ movement which
is structured along the basis of certain dimensions (such as claims over
the housing question and an explicit conflict with local authorities) that
have conferred its social relevance and its relationships with other social
movements and organizations.

Secondly, the analysis proceeds towards an explanation of some of
the contributions made by the squatters’ movement, such as its radi-
calism and political creativity both within the movement itself and in
relation to the urban, political and social contexts with which it has

In its aim of achieving both objectives, this article focuses on the
alter-globalization movement as the main benchmark of validation. To
this end, it asks the following questions: to what extent did the squat-
ter movement precede the alter-globalization movement, and to what
extent have its local characteristics been incorporated into that move-
ment? The final section presents evidence on these questions and pro-
vides some answers.

Most of the findings presented here stem from a long period of
participant observation within many (Centros Sociales Okupados y
Autogestionados/Squatted and Self-Managed Social Centres) CSOAs
and squatted houses in medium and large cities all over Spain. I stud-
ied squats during the period 1997-2004, though I have subsequent-
ly continued to collect documents and visit CSOAs. Sometimes my
participation took the form of giving talks or organizing workshops,
but more frequently I simply attended concerts, exhibitions, talks, mu-
sic festivals, meetings and demonstrations and visited people I knew.
My notes varied in length, as they were dependent on the length of
my stay in each city and the type of involvement and fieldwork I un-
dertook. Therefore, I made extensive use of information produced by
the movement itself through its various pamphlets, underground maga-
zines, self- recorded video tapes, internet websites and mainstream me-
dia. I conducted more than thirty in-depth interviews with activists in
different cities (mainly between 1998 and 2003, with squatters living
or working in CSOAs in Madrid, Barcelona, Vigo, Bilbao, Valencia,
Seville and Saragossa). Empirical data provided in other works (also
based on personal interviews and some focus groups) have been also
used (see Ehrenhaus & Perez 1999; Martınez 2002b; Batista 2002;
Adell & Martınez 2004; Llobet 2005). Historical examination, com-
parison with the experience of squatting in other European countries,
contextualization of Spanish social processes and urban politics, and
critical analysis of qualitative and quantitative data (basically pro-
vided by news in publications like IPA-Molotov, La Campana, CNT
Newspaper, Contra Infos, etc.) were the guidelines of the methodologi-
cal strategy adopted. Due to space limitations, the inclusion of specific
interview extracts has been avoided. Instead, a general assessment of the
evolution of this local and global urban movement has been favoured.

Missing Points in the Historical
Reconstruction of the Movement

As is the case with many social phenomena, it is not very enlighten-
ing to give an account of the history of the squatters’ movement by
simply grouping together facts in successive phases. That approach has
virtues in terms of charting events with respect to specific dates and
building an overall historical perspective but is insufficient in terms of
explanatory quality. For that reason, here, influenced by Foucault and
Guattari, there is a combination of that approach with an identification
of relevant ‘catalysts’, ‘triggers’ and attempts at ‘restructuring’ in the
development of the movement. Before considering these elements, it
should be remembered that the consideration of a set of practices as a
‘social movement’ is the result of a slightly artificial external operation.
This is particularly true in the case of squatting, not just because its
practitioners often refuse to see themselves as members of a supposed
squatters’ movement but also because the experiences of each squatted
building, district or city where successive squats have appeared include
uniquely local characteristics that force us to undertake a very accurate
and delicate appreciation of their common features.

According to the aforementioned three concepts, the approach pro-
moted here may be summarized in the following way.


The young people behind the emergence and development of squat-
ting in different cities during the 1980s and 1990s shared a common
experience of unemployment, job insecurity, difficulties in access to ac-
commodation, and the development of cultural outlets independent of
state institutions or other formal organizations. Certain circumstances
and social phenomena operated as ‘catalysts’ for the consolidation of
the movement, such as the relative lack of a precise legal and political
framework for the definition of squats, and the extraordinary survival
capacity of certain squats which served as a benchmark for others in the
same city and elsewhere.


The squatters’ movement endured strong judicial and political repres-
sion following the introduction of the Penal Code of 1995. Although
the Penal Code established stronger penalties and laid down the frame-
work for a more severe persecution of squatting, in the years immedi-
ately after its introduction the number of squats, and naturally, evic-
tions increased. That led to a stronger presence of squatting as an issue
in the mainstream media. The movement diversified and multiplied as
it suffered unprecedented criminalization and stigmatization. As ten-
sions with local authorities increased, the consolidation of certain in-
ternal tendencies within the movement, such as a rejection of what was
seen to be its institutionalization, the possible legalization of squats,
and a preference for urban districts targeted by planning authorities for
restructuring and development, became apparent.

Continuities and Restructuring

The squatting of buildings for housing purposes has always been a
feature of the movement. However, the strength and public significance
of the movement have been achieved through the use of squatted build-
ings as CSOAs. In them, the functions of residential buildings have
been integrated, subordinated or eliminated in favour of a broad range
of counter-cultural, political and productive activities open to other
social movements and sectors of the population beyond the ‘alternative
scene’. As the development of the movement was marked by a diversi-
fication of the social networks involved and greater experience of the
participants and activists, the squatters’ movement began to establish
new alliances and embrace non-squatted social centres and social orga-
nizations from a broad spectrum of the alter-globalization movement
or from the districts and cities where squats had appeared.

The article now moves to a diachronic evaluation which is accompa-
nied by a guiding chronology.

First Phase (1980-95)

This period can be traced back to the very first squats that appeared
in residential buildings and were publicly claimed as part of protest
activities by the young people involved until the introduction of the
so-called ‘Penal Code of Democracy’ which criminalized squatting in
abandoned buildings and refusal to undertake military service, in a
clear political U-turn designed specifically to persecute these two alter-
native social movements.

Multiple squatting in residential buildings began to spread in the main
Spanish cities (Madrid, Barcelona, Zaragoza, Bilbao and Valencia) and
slowly a different type of squats, which were also used for other activities
(concerts, discussions and debates, meetings of specific groups) open to
non-residents of the buildings in question, began to make their appear-
ance. Although there had already been some similar ‘squatting’ experi-
ences with an exclusively ‘social centre’ role during the transition period,
the squatters’ movement started with young people who lived in squat-
ted houses and who became increasingly committed to the dynamism of
the CSOAs. This mutual relationship produced a tension that was often
resolved by a drastic separation of squatted buildings used for housing
purposes and others used as social centres. In fact, it was the CSOAs
that gradually attracted more young people to the squatters’ movement
(and other social movements that used squats to meet, raise funds and
promote themselves) and made sure that new activists were recruited to
the movement in order to guarantee the survival of the squats, providing
support during evictions and then squatting in the buildings themselves.
Due to the high intensity of militancy in all facets of daily life and
the insecure nature of living conditions and survival within the CSOAs,
and even the elevated rhythm of organizing and performing all types
of counter-cultural activities, activists were constantly leaving (but re-
placed by others). However, the personal satisfaction offered by the ex-
perience of immediate emancipation in terms of accommodation, social
relations and political activity, coupled with the stimulus of emblematic
squats that had already been around for more than 3-5 years (some are
now more than 15 years old), were some of the main attractions for the
squatter activists who were multiplying in many Spanish cities.

Attention must also be drawn to another relevant element oper-
ating as a catalyst, i.e. that is that the number of squats (more than
80) was at least double the number of evictions (around 40) and that
these took place at a small personal cost, and relatively little repression,
though in many cases they took place without any legal guarantees.

Eviction processes during that period were slow and allowed squatters
to find alternative squats with relative ease. The authorities were only
able to penalize squats with fines and, at most, force eviction but many
squatters were arrested because they refused to do their national service
rather than because of their participation in squatting. The mass media
gradually and in a rather ambivalent fashion began to present a highly
stigmatized image of squatters, without, however, ever treating them as
either a social movement or a threat to social order.

Second Phase (1996-2000)

The accumulation of strengths, experience and generational renewal
within the movement led to the establishment of CSOAs as the main
structural elements of all squats, counter-cultural activities and related
social movements. With the enactment of the Penal Code, some CSOAs
openly challenged the new legal and political framework, increasing
their public presence, protest repertoire and alliances. Passive and active
resistance to evictions also increased, with more street confrontations
with the police. The ‘Battle of the Princesa Cinema’ in Barcelona, the
death of a squatter during eviction from a theatre in Valencia and the
successive evictions and re-squatting of the ‘Gaztetxe’ in Pamplona
drew the attention of the mass media and authorities to the movement,
prompting a quantitative leap in terms of its public visibility.

Housing was still a structural problem in Spanish society. There
were also other serious crises in the late 1990s (inflation, downturn in
the construction of social housing, among others), with a worsening
of the prospects for young people. However, the squatters’ movement
embraced these issues within a broader lifestyle perspective in which all
productive, reproductive and civic aspects are questioned. During that
period, residential buildings and CSOAs continued to be squatted, but
the new legal panorama led to numerous evictions and much harder
repression with documented cases of abuse, illegal eviction, prison sen-
tences and personal persecution. What is surprising is that the cycle of
squats, evictions and new squats did not cease with stronger repression.
As a result, there were more than 130 registered squats compared with
100 evictions in this five-year period.

The CSOAs organized a wide variety of activities and their po-
litical and counter-cultural specialization separated them even more
from squatting in residential buildings for housing purposes, though
not necessarily from people who lived in squats, as sometimes the two
worlds continued to mix. Due to increasing levels of repression suf-
fered by the movement, coordination meetings between the different
squats were considered more important than ever in many cities but
they rarely achieved continuity over time. Nevertheless, during this
period, political contacts between squats in different cities increased
through participation in joint demonstrations and the creation of the
first online communication lists.

Finally, the most significant trends during this period were the evi-
dent restructuring of the movement with an increase in rural squats
with many links with urban squats and, in particular, a convergence
of the squatter movement with alter-globalization protests in which
squatters had participated in previous years. Despite the fact that these
protest events were not particularly well attended, they included more
artistic protest activities and more resources (lorries, music, etc.) and
were much better prepared given the ever present potential for violent
repression by the police (Adell 2004). However, the dramatic increase
in the number of attacks on public amenities or companies during
some of these demonstrations, together with the strategy of some po-
litical authorities to associate the movement with armed groups, such
as Euskadi ta Aslatasuna (ETA), prompted the mass media to transmit
a more negative image of squatters and promoted an increase in their
criminalization and persecution (Gonzalez et al. 2002; Alcalde 2004;
Asens 2004). All this partially undermined the movement’s social le-
gitimacy. However, its long history had already become well known
among young people and especially among social movements from
which squatters obtained new support, regardless of any negative media
stigma attached (Alcalde 2004; Asens 2004).

Third Phase (2001-2006)

Recent years have been dominated by a crisis in the squatters’
movement in both Spain and other European countries (Pruijt 2004;
Herreros 2004). Nevertheless, we cannot easily proclaim its demise be-
cause new squatting and networking initiatives continue and the move-
ment’s philosophy has come a long way. What is true is that squats
have disappeared in some cities whereas in others there has been no
squatting for several years. Evictions have been more conclusive, with
fewer opportunities for re-squatting or the stability of collectives with
evicted CSOAs. A high density of squats and evictions similar to those
in previous years has only been maintained in the metropolitan area of
Barcelona and in various cities and towns of the Basque Country.

Another aspect worth highlighting is that prison sentences have
only been applied in rare occasions and since the previous period the
courts have often been more lenient (or, at least, divided) with respect
to the application of the law. In this sense, eviction proceedings have
been more repressive and have been concluded more quickly but on the
other hand, rulings and sentences have often been delayed for years,
once again favouring attempts to take as much advantage as possible
of squatting without any great fear of immediate penal repercussions.
During this period new and sporadic negotiations were also held with
the owners of squatted buildings or with authorities, but practically
no rulings in favour of squatters have taken place (Gonzalez 2004).

In addition, no formal organizations were created for channelling the
claims of squatters through institutional channels, since in Spain hous-
ing has not been a highly specialized area of voluntary social work, in
contrast to the situation in The Netherlands or the United States (Corr
1999; Pruijt 2003). In fact, demonstrations, joined by the squatters’
movement, against urban speculation and housing shortages have only
recently, since 2006, become widespread.

The two main aspects of restructuring in this phase were: (1) the
appearance of new self-managed but non-squatted social centres (ei-
ther rented or purchased) that prolonged the activities performed in the
CSOAs or which continued to be linked to them in a new, more varied
and open network of activism (Herreros 2004; Martınez 2004); and (2)
the convergence with part of the alter-globalization movement which
strengthened international links by participating in key European dem-
onstrations (Prague, Genoa, Gothenburg, Athens) together with many
other organizations and collaborating in demonstrations organized in
Spain (Barcelona in 2001, Seville and Madrid in 2002, the anti-war
demonstrations of 2003).

More than Just an Urban Movement:
Oscillations between the Local and the

From the analytical perspective adopted here, it was demonstrated
that it is rather inappropriate to see the squatters’ movement as sim-
ply a youth movement or as isolated illegal actions to satisfy housing
needs. In contrast, there are sufficient indicators to confirm that this
is an urban movement (Pickvance 2003; Mayer 2003) that is durable
in time and has given rise to a first-order political conflict with the
dominant political and economic system: in particular, squats are pub-
licized, communicated and justified through the use of both alternative
and mainstream media sources. Squatters therefore try to participate
in the political arena and social life beside the fact that they occupy
empty buildings. This is also evident when the provision of housing by
squats is often combined through the openness of the CSOAs to other
activists, sympathisers and audiences, with the organization of various
cultural activities and protest events over different issues. Following to
Castells’s insights on urban movements (Castells 1983), we verify that
social reproduction, local power and cultural identity were crucial di-
mensions of squatting.

The consistency of the movement over time stems, above all, from
its internal networks of social relationships that are formed between the
different squats and with other social organizations and guarantee the
continuity of both projects and activist involvement independently of
each specific squat. However, it would be a gross mistake to solely clas-
sify this urban movement as a movement of the young, since getting
a place to live and expressing yourself is not only a definitive means of
emancipating yourself from your family but also an aspiration of any
adult person. Although most activists are young and have relatively un-
stable lives, when they squat they normally start to live away from their
families of origin and work in temporary jobs or in the black market
economy, while simultaneously embarking upon an intense process of
political socialization whereby they learn to exercise their civil rights,
collective organisation and self-expression when it comes to defending
squats and participating in different social struggles.

However, it is true that these common features have been ques-
tioned by some within the movement, who argue that squatting is only
a means for achieving other ends. As we shall show later, these types of
declarations only represent symptoms of the alter-globalization enthu-
siasm that has always fuelled squatting, despite the fact that its most
immediate actions have been restricted to local spaces in the districts
or cities where the squats are located. In fact, the existence of a na-
tional or Europe- wide movement has also been critiqued, by alluding
to the fact that the specific development of squats in each city displays
greater consistency. However, regardless of the interactions that have
taken place with local governments, it is important to note that it has
been this level of government that has repeatedly been the main actor
with which all groups of squatting activists have had to test their po-
litical strategies, and this has also been independent of the question of
ownership of squatted properties because most were neither municipal
nor public (owned by regional or central state authorities) (Martınez
2002b, p. 245).

The internal heterogeneity of the movement is generally the third ar-
gument for questioning its consistency as a social movement. At times
of greatest friction, the press and certain political authorities have re-
sorted to classifying squatters as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’, making a distinc-
tion between those willing to negotiate and violent radicals, between
those who only claim residential buildings or social spaces and those
who are more interested in public protest, agitation and civil mobiliza-
tion. Academic publications tend to highlight the differences between
leaders and passive followers, differences between groups with different
ideologies (e.g. anarchists, communists and nationalists) or divisions
according to social class, gender or family. Squatters themselves may
agree with those and other classifications related, for example, to their
personal experience of squatting or their participation in other social
movements (Llobet 2005, pp. 309, 324).

However, it is not hard to identify a common magma of libertarian
and autonomous principles in almost all the experiences, promoting an
assembly-orientated self-organization independent of political parties,
trade unions and more formalized organizations and, above all, draw-
ing attention to the open dimensions of society and politics censored
by the institutional and commercial media. Once again, none of these
issues can be described as the passing concern of young people, even
if this is the time in their lives when they grow into squatter activists.

Furthermore, some social aspects must be highlighted concerning
the urban and political definition of this movement, such as the struc-
ture of socio-spatial opportunities that activists have systematically ex-
ploited in order to set up squats, such as the fact that squats have relied
on the existence of large, unoccupied and abandoned or dilapidated
estates in order to develop. Different squats have been able to concen-
trate in specific parts of cities and establish more or less intense rela-
tionships with one another during those long periods of urban specu-
lation or town planning, right before these areas are transformed into
new residential, commercial or business service areas (Martınez 2004).

Of course, these types of urban transformations are not confined to
Spanish cities. This is a much more global phenomenon. However, only
some places have been used for collective actions such as squatting (par-
ticularly evident in Spain but also in Italy and, to a lesser extent, The

Lastly, the most controversial dimension of the movement is its
counter-cultural element, which represents one of its strongest links
with the global dimension of the movement. Does that mean that
squatters do not have material needs? Could counter-culture be a refuge
enabling its practitioners to avoid the important problems of society? Is
it a post-modern movement that seeks maximum instantaneous plea-
sure through social diversity, partying and a nomadic lifestyle, all tinged
with vague ideological anti-capitalist affirmations?

In some countries, like Germany, squatting has been seen as an exam-
ple of a counter-cultural movement committed to building a collective
identity in strong opposition to other actors but with certain ambiva-
lence with respect to power and material living conditions (Rucht 1992;
Koopmans 1995, pp. 17-37). One of the premises of this article is that
this counter-cultural dimension is more easily understood by linking it to
a constant collective creativity in all facets of daily life which are, in turn,
developed as a reaction to perceived global constrictions (Llobet 2005,
pp. 49, 95). This position can be summarized in the following premises.

(a) Active participation in the squatter movement creates a lifestyle
that involves forms of expression, socializing, and social organization
within a frame of relatively austere material survival. Therefore, the cul-
tural nature of the movement consists of all these aggregated forms of
the squatters’ ‘lifestyle’.

Even though this is very difficult to verify with precision, our sample
of interviews suggests that around half of the squatters were university
graduates. Nevertheless, these squatters did not use their qualifications
for related employment. Temporary jobs, self-employment in coopera-
tives, the informal economy and mutual aid were the more typical way
for squatters to earn a living, irrespective of class origin. For those with
a middle-class background, their material conditions deteriorate when
they adopt a squatting lifestyle, regardless of the fact that they occa-
sionally make use of family resources (more often than squatters with a
working-class background). Nonetheless, it is estimated that approxi-
mately a third of squatters are of working-class origin. Consequently,
individual material necessities are largely resolved collectively or within
the practices of the aforementioned squatters’ lifestyle.

(b) If the social practices associated with squatting tend to be seen as
‘counter-cultural’, this is mainly because on a more conscious or ideo-
logical level squatters seek to oppose and overcome the dominant cul-
ture. ‘Dominant culture’ refers to forms of production, consumption,
social relationships and political decision-making. These are processes
of searching without any specific end. At best they can be seen as ex-
periments or laboratories but that does not imply wandering in a limbo
of theories, discourses and debates. Instead, the opposite is true. The
actual experience of civil disobedience exercised through the action of
squatting enables other practices to take root and reveal the counter-
cultural character of the movement.

Low-priced tickets to music concerts and other spectacles and the
money collected from such events are used to finance squats or other
similar causes. The free promotion of training workshops on the use of
new technologies or craftwork, the opening of squats to promote books
or political campaigns, and the setting up of libraries, work coopera-
tives or language schools for immigrants are just some of the facets that
establish a high level of counter-cultural coherence between means and
ends. It is true that such dynamics often distract activists from other
political struggles (employment) and that the main social problem asso-
ciated with squatting (urban speculation) is only combated through the
action of squatting, which until recently lacked more far-reaching alli-
ances and tactics. However, this should not prevent us from acknowl-
edging the contributions of the squatting movement, the coherence of
many of its practices and the establishment of free spaces for expression
and criticism of the dominant culture.

The Boomerang Effect of Alter-Globalization

The alter-globalization enthusiasm that has fuelled the squatter
movement right from its origins shares certain common features with
the development of the European squatters’ movement: the campaign
against the Olympic Games, for example, successfully promoted by
Dutch squats in 1986 (ADILKNO 1994, pp. 129- 147), and, more
recently, the Social Forum of Genoa in 2000, where the ‘Disobedient’
and ‘White Overalls’ emerged from the Italian CSOAs to resist po-
lice attacks during protests against the G8 summit (Famiglietti 2004),
are a direct manifestation of the fact that squatting has always been
understood by its protagonists as something ‘more than just living’.
That something more turns the political protest into a ‘politics of desire’
(P&P: ‘party and protest’) and the search for a broader self-sufficiency
(DIY: ‘do it yourself ’).

Hence, it seems that from an ideological standpoint and bearing in
mind the types of counter-cultural actions undertaken, the squatter’s
movement has always had a global vocation that differentiates its activi-
ties from those squats whose sole purpose is to satisfy housing needs.
Moreover, some would classify this movement in Spain as a ‘precur-
sor’ or even ‘instigator’ of an entire cycle of protests, which influenced,
through their example of radical democracy, an entire family of social
movements converging in the alter-globalization movement (Herreros
2004). For others, the gradual adhesion of the squatter movement to
the alter-globalization movement and the subsequent crisis of the for-
mer and the rising success of the latter reveal the successful culmination
of one of the predominant discourses (among the most developed) in
the squatting movement, namely the search for greater social autonomy
and multiple alliances in movements that criticize the capitalist order
(Calle 2004).

From sustained participant observation and according to docu-
mented records and interviews, I believe there is abundant evidence to
justify that original global (or alter-global) orientation of the squatters’
movement. First of all, information circulating in Spanish CSOAs has
always included news about squats and libertarian protests in Europe
and Latin America. This international involvement had a direct practi-
cal consequence in the action repertoire adopted by Spanish squatters,
such as conferences and festivals in order to collect funds for specific
causes, protest events in front of diplomatic buildings in Spain and the
boycotting of products produced by globally targeted companies.

Global concerns and new styles of interactions between social move-
ments, through the strong links that squatters kept with the campaign
against obligatory national service throughout Spain and with the free
local radio stations that also tend to act as platforms for counter-in-
formation on global issues, were also developed. Squatters themselves
pioneered early alter-globalization protest campaigns: such as the
‘Desenmascaremos el 92’ (Let’s unmask 1992) against the commercial
nature, urban speculation and social control involved in the interna-
tional Megaevents celebrated in Barcelona (Olympic Games); the elec-
tion of Madrid as the European Capital of Culture and the World Expo
in Seville in 1992; and the ‘50 anos bastan’ (50 years is enough) cam-
paign against the policies of the World Bank, which held its summit
meeting in Madrid in 1994.

In the same year, 1994, Spanish CSOAs served as one of the main
means for disseminating information on the uprising of the EZLN
(Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional/Zapatista Army for National
Liberation) in Chiapas (Mexico), which coincided with the entry into
force of the NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement). This activ-
ity took the form of solidarity and support groups in various CSOAs, trips
by activist squatters to Chiapas as ‘international observers’ and involve-
ment of various CSOAs (mainly from Catalonia, Madrid and Andalusia)
in the organization and provision of infrastructures for the Second
Intercontinental Meeting for Humanity and Against Neo-liberalism that
took place, in decentralized form, in various parts of Spain in 1998.

There has also been a gradual extension of relationships with
European CSOAs (particularly Italian social centres), with visits and
debates to organize discussions and protest actions at ‘counter-summits’
and demonstrations of the alter-globalization movement in Prague
(2000), Genoa (2001), Barcelona (2001) and European Social Forum
in Florence (2002). Another global turn can be observed in the use of
the internet by Spanish squatters with specific mailing lists and their
own webpages (although most were not maintained on a regular basis),
but also promoting Indymedia nodes and, above all, organizing hack
meetings for expanding free software and extensive electronic training
within the squatters’ movement, albeit on a very unequal basis, as high-
lighted by Sadaba and Roig (2004), and Ramos and Martınez (2004).
Since the last years of the 1990s, squatters have been active in other
types of events with both a local and global dimension, such as those
involving lock-ins and demonstrations by undocumented immigrants,
which have proven to be particularly conflictive and publicly relevant
in Madrid (2000-1) and Barcelona (2004-5).

Finally, all of this background experience merged together with the
alter-globalization movement and squatters participated in mobiliza-
tions making an international impact such as: the public referendum,
held parallel with the national elections, promoted by RECADE (Red
Ciudadana para por la Abolicion de la Deuda Externa/Civil Network
for the Abolition of External Debt) (2000) involving CSOAs from
Catalonia, the Basque Country and Madrid; protesting against EU
meetings during Spain’s presidency (2002) involving CSOAs from
different Spanish cities (e.g. Santiago de Compostela and Seville) and
against the Iraq War (2003); and campaigns against hypocrisy, waste
and urban speculation coinciding with the 2004 Universal Forum of
Cultures in Barcelona (Unio Temporal d’Escribes [UTE] 2004).

As mentioned by Herreros (2004), in many of these actions, the
squatters’ movement has been associated with other groups and social
movements (and sometimes even with political parties and traditional
trade unions), always promoting its model of open, horizontal and as-
sembly-orientated political participation. However, it has also suffered,
to a certain degree, isolation and self-inflicted marginalization in some
cases in order to preserve the whole content of its radical discourse
in a coherent manner. This is a crucial question in any process of con-
vergence and coordination of different ideological principles and ori-
gins, one that also affects the entire process of federating in cases quite
similar entities. What are the minimum points on which those alliances
are founded? To what extent can they move forward together? Who
influences who? Are the minority groups doomed to disappear despite
initially being the most influential?

As is acknowledged by some authors (see Klein 2002; Notes From
Nowhere 2003; Santos 2005), the alter-globalization movement has
not just embraced a broad mixture in its composition but has also
revived forms of political organization of a more libertarian nature,
promoting models of direct democracy, seeking the maximum par-
ticipation of all its members, prioritizing the assembly-orientated de-
bate and consensus above the delegation of power and representation
by leaders, in practice rejecting authoritarianism of any ideological
form and promoting direct action and civil disobedience as legitimate
forms of civil expression.

In Spain, parallel to the decline of neighbourhood associations fol-
lowing the first municipal elections after the end of the dictatorship
in 1979 (Castells 1983; Villasante 1984), the same approach was ad-
opted by anarchist trade union organizations which also tried, albeit
relatively unsuccessfully, to revive the libertarian ideals of the transition
and post-transition period. However, it was alternative movements,
such as the squatting, anti-militarist, feminist and counter-information
movements (later, also joined by some factions of the environmentalist
movement), which most openly continued that tradition by forming
a type of neo-anarchism committed more to specific practices than to
strategic reflections on the transmission of their ideological axioms to
the rest of society, bringing forth a new cycle of protests that culmi-
nated in the above-mentioned alter-globalization alliances.

Of all these movements, the squatters’ movement was most suc-
cessful in combining that ideological approach with a global perspec-
tive and intense local and militant action. It is perhaps the movement
that has demanded the most personal commitment in all areas of life,
though prison sentences, with the high personal costs they entail, were
more severe for opponents of military service, many of whom were
also squatters. In this context, interesting political innovations of this
movement included the rejection of official spokespeople (when they
appeared, they tended to do so with their faces covered), public lead-
ers or to setup formal organizations registered by the administration*
and which may be entitled to receive subsidies. The actions of civil and
social disobedience were not limited to squatting in abandoned build-
ings; other actions included calling demonstrations without notifying
government delegations, peacefully resisting police attacks on rooftops
during evictions or causing damage in streets and public buildings
when the demonstrations were repressed by the police, and the perfor-
mance of festive elements during demonstrations.

Consequently, in view of the aforementioned, we may acknowledge
the strong influence of the squatters’ movement on the alter-globaliza-
tion movement and on the many groups that have fed into it. We may
identify both the sources of its influence and the elements that favoured
its coalition with other alter-globalisation organizations:

1. The high level of geographic mobility of squatters and alter-glo-
balization activists from many countries thanks to the greater
availability of cheap flights since the 1990s;

2. Greater expertise in the use of electronic communication equip-
ment, albeit on a very unequal basis, as mentioned earlier, if we
compare the most advanced CSOAs with those most isolated
from new communication technologies;

3. And, above all, the embracing of the Zapatista discourse, which
fuelled anti-capitalist resistance in a way equally detached from
both political and revolutionary parties, and whose goal was not
‘to seize power’ but for ‘civil society’ to organize itself and for
governments to be formed and based on participatory democ-
racy: ‘lead by obeying’.

All of these points may also represent maximum limits that most
squatters are, nevertheless, unwilling to relinquish. In fact, social fo-
rums have gradually embraced an autonomous and radical nucleus in-
creasingly detached from the institutionalizing trends of other formal
organizations such as trade unions and political parties, which are more
willing to negotiate within the official forums of international organiza-
tions or even to join a type of international ‘new left’ party.

This argument leads us inevitably to a consideration of the possible
‘boomerang effect’ that this invisible success of squats has had on the
actual squatters’ movement.

We must consider that the global enthusiasm for opening up and
allying with other non-squatter collectives, spreading forth as much as
possible the ideas of autonomy and disobedience, was never a discourse
that developed in all types of squats and CSOAs. From what we know
about the general European experience, squatting environments have
a strong proclivity for endogamy and towards protecting their signs of

The most dynamic, durable and politicized CSOAs in large cities, or
in suburban areas, when compared with squats in residential buildings
and more isolated squats, have been more effective in breaking down
the barriers of prejudice and in embracing a plurality of actors and
support in both the squats themselves and in their acts of protest. That
attitude prompted them to participate in local and global platforms in
which they had to share demonstrations or manifestos with other orga-
nizations. The experiences of these different groups of squatters have,
in turn, dragged along many of the most reticent members, although
some have even been actively against that, as they considered them to
be ‘reformist’. For instance, some CSOAs have focused exclusively on
organizing concerts while at the other extreme, some Italian CSOAs
are groups more interested in promoting the model of disruptive ac-
tions of the Black Bloc (Famiglietti 2004). In any case, it would be a
simplification to claim that this global enthusiasm was characteristic of
all squatting experiences and squatter activists. However, it can be ar-
gued that some effects of its influence can be identified in the increasing
involvement in alter-globalization initiatives by most of CSOAs.

We should also ask ourselves the following question: are squats in
danger of drowning in the tide of the new (and, for many, ephemeral)
‘movement of movements’? Calle (2004) suggests that this problem af-
fects both squatters and the alter-globalization movement. Squats have
not been perfect schools for self-management and direct democracy
and the alter-globalization movement has yet to show its capacity for
survival and consistency. In this sense, we must refer back to the most
genuine urban and constant qualities of the squatters’ movement,
namely its local focus, roots and effectiveness.

A single CSOA may be the best platform for capturing persons and
collectives with similar concerns in order to draw attention to themes
and social struggles censored by the mass media and to introduce new
activists to practices of civil and social disobedience already widely ex-
perimented within the movement over two decades, but its potential
is even greater when linked to other CSOAs, to squats in residential
buildings and to a network of groups and organizations in districts and
cities that help to gain more public legitimacy and increase the chances
of survival for the squats. The self-provision of accessible accommoda-
tion and spaces for nurturing counter-cultural creativity and forms of
socialization, freed from the shackles of dominant morals, are the real
ends of the squatting movement and also have the virtue of making
the movement’s critique of real estate speculation and the falseness of
civil participation pronounced by municipal governments all the more

Consequently, the squatter movement has faithfully adopted the
slogans of the post-1968 NSMs, ‘the personal is political’ and ‘think
globally, act locally’. This politicization of daily, reproductive and more
spatially proximate environments, and the knowledge of these local dy-
namics and public acknowledgement obtained through such experi-
ence, has ensured that the strength of, and need for, squats has been
maintained firmly as an integral part of the alter-globalization move-
ment. Therefore, the crisis in the squatters’ movement cannot be at-
tributed to either the boom of the alter-globalization movement, or,
in particular, the containment actions by local authorities (structures
of opportunities), or the management strategies of the squats them-
selves (mobilization of resources), because much of the social legitimacy
(local and global) of its autonomous practice (identity) has already been
achieved (Martınez 2004; Herreros 2004).


This paper has highlighted three aspects of the squatter movement in
Spanish cities: (1) its historical development, identifying the impor-
tance of the counter-cultural actions of CSOAs beyond squatting in
residential buildings; (2) the local roots of squats in relation to the per-
sistent conflict with local authorities and strong activist dedication to
everyday, domestic, socializing aspects and so on; (3) an incipient inno-
vation in the repertoires of political action and in the alter-globalization
objectives that have gradually spread through much of the squatters’

As can be seen, we are dealing with a typical social paradox, namely a
movement that is local and global at the same time. In order to unravel
its purpose, it was worthwhile to distinguish the origins, consequences
and mutual relationship of both dimensions (the local and the global).

As one of the movement’s slogans implies, ‘They can evict [us from]
our homes but not our ideas’. Since its creation the movement has simul-
taneously combined a local and global orientation; it aims both to satisfy
material needs for self-managed accommodation and meeting spaces and
to intervene in the social life of districts and cities, always promoting the
projects of many social movements and fostering the circulation of ideas
and persons, and protest actions, in relation to squatting, social problems
and anti-capitalist causes that affect many other countries.

The consequences of that dual attribute (local and global interlinks)
have had different effects on the local and global dimensions of the
squatters’ movement. Precisely due to the gradual increase in involve-
ment and convergence with the alter-globalization movement, incorpo-
ration of these inter-global concerns in the different groups of squatters
has occurred at different speeds, and there have even been internal divi-
sions regarding the approaches and ways of developing this participa-
tion. However, there has never been any opposition to the continuation
of local ‘restructuring’ actions and initiatives for the counter-cultural
usage of abandoned spaces. Other factors, and not increasing globaliza-
tion, are therefore responsible for the crisis of the squatters’ movement
in some cities.

We could therefore ask ourselves whether that paradox is paralys-
ing the movement and whether this has to be overcome with a leap to
conventional rationality. These questions would be particularly relevant
in the case of other urban movements that seem to be less involved in
alter-globalization dynamics.

The information referred to in this study suggests that this has actu-
ally been a fruitful paradox, not just for the movement to the extent
that it has been able to fuel its own internal creativity, providing stimuli
for activists and for the development of new squats, but mainly for
other social movements with which it has interacted, providing them
with the spaces offered by CSOAs and contributing models of radical

In contrast to traditional urban movements (e.g. the neighbourhood
movement) and more innovative movements (e.g. the environmental
movement focused on urban issues), the ‘transmission effect’ seems to
have been relatively scarce. It is difficult to predict whether these move-
ments might also be influenced by the squatters’ movement in the fu-
ture, though, according to the independent and libertarian philosophy
of this movement, each organization and movement must follow its
own path. Cooptation, institutionalization and stabilization of alliances
have always been some of the conservative perils openly challenged by


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[EN] How do activists make decisions within Social Centres? A comparative study in an Italian city

A chapter from Squatting in Europe: Radical Spaces, Urban Struggles

How do activists make decisions within Social Centres?
A comparative study in an Italian city

Gianni Piazza

1. Introduction

The decision-making processes within the Italian Social Centres,
the way in which occupants and activists usually take their decisions is the
focus of this article. The Social Centres (SCs) in Italy have been defined
as autonomous spaces set up by left-wing radical activists (mainly stu-
dents and unemployed youth), who occupy and/or self-manage unused
buildings in the cities (based upon a conception of free spaces), where
they organize political campaigns, social and countercultural activities;
territorially rooted, they contest the moderation and bureaucratization
of environmental associations and political parties, proposing radical
forms of action and participatory organizational models (della Porta and
Piazza 2008: 43). Social Centres is the abbreviated term for “Squatted
(Occupied) and/or Self-Managed Social Centres” (Centri Sociali Occupati
e/o Autogestiti – CSOA-CSAs), because squatting and/or self-managing
vacant buildings represent their identity traits; however, SCs repertoire
of actions includes other unconventional forms as symbolic protests,
pickets, road and railway blockades, occupations of institutional offices,
unauthorized demonstrations, that sometimes end in clashes with police.

During the last decade alone, scholars have begun to study the Italian
SCs, notwithstanding the phenomenon is quite older with its roots in
the mid-seventies (Dines 1999; Berzano and Gallini 2000; Ruggiero
2000; Becucci 2003; Mudu 2004; Membretti 2007; Montagna 2006);
they have highlighted, on the one hand, SCs have long been the most
radical groups, among the main actors of urban conflicts and of those
related to LULU-Locally Unwanted Land Use (della Porta and Piazza,
2008); on the other hand, SCs can be considered the most important
radical sector of the Global Justice Movement (GJM) in Italy – quan-
titatively and qualitatively – for its effective contribution towards mo-
bilizing thousands of people in demonstrations and meetings against
neo-liberal globalization (della Porta et al. 2006).

These studies have pointed out the SCs, denouncing the rarity of
space for sociability outside of commercial circuits and campaigning
against market-oriented renewal and property speculation in the cit-
ies, are urban but not exclusively local protest actors. They are urban
actors because they are spatially localized in the city centres or in
the peripheral/working class districts (and are not local chapters of
extra-local organizations), however their reach of action is often not
only local, but also regional, national and global; the issues faced are
both local (social spaces and services, housing, urban renewal, etc.),
although always set in general framework, and extra-local (migration,
no militarization, no war, alter-globalization, etc.). Unlike other im-
portant urban actors (i.e. the citizens’ committees) the SCs are gener-
ally more ideological, with an universalistic identity, and usually last
longer than the former, which are instead more pragmatic, unstable,
set up ad hoc with localistic identity; in some cases SCs ally with com-
mittees, in others they promote and intertwine with them, giving ex-
tra-local, trans-territorial and cross-issues dimensions to the LULU
campaigns, in which both are involved (della Porta and Piazza 2008;
Piazza et al. 2005).

Moreover, research stressed how SCs ‘are also very heterogeneous
in cultural background, objectives and forms of action’ (della Porta et
al. 2006: 41). If at the beginning of the 1990s ‘there were two main
groups, one of which was close to Autonomia … while the other was
closer to anarchical movements’ (Mudu 2004: 934), the SCs’ area is
currently and continuously split into several groups and networks, very
fluid and unstable.

Here I propose a typology of the Italian SCs, which is a rework-
ing of models previously elaborated by other scholars (Dines 1999;
Montagna 2006), based on their political and ideological orientation,
the networks/areas they belong to, the aims pursued and activities car-
ried out (political, social, countercultural), the campaigns and issues
faced, the legal status (occupied or assigned), and the attitudes towards
institutions (hostile, pragmatic, strategic).

a. The Anarchists and Libertarians who, although divided among
themselves in different networks, ‘refuse any kind of formalisa-
tion of their structures and dialogue with state institutions, but
also with movements that they judge too moderate’ (Montagna
2006: 296; Berzano et al. 2002); these social centres are always
illegally occupied and political/countercultural activities are
carried out.

b. The ex-Disobedients, who adopt Negri’s theorizations on the
“multitude”; they entertained fair relations with local institutions
and were particularly close to PRC* until 2004 (Mudu 2004: 934),
when they broke with left parties and radicalized their forms of ac-
tion; their attitudes towards institutions oscillate between strategic
and pragmatic, and many social centres are officially assigned.

c. Then, the areas and networks which base their political analysis
on Marxist or Leninist class categories: the Antagonists, the Anti-
imperialists, the SCs linked to Autonomia; others with Leninist
leanings (2003-4 “Europposizione”), and the Revolutionary
Communists who refuse any relationship with state institutions
and are considered the most radical SCs; within these areas usu-
ally SCs are illegally occupied and have hostile attitudes towards
institutions, but some can be officially assigned and keep strategic
relations with local administrations; further, social activities ad-
dressed to the neighbourhood in which the centres are located
are carried out, beyond the political and/or countercultural ones;
besides some Marxist SCs are not aligned to any networks.

d. Lastly, there are non-ideological SCs or heterogeneous ones,
in which different ideological leanings coexist; they are Non-
Aligned/Affiliated, because do not belong to any of the former
networks and include SCs both with a more political orientation
and a more countercultural one (Montagna 2006); usually they
are more moderate and have pragmatic or strategic attitudes
with institutions in order to obtain the official assignment of
the premises.

2. Models of decision-making: the framework

Considering this politiCal-ideologiCal fragmentation, I wondered if
all SCs shared similar types of decision making, notwithstanding their

differences. The existing research has been less focused on this feature,
except for those concerning the SCs belonging to the ex-Disobedient
sector. In particular, the use of the deliberative method in the internal
decision-making process emerged, as Becucci states: ‘The deliberative
method … within the Assembly … does not use the system of the
count of ayes and nays, but is based on the search for consensus and
tendential unanimity … the Disobedients’ movement prefers the search
for consensus. In the case there are positions that do not offer shared
solutions, the problems under discussion are momentarily suspended
to be faced later’ (2003: 90). But, are the other SCs’ political practices
inspired to deliberative democracy* too, or do they follow other mod-
els? Which of their methods are adopted in internal decision-making?
What are the dynamics and mechanisms characterizing their decision-
making processes?

In order to answer these questions, first I have considered the ty-
pology elaborated by della Porta and her Demos Project group (2009;
see specifically Andretta 2007: 116-120), that proposes four models
of democracy within the groups of GJM, by crossing the two dimen-
sions of the type of participation (indirect with delegation upward vs.
direct without delegation) and of the decision-making method (vote or
strategic negotiation vs. consensus) adopted for the treatment of pref-
erences (aggregation vs. transformation) in the formation of political
choices: a) Associational Model (delegation and preferences aggregation);
b) Assembleary Model (without delegation and preferences aggregation);
c) Deliberative Representation Model (delegation and preferences transfor-
mation); d) Deliberative Democracy Model (without delegation and prefer-
ences transformation). Nonetheless, the two models based on delega-
tion upward are in my opinion useless for my purposes, because social
centres have always been characterized by direct democracy, the refusal
of internal and external delegation and the denial of formal repre-
sentation (Mudu 2004; Montagna 2006). Then, their decision-making
should oscillate between the Deliberative and the Assembleary mod-
els. But, the remaining dimensions (method and preferences) are too
stretched to define as deliberative an internal decision-making, because
in literature ‘deliberation takes place under conditions of plurality of
values, including people with different perspectives but facing common
problems’ (della Porta 2006: 2); since the internal decisional process of
a SC can take place in an homogeneous ideological context, but also
in a heterogeneous one, I changed the denomination of models on
the basis of the method adopted alone (Consensual vs. Majoritarian),
avoiding, for example, to define as deliberative a decision-making pro-
cess in which consensus is reached when values and perspective are
shared by all members.

Besides, since decision-making is a process and not a single act, and
therefore changes can occur during it. A process starting as Consensual
can become Majoritarian and vice versa. I have considered the two
models as the opposite poles of a continuum in which the real deci-
sion-making of the SCs can be placed: the proposed models are con-
ceived indeed as ideal-types and the empirical cases can be more or
less close to them. In order to facilitate the analysis and the empirical
check, I introduced two intermediate models regarding the cases in
which Consensual and Majoritarian Democracy are not the exclusive
practices adopted in decision-making processes. Thus, we will have
four models, starting from the Consensual pole, along the continuum,
towards the Majoritarian one.

1. Consensual Model.

Consensus is always the decision-making method and preferences
transformation occurs (if initially different) when decisions, unani-
mously, are taken; when unanimity is not reached, preferences are
not aggregated (never vote nor strategic negotiation among different
positions), no decision is taken, issues under discussion are momen-
tarily suspended to be faced later. Notwithstanding, if a unanimous
decision is impossible to reach on issues considered crucial by activ-
ists, it can entail an internal split and the exit of the dissentients from
the group.

2. Consensual-Majoritarian Model.

The process is mainly consensual (the rule), but it becomes majoritarian
when unanimity is not reached (the exception); in any case a decision
must be taken, thus when the preferences are not transformed, they are
aggregated by strategic negotiation (compromise or agreement) or by
voting (majority decision).

3. Majoritarian-Consensual Model.

The process is mainly majoritarian (the rule), but it becomes delibera-
tive when crucial issues are faced (the exception); usually preferences are
aggregated and decisions taken by voting or strategic negotiation, but
some issues (considered very important for the survival of the group)
require unanimity and thus preferences are transformed (even to avoid
internal split and the exit of minorities).

4. Majoritarian Model.

The process is always majoritarian: voting is the decision-making meth-
od and preferences aggregation occurs entailing the formation of ma-
jorities and minorities. Shared decisions (compromise or agreement)
can be taken without voting, only by strategic negotiation among dif-
ferent positions.

My initial hypothesis was that all social centres shared an internal
decision-making logic according to the Consensual Model. In fact, on
the basis of the previous research, every social centre seemed to be
characterized by the exclusive adoption of the consensual method con-
sidered ‘the only one accepted by everyone’ (Mudu 2004: 926), and by
decisions unanimously taken in order to make choices shared by all

In order to test this hypothesis I designed my research around com-
parison of two SC with great differences between them (in terms ac-
tivities carried out, political affiliation, ideological orientation, attitudes
towards institutions, etc.), to see if they, notwithstanding their numer-
ous differences, had similar decision-making practices. For this reason
I have selected two SCs in Catania (in Sicily) with the most different
characteristics: a) Experia, a political squatted SC, belonging to the most
radical national network, which refuses any contact with public institu-
tions; b) Auro, a moderate countercultural and non-affiliated SC, whose
premises have been officially assigned by local institutions.

Nevertheless, as we shall see in the following pages, the findings of
this research are unexpected and thus require an explanation through
the procedure of re-identification and/or cultural re-collocation
(Pizzorno 2007a: 66-70). Explanation here is not pursued singling out
constant relations between variables, but understanding and interpret-
ing the meaning of actors’ actions (ibidem: 70-82).

The research, carried out between 2004 and 2008, was based on
three principal sources: a period of participant observation during the
internal meetings of the SCs; the analysis of self-produced documents;
above all, a set of semi-structured interviews with SCs’ activists, serv-
ing as my key-informants, in order to understand the meaning of their
practices and being able to interpret them.

In the following pages, first I will briefly analyse the phenomenon
of squatting in Catania, reconstructing the history, the activities and
campaigns, the organizational structure and the internal decision-mak-
ing of two SCs: Experia and Auro. Finally, I will make some conclu-
sive remarks returning to the hypothesis outlined above and discussing
them in particular from a comparative perspective.

3. Squatting in Catania

Catania is the second largest city in Sicily with a population of 340,000
inhabitants. Its economy is mainly based on trade and services with a
few industries, the most important is specialized in high technology
(ST-Microelectronics). Unemployment, under-employment and the
presence of organized crime (Mafia) are usually considered its main
social problems. The urban fabric is like the “leopard’s spots”, that is
characterized by the alternation of popular (lower-class) neighbour-
hoods and residential (upper-middle class) quarters both downtown
(historical centre) and in peripheral areas. As far as local government is
concerned, Catania had been always governed by moderate municipal
administrations led by Christian Democrats until 1992; from 1993 to
1999 a centre-left coalition had ruled the city, but from 2000 to the pres-
ent time, centre-right administrations led by Forza Italia and now Popolo
delle Libertà (People of Liberties) – have governed the Municipality. The
political culture of the majority of the population is indeed moderate
and conservative, given the low density of social capital and the weak
tradition of associationism; nevertheless, a few leftists groups, citizens’
committees, NGOs, civic and environmental associations are active in
protests and mobilizations on various issues in the city (Piazza 2004a;
Piazza et al. 2005).

The first squatting took place in Catania in June 1988 when the
Committee for Self-Managed Social Spaces – set up by two groups of
activists belonging to the Autonomous and the Anarchist areas – occu-
pied the SC Experia. It was located in one of the oldest popular neigh-
bourhoods of Catania, in a former cinema within an ancient building
owned by the Sicilian Region. After abandoning the centre only two
months later because of some arson attacks of Mafia origin, the activ-
ists of the Autonomous area squatted a new SC, Guernica, in another
area of the town (in a middle-class district) in March 1989. In autumn
1991, an internal split occurred because of the adhesion of some mili-
tants to the “revolutionary communist” area, harshly criticized by the
other activists of the Autonomia, who, after have exited from Guernica,
occupied a new squat, the Auro, together with a group of students. In
February 1992 police evicted simultaneously both Guernica and Auro,
without active resistance by occupants. After a brief occupation of a
private building in the spring of the same year, the activists of Guernica
re-occupied Experia for the second time in May 1992.

1. The Squatted Popular Centre
(Centro Popolare Occupato) ‘Experia’

The CPO Experia was exclusively characterized by the political identity
of the occupying group, based on a radical version of Marxist ideology.
This created significant consequences for their the choices of political
campaigns and for their orientation toward the inhabitants of the local
neighbourhood within. The Experia activists, in fact, defined themselves
as “revolutionary communists” to stress the difference with commu-
nists belonging to the institutional left, refusing conventional politics
and relationships with institutions and representative democracy, and
identifying the “proletarian referent” (people to who they address their
political activities) in subaltern classes living in “popular” districts of
the town, as Antico Corso where the social centre was located. The po-
litical choice to address their own activities and their capacity of “social
aggregation” to the lowest social classes of popular neighbourhoods,
and the affiliation with a national political area (the “revolutionary com-
munist”), was confirmed in 1998 by the change of denomination from
CSOA to CPO (Occupied Popular Centre). Nonetheless, in the 1990s
the activities of Experia were focused almost solely upon political and
counter-information campaigns, e.g. anti-fascist, anti-imperialist, inter-
nationalist, because they were unable to involve the inhabitants of the
lower classes districts.

In 2000, the CPO Experia contributed to the set up of the citizens’
committee “Antico Corso”, with whom they campaigned against the
threat of eviction by the local Authorities and against the construction
of an university building in the back yard of the centre, denouncing
urban speculation and demanding housing and social services for resi-
dents (Piazza 2004a; 2004b). It was a turning point: a new generation
of young activists, especially students, adhered to Experia, which also
obtained the support of the neighbourhood people and of the other
local movement organizations (I1; I5).

In 2003, after an internal debate, the Experia militants decided to
diversify their tasks, to leave the management of the SC to the younger
activists in order to raise social and youth aggregation, while the old-
est activists founded a political propaganda journal, “Without Bosses”
(Senza Padroni). There was a shifting of phase characterized by the
openness of the SC toward new groups and social actors, according to
the words of a young activist: ‘The youngest comrades have had a very
strong role in re-opening Experia to other social subjects that didn’t
frequent Experia for many years. So we invented the Festival of the
grass-roots groups, we gathered students, we were very present in the
schools and slowly new activists joined us’ (I1).

As a consequence of the generational turnover, the activities of
Experia aimed to social and political aggregation were re-launched.
“No aggregation, no struggle. No struggle, no rights” has been the
slogan which has characterized this phase of Experia. An interviewee
says: “For me a social centre is above all a place of ‘aggregation’. When
you come in the social centre, you feel part of a place, of an aim, of a
community of comrades; you do not feel disaggregated, isolated. It is
the difference between ‘place’ and ‘non-place’: a place where you feel
actively part of something” (I5). Here the strong feeling of belonging
and identification with the SC emerges corresponding to the value of
‘collectivity’ (community) shared by all activists. The SC is not con-
ceived as a closed community, a “happy island” separated from the rest
of the city (I3), but a ‘laboratory of resistance within society to inter-
vene on concrete, political and social problems’ (I1). Notwithstanding,
the defence and strengthening of the political identity of the squatting
group, rather than the defence of the centre as a physical place, has
become an end in itself.

Meanwhile, the political campaigns characterising Experia have gone
on during these years: the antifascist, anti-imperialist and internation-
alist campaigns, supporting Palestinian struggle and against the wars in
Afghanistan and in Iraq. After a period of crisis (2007), mainly due to
less attendance and engagement of some activists, in 2008 the Experia
militants aggregated new groups and carried out new activities within
the centre (cycle and juggler workshops, ‘popular gym’, capoeira dance),
whereas the student activists were involved in the university movement.
On 30 October 2009, the SC was brutally evicted by police, receiving
the solidarity of local residents and of associations, unions and left
parties of the city. After some unsuccessful attempts to reoccupy the
Experia, on the Spring of 2011, their militants and other radical left ac-
tivists occupied another vacant building, a former communal gym(“Le
verginelle”) in the same area of the city, which they however left some
months later.

a. Organizational structure and internal decision-making.
The organizational structure of Experia was informal, participative,
horizontal and non-hierarchical and no internal leading group, formally
separated from the entire membership, existed. It was mainly based
on the “management assembly” or “management committee”, which
met weekly on Monday evenings. The assemblies were generally public
and open to everyone (I5), even to outsiders, individual or collective
actors (inclusiveness), with the exclusion of only fascists and policemen
(I1). Nevertheless, some meetings with “different compositions” (I1)
could be held, where some (generally external individuals or groups)
participated only in the debates on the issues in which they were in-
terested and then, when other issues were discussed, they spontane-
ously went out; besides, some “closed-doors meetings” could be held,
that is without the presence of outsiders, when problems defined as
“sensitive” were faced. Then, there were two types of decision making
settings: one more inclusive where all people with an interest in the
issues discussed (even the outsiders) could participate; another more
exclusive, reserved only to the “hard core” of the occupants.
All decisions were taken during the assemblies and were binding for
all members, exclusively by the adoption of the consensual method, that is
through the discussion and the pursuit of unanimity, without any vot-
ing, as it was clearly stated by the interviewed activists: ‘Everything is
decided during the management committee through debate. Someone
proposes an initiative or a campaign; the proposals, which can come in-
ternally from a comrade or externally from other groups or individuals,
are discussed within the management committee and, if they are inter-
esting and congruent with our goals, we decide on them’ (I5); ‘decision
are taken unanimously through consensual methods’ (I1); ‘if someone
doesn’t agree, we try to discuss it until the end’ (I3); ‘there are no vot-
ing mechanisms’ (I5); ‘the issues faced sometimes are long currents of
debate which we open, we temporary abandon and which emerge again
during the years’ (I1).

When some divergence arose, participants tried to convince the
others by their argumentations. The internal clashes and disputes
were faced through the debate and very long discussions and resolved
only with the achievement of unanimity; in the case in which a shared
solution was not found, the discussion was postponed with the re-
sult of a “decisional stalemate”: ‘the discussion is not set aside but
postponed, even if this implies to paralyse the activity; so we have to
talk again if we all do not agree. It’s happened before and it happens
now’ (I1).

Therefore, when decisions were taken, preferences transformation oc-
curred, also on the basis of new elements (information, data) emerg-
ing in the course of the debate: ‘the mechanism of the transforma-
tion of the initial preferences exists and has existed in almost every
meeting and among almost all the comrades. It also depends on the
new information, a new element which I’ve never thought about ….
Personally, there have been times when I thought that my position, on
the basis of the others’ opinions, was wrong, and times when I was
right notwithstanding the others’ positions’ (I1). When the preferences
transformation did not happen, no decision was taken, but they were
never aggregated by voting or strategic negotiation, because internal
cohesion was a value and a trait of Experia collective identity.
Rational argumentations were often used during discussion in order
to convince other participants and to transform their preferences, but
always within the shared collective identity. In fact, when an activist
proudly stated that ‘we’ve never done things which could harm our
identity, just to reach a better effect, and we have preferred not to have
relationships with other groups rather than to make something to the
detriment of our ideological identity’ (I5), it meant that identity, ‘in
order to keep itself, must aim at coherence of the choices during the
time’ (Pizzorno 2007a: 27).

There were no internal groups autonomously managing the spac-
es of the SC until 2008. Nevertheless, with regard to political issues,
the Experia activists sometimes discussed these issues with the senior
militants, with whom they shared the political-ideological area. It was
during this type of meetings that tensions and disputes could arise be-
tween the young activists of the SC and the first occupants of the
Experia. The generational clash seemed to be based more on the tactics
and forms of communication than on the political contents, between
the more pragmatic young activists and the more ideological old mili-
tants. Usually a common solution was found by consensual method or,
more rarely, by a compromise between the autonomy of the occupants
and the political weight of the senior militants.

2. The Self-Managed Social Centre (Centro Sociale
Autogestito) ‘Auro’

The Social Centre Auro, is still situated in the historical centre of
Catania, located within a former nunnery. It is currently property of
the municipality. The Auro was occupied in the autumn of 1991, ac-
cording to one of the earlier squatters, ‘by a group linked to the area
of Autonomia, and by individual militants, people set outside political
groups and aggregated to this specific project, primarily based upon
the idea of taking a place in the town, setting it free and using it in
order to make various kind of activities, e.g. political campaigns, col-
lectives, groups working on NGOs and artistic and cultural aims’ (I2).
Evicted by the police on February 1992, Auro was re-occupied after
a little while by the same activists, who restarted cultural and artistic
activities and counter-information ones.

As a matter of fact, differently from Experia, the main traits
maintained until 2008 by Auro were the preference for (counter)cul-
tural and counter-information activities, and a reach of action extended
to the whole town, especially to young circles. In addition to count-
less weekly concerts, there were many groups enacting experimental
workshops, including one for the experimentation of new computer
technologies of communication, the FreakNet MediaLab. Moreover,
political activities were carried out during the 1990s through the orga-
nization of assemblies and debates about various issues: against wars,
solidarity with Palestinian people, about immigration, precarious work,
drug addictions and for the liberalization of the marijuana.

In 1998, as a consequence of a threat of eviction and a follow-
ing negotiation with the centre-left communal administration, the
building was officially assigned at no cost to the occupants by the
municipality (use commodatum), although the squatters did not sign the
agreement because, according to an activist, ‘that entailed restric-
tions that would have allowed them to kick us out any moment’ (I2).
The “legalization” of Auro and its transition from an “Occupied and
Self-Managed Social Centre” (CSOA) to the following denomination
“Self-Managed Social Centre” (CSA) happened subsequently to an
internal debate between supporters and opponents that, as an activist
reminded, has reappeared at times also during the later period: ‘When
in 1998 there was the concession by the municipality, there was also
a division within the social centre, because a group didn’t agree. This
problem is always open and we still discuss it now: there is an internal
group hostile with respect to institutions and someone else who, on
the contrary, tries to safeguard the place and to maintain this close
relation (to the municipality)’ (I4).
In 2001, the Auro activists participated in the mobilizations against
G8 in Genoa, and to the brief life of the Catania Social Forum, but
only as individuals, because the main feature of Auro was the lack of
a political-ideological identity shared by all members, in the words of
one activist: ‘differently from other SCs, Auro lacks of a political col-
lective. Auro has a management assembly that doesn’t coincide with a
political collective, and this is a paradox, because you can share a space
with many people politically similar with a common identity – anti-
fascism, anti-liberism, no war, and so on – but the problem is that you
can’t act together with them, there isn’t a unified political message’ (I4).
It did not mean that Auro was lacking of a collective identity, as it was
perceived by their members, but that it was an inclusive identity which
encompassed different political-ideological leanings, even if they were
not shared by all activists.

In fact, the lack of a shared ideological orientation was the reason
why Auro was not affiliated to any SC network or national political
area; this condition was perceived by an interviewee as a problem, but
it is also claimed proudly as a positive specificity of Auro identity: “We
don’t have a national area as a reference, simply because every activist
has his own area. The problem is that there isn’t a common identity,
although it’s not a real problem, except in the perception of the outsid-
ers, but in my opinion it’s not a defect but a different way of being’ (I4).
In 2007-2008, the Auro mobilized as part of two political cam-
paigns, together with other local groups: an anti-fascist campaign, and
against the sale of the municipal real estate heritage through a company
constituted by the Commune with the intent to restore budget debts;
a campaign strongly felt by Auro, because the project of sale included
also the building where the SC is situated, and thus entailing threat
of eviction. In the following years the people who self-managed Auro
changed with the entry of an anarchist group.

a. Organizational structure and internal decision-making

The organizational structure of Auro was horizontal, non-hierar-
chical but fragmented, because it was formed by “the management as-
sembly” and various internal groups that autonomously managed their
owns spaces within the social centre, being obliged to respect just the
general rules of the centre.

It was described by an activist as a “container”: ‘Auro can be viewed
as a container, within which there is the management assembly that
decides the rules and main management activities (cleaning, shopping
for the bar, and so on). Other internal spaces are subdivided and orga-
nized autonomously. Every group working within Auro has an unques-
tioning autonomy in its choices, except that the obligation to respect
the general rules of the centre; therefore, there is a minimal coordina-
tion within the structure but no political interference in the choices
of the groups. Anyway there are also things made by all the groups
together to support Auro as a whole’ (I2). The idea of a “container”
was confirmed by another activist, who defined this kind of structure
as a set of “microcosms”, stressing the strong internal fragmentation,
the lack of cohesion, the difficulty to reach unitary positions, but also
claiming the autonomy of the groups: ‘Auro is a container, a set of
microcosms, also because every individual is a microcosm. Currently,
Auro lacks of cohesion and people working within it are in very small
groups. Everyone is autonomous and this is a specificity of this place.
Several groups participate to the management assembly that doesn’t
make ‘iron rules’, so that those who transgress them are not deviants
to be punished; of course, there are a few cohabitation rules assuring
a pacific management of the place’ (I4). Also what was perceived as a
problem (lack of internal cohesion) was also claimed as a peculiarity of
Auro collective identity (autonomy of individuals and groups in manag-
ing internal spaces).

The management assembly of Auro was an open and weekly meeting
that was held on Monday evenings. Issues regarding the centre as a whole
were discussed and decisions were taken. As an interviewee explained:
‘The decision-making setting is the management assembly: anyone, also
an outsider, can make a proposal, and every suggestion will be discussed
in its internal articulation, or collectively elaborated; if it is just an idea,
we try to decline all its points and convert it in action’ (I4).

The decisional method adopted by Auro during the meetings
should be the consensual one, as the interviewed senior militant stat-
ed: ‘there is always the search for consensus … there are never votes’
(I2). Nevertheless, the youngest activist described a different process
in which the adopted method oscillated between the consensual one
preferred by activists, although considered scarcely realistic, and the
majoritarian one, used to solve internal divergences and conflicts, when
unanimity was not reached: ‘Our method is a good mediation between
the two methods (consensual and majoritarian), because we are aware
that unanimity is difficult to reach. Not always everyone agrees, thus
there is a majority. We think it is difficult finding an unitary position
about a specific question, and if an issue splits the assembly, we have
a problem; in fact, divergences and internal conflicts usually can be
solved, so that we firstly try to search as much as possible for con-
sensus, especially through mediation, but if it isn’t possible, we take a
decision by majority rule’ (I4). In this case, activists adopted the ma-
joritarian method to avoid the “decisional stalemate” by voting, even
if it occurred rarely: ‘if an agreement is impossible to reach, there will
be a decision taken by majority, because we can’t stop or fossilize, we
have to do something and a decision must be taken; the voting, eventu-
ally, is for show of hands, but rarely we come to this kind of situation’
(I4). Therefore, a “culture of decision in any case” emerged, that is the
willingness to make activities, even if not always shared by everyone, as
another trait of collective identity.

The preference transformation usually occurred when unanimous
decisions were taken and rational argumentation was used during de-
bates. This transformation was facilitated, in the opinion of the inter-
viewees, thanks to the low ideological rigidity and pragmatism of Auro
activists. In fact, differently from Experia, the decisions which were tak-
en were not rigidly binding for all members, because people disagreeing
with a decision were not obliged to implement it, as a consequence
of the internal autonomy. Therefore, preference transformation did
not always occur, because when initial different positions expressed
by participants remained far from each other during the process, the
preferences were aggregated by voting and a decision was made by
majority rule.

4. Comparative concluding remarks

In conclusion, I make some considerations regarding the findings
and the hypothesis formulated in the introduction from a comparative
perspective. As mentioned in the introduction, the two social centres
studied in Catania were very different according to their main dimen-
sions (Table 2).

Regarding their organizational structures, they could seem similar,
both horizontal, non-hierarchical, based on the refusal of delegation
upwards and on the primary role of the management assembly; but
actually they differed significantly because the structure of Experia
was more cohesive and homogeneous, whereas Auro was fragmented
in several groups which autonomously managed their own internal
spaces. In connection with this last aspect, the two social centres in-
vestigated significantly differed with regards to the internal decision-
making processes. In fact, the process of Experia was closer to the
Consensual Model, while that of Auro to the Consensual-Majoritarian
one. Although activists from both social centres adopted the consen-
sual method to solve internal divergences and to take unanimous deci-
sions, transforming their preferences during the debates, they consid-
erably diverged when unanimity was not achieved; while Experia occu-
pants never aggregated their preferences (never voted nor negotiated),
no decision was taken and issues under discussion were momentarily
suspended to be addressed. The Auro activists aggregated their prefer-
ences by voting (majority rule) in order to take a decision in any case
(not always implemented by minorities). Therefore, the Experia internal
decision-making was always Consensual, while that of Auro was only
‘mainly’ but not exclusively Consensual, because it became Majoritarian
when their activists were not able to take an unanimous decision.
On the basis of these findings, my initial hypothesis appears only
partially confirmed, because the research has provided unexpected
outcomes. In fact, while the results regarding the Experia decision
processes confirm the hypothesis that they are characterized by the
Consensual Model, the findings concerning Auro decision-making are
different from those hypothesized in the introduction; it can be defined
according to the intermediate model, surprising for the use of the ma-
joritarian method and the aggregation of preferences.

The unexpected findings can be explained through the procedure
of re-identification (ends) and/or cultural re-collocation (beliefs and
information), according to Pizzorno (2007a). The Italian sociologist,
criticizing the rational choice theory (see Pizzorno 1986; 2007b), states
that when an unexpected action happens (because the hypothesis fore-
saw, given certain circumstances, another type of action), it does not
mean that it was irrational or not understandable, but that we have to
find another kind of rationality to explain it, re-identifying the ends (re-
identification) and/or beliefs and information (re-collocation) as dif-
ferent from those we initially supposed (Pizzorno 2007a: 70). In fact,
an action can be explained when it is carried out for certain reasons,
that is when the means adopted, on the basis of beliefs and informa-
tion owned by the actor, are effective and coherent to pursue certain
ends; when the means adopted appear incoherent or ineffective, it
means that the ends and/or the beliefs/information are actually dif-
ferent from those previously supposed as real; thus we have to change
the ends and/or the beliefs (identifying the real ones) to reconstruct
the meaning of the action, thus re-establishing its rational coherence
(ibidem: pp. 64-65).

Considering my research, I started from the hypothesis that all SCs
exclusively adopted the consensus method in order to always take
unanimous decisions, and that this was based on shared beliefs in the
refusal of delegation and hierarchy in favour of self-management. But,
as shown with the decision-making of the Auro the consensus method
was not exclusively adopted: it became majoritarian when unanimity
was not reached. This requires I have to changing its ends (re-identifi-
cation) and/or beliefs (re-collocation). The ends of the Auro decision-
making process was its effectiveness, that is a choice had to be made
in any case, because its beliefs stressed more the preference for the
“decision in any case” and internal autonomy, rather than for collective
choices and the social centre cohesion (preferences shared by Experia

Thus I have re-established the internal coherence of decision pro-
cesses according to scheme “ends-beliefs-means”; that is, the two social
centres adopted different means, because their ends and beliefs were
different, although not completely; in other words they did not share
one and the same collective identity, conceived in this scheme as ‘a set
of beliefs and preferences of the actor at the moment of the choice’
(ibidem: 67). The Experia (exclusive) identity and the Auro (inclusive)
identity were both based on the refusal of delegation (autonomy) and
hierarchy, but the former was also based on a radical version of Marxist
ideology which stressed the values of ‘collectivity’ (community), inter-
nal cohesion and social aggregation; the latter, on the contrary, under-
lined more the preferences for the “decision in any case”, pragmatism,
and for the self-management of their spaces (internal autonomy).

Nevertheless, if the (immediate) ends of decision-making are ob-
viously those of taking decisions (shared or not), these choices are
in their turn means to pursue other ends; thus we have to find the
(long-term) ends followed by decision processes, answering the ques-
tion: Why SCs activists take collective decisions? They make choices
because they want to establish rules, to take positions on certain issues
but, above all, to make radical political collective actions which they call
“antagonist”, and social and countercultural activities, defined as “self-
managed”; thus we have to find what kinds of collective action/ac-
tivities are chosen as the outcome of decision-making (manifest ends).
The Experia militants preferred social aggregation activities and radical
political actions, while the Auro activists were more oriented towards
countercultural and self-managed activities.

But there is another end pursued by participating in decision mak-
ing processes, although not explicitly manifest (latent), that is the
maintenance and strengthening of collective identity, which depends
on the coherence of choices made during the time (Pizzorno 2007a:
27); therefore, activists have to make coherent decisions, not only re-
garding the content (ends) but also the way in which they are taken
(means), in order to maintain their identity. If identity is different, then
the ends and means will also be different, of course. Nevertheless, if
we conceive collective identity not only as a specific set of beliefs and
preferences which are shared by a group, but also as processes by which
social actors recognize themselves – and are recognized by others – as
a part of this group (della Porta and Diani 2006: 91; Pizzorno 2007a:
23), coherence of choices made will ensure recognition to identity.

Therefore, for the Experia militants it was coherent adopting the
Consensual model in order to make radical political actions and social
aggregation activities, because they recognized themselves and were
recognized by others as a social aggregation place and as a radical cohe-
sive and unitary actor, in this way maintaining and strengthening their
identity. In fact, majority decision would have been too dangerous for
the identity and cohesion of the group, because it could have entailed
internal rifts between majority and minority too deep to be worked
through. On the contrary, the Auro activists made coherent choices
adopting the intermediate model in order to make countercultural and
self-managed activities, because they recognized themselves and were
recognized by others as an “open and neutral place”, where people
could autonomously manage internal spaces, thus maintaining and
strengthening their identity. The eventual formation of majorities and
minorities in the internal decision-making, differently from Experia, did
not jeopardise the low cohesion of the group nor their identity, be-
cause in their conception it was more important to be free to manage
autonomously the internal spaces, than the feeling of belonging to a
broader community (the social centre as a whole).

This connection between different models of decision-making pro-
cesses and identities, varying from one SC to another, recalls the con-
cept of “group style” elaborated by Paul Lichterman, that is “a recur-
rent pattern of interaction that arises from a group’s taken-for-granted
understandings about how to be a good member in a group setting.

Group style is how people coordinate themselves as a group; there
are different ways to be together as a group, and thus different group
styles” (2006: 539). In fact, decisional processes can be included in
“recurrent patterns of interaction”, depending on collective identities,
which in turn comprise “group’s taken-for-granted understandings”;
so they vary according to different group styles, but always maintaining
group bonds (internal cohesion) and drawing group boundaries (ibidem:

Lastly, I am surely aware that these results are valid only for the
empirical cases investigated, and they cannot abruptly be generalized
to other social centres, although “comparative analysis can contribute
to obtain valid inferential conclusions” (Isernia 2001: 149). At any rate,
the models of internal decision-making proposed could be a useful
analytical tool for future research, extending it to other empirical cases
in other urban areas.

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I1. Antonio, CPO Experia, Catania, 5-7/3/2007.
I2. Claudio, CSA Auro, Catania, 3/11/2004.
I3. Luca, CPO Experia, Catania, 5/3/2007.
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[EN] Resisting and Challenging Neoliberalism: The Development of Italian Social Centers

A chapter from Squatting in Europe: Radical Spaces, Urban Struggles

Resisting and Challenging Neoliberalism: The Development of Italian Social

* This is a reprint of the article published in Mudu (2004a, Resisting and
Challenging Neoliberalism. The Development of Italian Social Centres,
Antipode, 36 (5), pp. 917-41).

Pierpaolo Mudu

In the 20th century, Italy set the example for an extreme capi-
talistic accumulation model within a party system connoted by self-in-
terest, patronage and downright corruption. The 20-year fascist regime,
the 50-year political hegemony of the Christian Democrats (DC) as the
ruling party and the ensuing Berlusconi era set a doleful record. At the
same time, the strongest communist party in the Western world and a
myriad of collectives, associations and non-parliamentary leftist politi-
cal groups bore testimony to the efforts of the Italian working class to
resist and fight capitalistic models of life (Virno and Hardt 1996).

Extremely slow piecemeal reform, repressive police state methods
and shady dealings designed to shift the blame for violent attacks by
right-wing extremists onto the political left were the tools used to in-
hibit mass opposition to the economic restructuring masterminded
by the DC in the decade from 1968 to 1979 (Melucci 1996). Those
were days of social unrest marked by coordinated worker/student pro-
tests in factories and workplaces, schools and universities (Balestrini
and Moroni 1997). The reorganization of Fordist production and the
transition to models of flexible accumulation based on the widespread
use of temporary work contracts and the grey economy brought about
a drastic change in the possibility of carrying out political activity in
conventional spaces (i.e. workplaces, schools and universities) and in
the traditional premises of political parties. The result was a dramatic
decrease in political spaces. In the latter half of the 1970s and early
1980s, a generalized switchover of the anti-capitalist and anti-fascist
antagonistic movement towards more extreme forms of political strug-
gle often entailing the use of armed violence resulted in an ‘‘individual
and atomized response which expresses itself in disengagement from
collective action and disillusionment’’ (Melucci 1996:272). In the
1980s, faced with the advent of flexible accumulation and globalized
markets, the traditional left-wing parties and workers’ unions proved
unable to devise new spaces for social and political action. Hence the
birth of new movements within the political left (environmentalist and
anti-nuclear groups) and right (the separatist Lega Nord party). The
strategy adopted by extreme left-wing groups to counter the new order
emerging in Italian cities was to set up Self-managed Social Centers.
Social Centers revolutionized the political map, especially in subur-
ban working class districts traditionally far removed from the center of
political and economic events. Here, they sparked off a fresh cycle of
social struggles geared towards gaining control of existing spaces and
devising new ones. In this paper, some preliminary remarks on the
origins of Social Centers, their links with Autonomia Operaia in the
1970s, work modes and practices, will provide the starting point for
an in-depth analysis of the movement’s social composition, evolution
in time and political track record. One main achievement to the credit
of Social Centers is the part they played in renovating empty privately
and publicly owned properties. In doing so they helped focus attention
on land use issues and the struggle for re-appropriating social time.

Its remarkable geographical coverage has been and still is a far from
negligible strength, which afforded action even in areas where capital-
ist control of space and production (though varying in scale through-
out the country) was greatest. An analysis and assessment of the links
between Social Centers and the anti-neoliberal counter-globalization
movement (which actually dates back to its early beginnings) requires
a more critical approach with concomitant focus on the past history of
the workers’ movement.

The Origins of Social Centers

The earliest forebears of Social Centers were worker associations
organized as mutual aid societies, cooperatives and then Case del Popolo
(Houses of the People) which arose within the emerging socialist move-
ment at the end of the 19th century, strongly influenced also by po-
litical figures such as Bebel, Vandervelde, Jaures, Owen, Fourier and
Shulze-Delitsch (see Degl’Innocenti 1984). ‘‘Case del Popolo’’ like the
‘‘Maisons du peuple’’ in France and Belgium, were designed and planned
constructions (De Michelis 1986). These organizations and buildings
were violently dismantled by the Fascist regime and remained disused
following World War II as left-wing political activists looked instead to
political parties and unions for support.

After World War II, Italy was still a predominantly peasant-based
society, but in the 1950s and 1960s it went through furious, if incom-
plete, modernization and industrialization, a first economic miracle.
Then, however, in the 1970s and 1980s, when the processes of indus-
trialization were still not complete, the Italian economy embarked on
another transformation, a process of postmodernization, and achieved
a second economic miracle. One might usefully pose the Italian case as
the general model for all other backward economies in that the Italian
economy did not complete one stage (industrialization) before moving
on to another (informatization) (Hardt and Negri 2000:288-289).

Upon its first emergence in Italy in the 1950s, the compound noun
‘‘Centro Sociale’’ denoted a ‘‘community center’’ set up and run by mu-
nicipal authorities (see Ibba 1995; Tortoreto 1977). Its current denota-
tion, i.e. a venue for political activity and, ultimately, the emblem of a
distinct social category, gradually emerged over the 1970s (Ibba 1995). In
the latter half of the 1970s, the PCI (Italian Communist Party) seemed
to be in the process of breaking the hegemonic position of the DC and
taking over the government of the country. In the end, this epoch-mak-
ing event did not happen, as the PCI entered into a compromise agree-
ment – the so-called ‘‘historical compromise’’ – with the DC and formed
a ‘‘national coalition government’’ with them between 1976 and 1979.
Coupled with the crisis of the party system, which was gradually losing
its former role as the sole agent for political organization and debate,
the PCI’s drift towards more moderate institutional political programmes
provided scope for action to dozens of left-wing grassroots organizations
and collectives. Some non-parliamentary left-wing groups modified their
action within cities by playing an active part in protests in factories and
schools, thus prioritizing the ‘‘microphysics of power’’ over the meth-
ods of institutional conflict. The emerging movement for women’s rights
was drawing attention to the perennial rift between private and public
life; instead of waiting for the promises of a post-revolutionary society
to come true in a highly improbable future, women preferred to voice
their criticisms in the political arena of everyday life issues (Balestrini and
Moroni 1997). In particular, backed by increasing sectors of the move-
ment, they found fault with the typical Marxist-Leninist assumption that
the revolution in private relations should be deferred until after the rise to
power of the working class and reorganization of the economic order and
pressed for a reversal in priorities. The favourite subjects discussed within
the antagonistic movement in Italy were the collective needs of women
and working class youths, the marginalization of entire neighborhoods
in metropolitan areas and the surge in heroin abuse. These years saw the
birth of Autonomia Operaia (Workers’ Autonomy), a federation of vari-
ously sized and composed collectives which urged into action thousands
of people and managed to gain the support of numerous intellectuals, in-
cluding Franco Berardi, Paolo Virno, Nanni Balestrini, Lucio Castellano
and Antonio Negri.

Autonomia emerged in the post-1960s heyday of ‘‘workerism’’, an in-
teresting distinctively Italian version of Marxist thought theorized and
developed by Raniero Panzieri, Mario Tronti, Sergio Bologna and Negri
in open contrast to the original theoretical core of Marxism-Leninism
(Wright 2002). The collectives that were associated in Autonomia con-
ceived of crisis no longer as a ‘‘social collapse,’’ a blast ignited by the
inability of capitalists to meet social needs, but rather as the explosion
of social relations whose great complexity could not be traced back to
ruptured capital-labor relationships. Crisis was looked upon as the ex-
act opposite of a catastrophe (Castellano 1980). Since its earliest days,
the workers’ movement had thought of seizing power as the necessary
assumption for changing relations of production and shaping a project
for social reform. In contrast, minimizing the importance of the seizure
of power by the working class, the points at the top of Autonomia’s po-
litical agenda were the hatred of work, upward delegation of responsi-
bilities and a call for guaranteed wages (see Comitati Autonomi Operai
di Roma 1976). Far from being the mere expression of the logic of
refusal and negation in principle as the typical response to the erosion
of standards of life in capitalist society, its aims and practices prefigured
a glimpse of the modes of life and social relationships that the ‘‘new so-
ciety’’ of the future was expected to vouchsafe (see Comitati Autonomi
Operai di Roma 1976).

Autonomia had its strongholds in Rome, Milan, Padua and Bologna.
One of its best-known tag lines ‘‘create and build worker autonomy as
counterpower in factories and city districts’’, condenses in a few words
years and years of intense political activity in workplaces, universi-
ties and schools, and was aimed at opposing the Italian establishment
overall, including the PCI and the largest pro-leftist union, the CGIL
(Virno and Hardt 1996). In the same period, the movement launched a
cycle of pro-housing initiatives which led thousands of people to squat
uninhabited flats in Rome, Milan and Bologna.

Although the ‘‘Neighborhood Committees’’ set up in Rome in the
1970s operated in close collaboration with local political institutions,
they were actually pursuing social objectives comparable to those of
the Social Centers movement (see Testa 1979). Along with hundreds
of pro-squatter actions and other initiatives designed to attract the at-
tention of the general public, they were part of the Roman movement’s
strategy to build a collective political entity and make up for the loss of
meeting places such as the large industrial concerns where people had
previously been able to come together especially in cities in the north
of Italy (Comitato di Quartiere Alberone 2000).

Significantly enough, it was in the north of Italy, more precisely
Milan, that first-generation Social Centers arose (Cecchi et al 1978)
in 1975. These followed the harsh class struggles associated with the
abrupt shift away from an industrial economy towards the construc-
tion of an economy based on finance, fashion and service industries,
accompanied by a relentless rise in rents. Starting from the latter half of
the 1970s, sheds, warehouses and other industrial premises owned by
Pirelli, Innocenti, OM, Falck, Breda, Alfa Romeo or Marelli in Milan
stopped production and were closed down. By the late 1990s, industrial
properties totaling 7 million square meters had been vacated in Milan
alone, not to speak of peripheral municipalities such as Sesto San
Giovanni, where closures affected a total of another 3 million square
meters (Censis 2002). Two hundred and eighty thousand workers lost
their jobs in industry in Milan between 1971 and 1989 (Foot 2001).
At the end of the 1970s, the non-parliamentary groups that had
joined forces either with Autonomia, or with hundreds of other in-
dependent organizations, ‘‘Neighborhood Committees’’ and Social
Centers came under attack from reactionary forces. By 1979 only a
few of the Social Centers set up in the 1970s still existed, among them
was the Leoncavallo squat in Milan. After that date, the surviving Social
Centers kept a low political profile and seldom hit the headlines or
attracted the attention of the general public. In the latter half of the
1970s, a network of local radios, bookstores and political collectives
remained active and carried on their action. With the support of non-
Marxist groups, including the Punk movement whose supporters used
their bodies as a strong means of protest in public spaces, they cre-
ated the background for the birth of second-generation Social Centers
(Consorzio Aaster et al 1996; Dazieri 1996).

Two turning points in the process of growth and expansion of sec-
ond-generation Social Centers in the 1980s deserve mention. First, to-
wards the end of 1985, the Hai Visto Quinto school in Rome and many
other properties were occupied in quick succession. The year 1985 was
a turning point for two reasons: secondary school students gave life to a
movement involving the occupation of a huge number of school build-
ings and the left-wing parties were defeated in a referendum launched
to protect wages and salaries.

Second, the Leoncavallo Social Center in Milan was stormed by
the police in August of 1989. This event was extensively covered in all
media and, coupled with the first national convention of Social Centers
held in Milan on 23 and 24 September 1989, helped bring the move-
ment back into the limelight. The logo adopted by most Social Centers
in the 1980s, a flash of lightning that breaks through a circle, sym-
bolically represented the end of a long period of marginalization and
social rejection (Tiddi 1997). After 1985 the second-generation Social
Centers gradually developed distinctive characteristics which will be
the specific focus of this paper.

A Review of Social Centers’ Practices

As Social Centers differ greatly from each other in origin, political
affiliations and organizational modes, it is difficult to provide a com-
prehensive description of the movement as a whole (Bregman 2001;
Dines 1999; Pierri and Sernaglia 1998). From 1985 onwards, second-
generation Social Centers adopted a number of collective practices and
common symbolic definitions, building up a network that shares cer-
tain specific characteristics. Some of these are worth mentioning and
can be subsumed under four points. First of all, they adopt the acro-
nym ‘‘CSOA’’ (Centro Sociale Occupato Autogestito) if they are squatters
or ‘‘CSA’’ (Centro Sociale Autogestito) if they use premises made avail-
able by local authorities at no cost. It is worth noting that some Social
Centers do not accept the description ‘‘squatted place’’ and prefer that
of ‘‘squatted space’’ instead. Second, they self-produce and self-manage
social, political and cultural events and adopt all relevant decisions in
(usually weekly) meetings open to the general public. Third, to finance
their activities they mainly rely on funds collected by selling low-price
snacks and beverages during these events. As the affiliates of a Social
Center are ‘‘volunteer’’ workers, they do not earn regular wages or sala-
ries. Fourth, they have formed a network based on similar political af-
filiations. Most Social Centers are close to the extreme political left and
made up of either communists or anarchists.

As considerable differences emerge depending on the geographical
scale or time frame adopted from time to time, these characteristics are
only useful for the purposes of this analysis.

Squatting, Illegality and Conflict

Social Centers illustrate participatory modes of action designed to
bring about change through a deliberate use of conflict (Ansini and
Lutrario 2002). Squatting is an essential component of the strategic
mix of these Social Centers not only because it involves breaking the
law, but because it is a way of obtaining what has been denied (Solaro
1992). An illegal act such as squatting is also intended as a way to draw
attention to the waste of public land and buildings and the high social
costs of building speculation (Romano 1998). In practice, as also in
other contexts, the primary result of the struggle for rights is space
(Mitchell 2003). In terms of organization, a Social Center usually oper-
ates ‘‘beyond the law’’: it has no written charter, and has an extremely
high turnover of participants. These modes offer an alternative option
to the bureaucratic organization of so many aspects of our social and
political life and illustrate forms of direct, non-hierarchical democracy.
Huge financial resources and a horde of operators working for profit
would be needed if the empty buildings taken over by Social Centers
were to be renovated in strict accordance with the law. As things stand,
the architectural heritage restored and covered by graffiti in Social
Centers includes a vast number of buildings, disused industrial prem-
ises, deconsecrated churches, unused schools and movie theatres, etc,
which had remained deserted for decades (see Figures 1 and 2). The rel-
evant projects proved costly and complex to complete (Viccaro 2003),
providing space to hundreds of Social Centers in many Italian cities.

A deep gulf separates Social Centers, which pragmatically accept
some sort of relationship with institutions, from those that oppose
any such contacts in principle. 1993 marked the beginning of nego-
tiations between municipalities and Social Centers for the legaliza-
tion of squats. While some continued to oppose them, most Social
Centers endorsed such negotiations and following a lengthy confron-
tation process within the movement and between Social Centers and
some municipal governments, a few Social Centers were officially as-
signed the properties and spaces they had so far illegally held. By
1998, about 50% of the existing Social Centers had entered into
agreements with the private or, more often, public owners of the
squatted properties (Eurispes 1999). Social Centers have generally
had difficulty liaising with the parties of the institutional left and have
deliberately stood clear of the more conservative or neo-fascist parties
(which in turn opposed the movement by dubbing Social Centers
‘‘dens of criminals’’). At present, Social Centers enjoy the open sup-
port of the ‘‘Communist Refoundation Party’’ (PRC) and, to a lesser
degree, of the ‘‘Party of Italian Communists’’ (PdC) and ‘‘Greens’’.
On the leftwing political front, relations are especially difficult with
the Left (Figure 2: Rome: details of graffiti on the outer walls of the
Ex Snia Viscosa established in the warehouses of a vacated industrial
plant) Democrats (DS), whose allegedly ambiguous stances on sub-
jects such as war, neoliberalism and citizenship rights often spark off
mutually confrontational actions.

Self-production and Self-management

Of the two words forming the compound noun ‘‘Social Center’’, the
term ‘‘social’’ is all-important since the very first contacts with a Social
Center are usually mediated by friends and prompted by the desire to
be with other people (Consorzio Aaster et al 1996; Pierri and Sernaglia
1998; Senzamedia 1996). The wish to come together outside costly
commercial circuits is a need/right claimed by the affiliates of all Social
Centers (Maggio 1998). Those who join a Social Center often end up
masterminding the creative drive behind new cultural trends in music
and theatrical activities. Very often, Social Centers help launch cul-
tural trends (e.g. cyberpunk) to a larger audience (Ansini and Lutrario
2002). The activities which take place in Social Centers make for a very
long list (see Table 1, the information provided in numerous websites,
or Gallini and Genova 2002).


Until the mid-1990s, only volunteers were active in Social Centers
and no salary or wage earners were envisaged (Lombardi and Mazzonis
1998). The fact that some Social Centers have resolved to pay salaries to
some of their regular volunteers has resulted in ongoing debate, within
the groups, concerning proper forms of militancy and the logic of wage
earning outside of official circuits. Moreover, a few Social Centers have
accepted forms of public and private sponsorship. Among them is a
Social Center in Rome whose weekly discotheque evenings are spon-
sored by the Virgin Group. This decision ignited divisive debate be-
tween those prepared to accept compromise as long as this helped the


growth of their centers (some went so far as to set up real and proper
firms) and those upholding the principle that growth should exclusively
be attained through procedures that would ensure complete indepen-
dence (http://www.tmcrew.org/csa/csa.htm; Membretti 2003).

Political Identity and Social Networks

The squatters of a Social Center usually enjoy the support of dozens
of sympathizers and habitués who readily give a hand when it comes to
organizing special initiatives. In addition, there is a mass of occasional
visitors who pass by with friends or are attracted by special events. In
Milan, the average monthly number of visitors to a Social Center was
found to be 20,000 (Maggio 1998) and a comparable figure can prob-
ably be assumed for Rome as well. In short, Social Center attendance
can be classed as a marginal, but nonetheless ‘‘fruitful’’ collective activ-
ity (Moroni 1994:43). Compared with the situation in northern and
central Italy, where Social Centers are visited by members of all social
classes, Social Centers in the south are prevailingly supported by people
living on the fringes of society (Dazieri 1996).

Regular frequenters and occasional visitors of Social Centers make up
a mix whose composition varies greatly in terms of age, gender, edu-
cational level and social class. The recent entry of foreign immigrants
into this very peculiar social network has resulted in a strong emphasis,
within Social Centers, on the need for immigrants to be granted citizen
rights. Although some sort of hierarchical structure is at times found to
exist among Social Centers and within Social Centers, the movement
as a whole can still be described as a search for a ‘‘multi-centered non-
hierarchical affiliation network’’ and this network structure is indeed one
of the most interesting aspects of the movement. Each Social Center can
be described as the central node of a network of activists, sympathiz-
ers and occasional visitors, and each such node plays a role in building
a collective identity founded on the sympathetic attitudes of an infor-
mal circle of occasional visitors prepared to travel in a wide gravitational
area to attend events in one or the other Social Center (Consorzio Aaster
et al 1996:60). In terms of ‘‘status’’, Social Centers may range from a
simple meeting place attracting visitors from one specific neighborhood
only, to internationally known hubs such as the Leoncavallo in Milan and
the Forte Prenestino in Rome. An additional major characteristic of this
network is quick mobilization: these centers not only attract over 5,000
people to concerts or raves organized in a very tight timeframe (see Tiddi
1997), but are equally swift when it comes to responding to neoliberalist
policies. Social Centers have revolutionized long-standing conventional
demonstration procedures and political communication codes by orga-
nizing street parades with demonstrators feasting and dancing to the mu-
sic produced by sound systems mounted on trucks. Political parties were
quick to imitate and take over these new demonstration modes. Unlike
official center-left political parties, they do not need weeks or months to
organize political events in public spaces.

In terms of political ideology, most of the supporters of Social
Centers are libertarian anarchists or communists. To build a political
identity, they rely on continual interaction, which becomes particularly
intense during the preparations for social events aimed at denouncing
neoliberalist policies from a wide spectrum of different perspectives.
Routledge’s comment that ‘‘This heterogeneous affinity was precisely
not an ‘identity’, rather it represented a collectivity based upon the pro-
cessing of differences through symbolic and direct action’’ (Routledge
1997:365) is consequently a fair description of this movement as well.
Matters for debate include major subjects such as globalization, war,
solidarity with Palestine and Chiapas, racism, the rights of minorities,
the rejection of copyright law, the production of GMOs, the legaliza-
tion of marijuana, etc, and are usually the object of clear and critical
in-depth analysis.

The Uneven Distribution of Social Centers
Across Italy

As a result of the Italian capitalistic model, there are marked differ-
ences between regions in terms of the prevailing mix of agricultural,
industrial and informational activities. Large-size industrial concerns
are mainly concentrated in the north-west, in the areas around Milan,
Turin and Genoa (i.e. Lombardy, Piedmont and Liguria). The north-
east of Italy is characterized by industrial districts which have suc-
cessfully specialized in traditional sectors such as the textile, clothing,
footwear, furniture and other comparable industries (Bagnasco 1992).
Farming and service industries have been the traditional mainstay of
southern Italy’s economy. Average wage and salary levels in the south
are half those in the north and young people in search of first jobs
account for 40% of the total as compared with the north’s 11% rate
(Graziani 1998). Due to the huge civil service apparatus, the situation
in Rome does not fit within either of the pictures outlined above and
calls for separate analysis (Ginsborg 1998).

Politically speaking, the north-west ceased its long-standing left-
wing affiliation upon the dissolution of the PCI in the 1990s. The
north-east had been a stronghold of the DC, since the end of World
War II, but in the 1990s the place of the DC was taken over by Mr
Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party and the Lega Nord. Only in central re-
gions does the political left still enjoy majority consensus. In the south,
the DC – and now Forza Italia in their place – have always wielded
control in all regions with just a few exceptions.

It is far from easy to keep track of the map of Social Centers over
the past 18 years throughout Italy. Between 1985 and 2003, over 200
centers were established and operated in Italy (see Figure 3 and Table
2), being distributed among all but two regions (The Aosta Valley,
Molise). Considering that few centers have been established in Abruzzo,
Basilicata, Sardinia and Calabria, it is evident that the movement has
difficulty taking root in the south (squats in southern Italy account for
only 17% of the total).

An additional problem in many towns in southern Italy stems from
the ‘‘control’’ of the territory by criminal organizations. In 1996, a
Social Center in Bari vacated its Fucine Meridionali squat because it
proved unable to challenge rampant mafia gangs in the neighborhood
(ECN 1996). The few Social Centers established in southern Italy were
mainly concentrated in Campania, Puglia and Sicily. The geopolitical
map of Italian cities is seen to affect the viability and growth of Social
Centers, but not their birth, since even cities with marked rightist and
conservative traditions have had Social Centers.

A local university has always been a major factor contributing to the
growth of the Social Center movement. Most squats date back to 1990-
1993, the years immediately after large protest movement occupations
in all Italian universities. It is worth mentioning that about 130 Social
Centers were active in 2001-2003.

There is no denying that economic and political prospects, orga-
nizational resources, social institutions, education levels and the ef-
fects of broad-scale social change vary greatly from place to place, with
concomitant effects on the practices adopted by the movement (Miller
2000). The changing political affiliations of militants, the example set
by the movement’s grassroots organization and the Social Center expe-
rience of students who returned to their native provincial towns after
years spent in university cities produced a rapid increase in the move-
ment’s geographical coverage.

In the 1980s, Social Centers were mainly operating in peripheral
and decentralized areas. At the top of their agenda was the fight against
heroin diffusion and building speculation, as well as the effort to break
free from the ghettoes in which they had been trapped since the 1970s,
when mass arrests of Autonomia activists, dubbed as criminals, obliged
the antagonistic movement to retreat for the sake of maintaining con-
nections and a network that could again prove useful at a later stage.

Anyway, there is some ambiguity in the fact that resistance is always
countered by segregation, dominance and exile (Routledge 1997).
Following the second wave of squatting initiatives, which started about
1985 and reached a peak in the 1990s, Social Centers sought to qualify
their role throughout the territory.

The Roman map of Social Centers roughly reflects that of the politi-
cal parties of the institutional left in terms of territorial distribution,
but is utterly different in terms of modes of conduct and the network’s
spatial mobilization strategies. The fact that most of the existing Social
Centers are concentrated in the traditional pro-worker and pro-PCI
part of the city, namely its eastern districts (Mudu 2004) confirms close
links, at least at neighborhood level, with the class structure and the
parties that institutionally represent it. The first Roman Self-Managed
Social Center, Hai Visto Quinto, was set up in 1985, followed in quick
succession by Blitz and Forte Prenestino, Alice nella citta, Break Out,
Ricomincio dal Faro, Intifada and Zona Rischio. All of them proved
highly influential and built an extremely varied, though very efficient
network successfully engaging in the organization of political events
and musical happenings (Tozzi 1991).

Two Social Centers were set up by Autonomia in Bologna: Isola in
1987, and Fabbrika in 1989. The Pedro squat in Padua dates from 1987.
In that same period, the Milan Social Centers (Leoncavallo, Conchetta,
Garibaldi) were experiencing a revival thanks to the vitality of a new
generation of activists. On 16 August 1989, the police stormed the
Leoncavallo CSOA in Milan. The unexpected resistance of the squatters
led to a riot. The police demolished the center and violently beat the
squatters (see Federazione milanese di Democrazia Proletaria 1989).
Soon after, the evicted squatters re-entered the center and literally re-
built it brick by brick. The property was a privately owned factory
situated in a typical working-class neighborhood not far from the city
center. It had remained vacant for about ten years, but the situation in
the neighborhood had changed due to the design of the majority party
on the City Council, the corrupt, neoliberal-minded Italian Socialists
(PSI), to support building speculators and expel its original working-
class residents. This goal was all but impossible to achieve, since the
prices of flats in Milan had been soaring to levels unprecedented in
Italy. As the Leoncavallo property had been a squat since 1975, the news
of the police raid made the headlines for weeks. When Social Centers
found themselves all of a sudden at the center of public attention, they
were met with unexpected solidarity from the general public. Thanks to
the extensive press coverage of a reality which few people knew about,
the Leoncavallo became the symbol of all Italian Social Centers, thus
ending the first stage in the movement’s history.

Inside the Anti-Globalization Movement

In 1994, the Italian Social Centers had promptly responded to the
revolt against the Mexican government in Chiapas by supporting cam-
paigns in solidarity with the rebels. Some Social Centers looked upon
Zapatism as a situation similar to theirs, a movement towards bottom-
up local self-development founded on the rejection of the example set
by the seizure of the ‘‘winter palace’’ and a political organization not in
terms of being but in terms of doing (Holloway 2002).

Social Centers were not entirely new to internationally coordi-
nated actions. In the 1980s they had helped promote solidarity with
Nicaragua, Northern Ireland, Palestine and the Basque movement in
Spain, and in the 1990s the countries at the top of their agenda were
Chiapas, Palestine and Kurdistan. Solidarity is pursued not only by
organizing fund-raising events for particular projects or circulating
videos and information brochures on the areas concerned, but also
through trips and work camps in the countries involved whenever
possible (as in the case of Nicaragua). Worldwide, Social Centers li-
aise with Marxist and/or libertarian groups devoted to political self-
determination projects including the People’s Front for the Liberation
of Palestine (PFLP), though some social centers support Maoist
groups such as Sendero Luminoso in Peru. Zapatism marked a break-
away from traditional solidarity policies with specific focus on the
‘‘South’’ of the World and a progress towards proactive solidarity with
two-way exchanges.

From the anti-WTO marches in Seattle in November 1999 to this
day, the movement has been pressing for a different direction in the
globalization processes under way worldwide and has played a proactive
role in the international arena (see Figure 4). In this process, it greatly
benefited from on-line communication modes afforded by modern web
technology. Its standing within the overall anti-liberalist movement
grew thanks to the extensive press coverage of important demonstra-
tions and meetings in Prague (Czech Republic) in 2000, Genoa (Italy)
in 2001, and Porto Alegre (Brazil). In July 2001, the Italian Social
Centers movement made an effective contribution towards mobilizing
dozens of thousands of people in protest against the G8 Summit in
Genoa (Andretta et al 2002) – a far-reaching event which shed light on
an arrogant and ruthless use of power.

As mentioned before, this most recent stage in the evolution of the
Social Centers movement is marked by a growing use of web technol-
ogy. The earliest on-line information and documentation network, the
‘‘ECN’’ (European Counter Network), was set up in the 1990s and
is still in operation. It set the example for a large number of Social
Centers’ specific websites (among which is Tactical Media Crew:http://
www.tmcrew.org) providing information on events that may be of
interest to the movement as a whole. The Italian node of the global
Indymedia network is closely linked to Italian Social Centers.
The importance of Social Centers within the movement opposing
neoliberalist globalization processes lies in their ability to mobilize
thousands of people in a snap. People take to the streets in their thou-
sands even for local demonstrations, earnestly and constantly commit-
ted to gaining fresh understanding and experimenting with what they
have learnt in an effort to make available fresh social spaces and press
for global political space.

The Current Stage: Political Trends

Thorough political and structural changes in the overall context
necessitated redefining existing inter-Social Centers relations. The ‘‘of-
ficial’’ network that the Social Centers had been gradually building in
more recent years had in fact been severely affected by different po-
litical affiliations. Initially, there were two main groups, one of which
was close to Autonomia and such cult broadcasting stations as Radio
Onda Rossa in Rome and Radio Sherwood in Padua, while the other
one was closer to anarchical movements. In the 1990s, the political
map of Social Centers became even more complex and diversified and
Autonomia split into two factions: the ‘‘Disobbedienti’’ and the move-
ment associated with the grassroots-union organization (Cobas).
In short, today’s Social Centers movement is split into five groups:
the Disobbedienti (Dissentients) who originally dubbed themselves
Tute Bianche (White Overalls) and assumed their new name after the
anti- G8 demonstrations in Genoa in 2001, following the ‘‘Milan
Charter’’; the Network for Global Rights operating in close col-
laboration with the Cobas Union since its establishment in March
2001; a pro-anarchist group; and a fourth group with Leninist lean-
ings which in 2003 dubbed itself ‘‘Europposizione’’. The fifth group
includes Social Centers that do not identify with the affiliations of
any of the former.

The fastest-growing group within Social Centers, the
‘‘Disobbedienti’’, adopt Negri’s theorizations on the ‘‘multitude’’ and
in their practical action they focus greatly on themes such as biopoli-
tics and the politics of bodies. They entertain fairly formal relations
with institutions and some of their supporters have been elected to
the Municipal Councils of Milan, Rome and Venice. They are partic-
ularly close to the PRC. The Global Rights Network was founded by
groups previously associated with the Roman section of Autonomia; it
liases with the COBAS union, but not with the PRC, and its affiliates
oppose any form of delegation of responsibility upward. Analysing
the disintegration process under way within the class system, the
Global Rights Network aims to provide evidence of the so-called pro-
letarianization of the labor force and press for the parity of manual
and intellectual work.

Survival: Limits and Problems

In its history to date, the movement has experienced both the tradi-
tional rifts between opposing factions within the historical political left,
e.g. the confrontation between anarchists and communists, and new
ones stemming from the movement’s specific and original experience
(see Figure 5 where a kind of Aztec calendar symbolically represents the
revolutionary left experiences). One major watershed is that between
‘‘pragmatic-minded’’ groups and groups not prepared to strike any
compromise with institutions. Moreover, some of the better-organized
and richer Social Centers in the north-east have made attempts to gain
control of the movement as a whole.

The debate within the movement points to diverging opinions con-
cerning the way relations with ‘‘external’’ society should be handled,
i.e. the opportunity to define and establish centers unrelated to the re-
quirements of a given neighborhood (TAZs 5 Temporary Autonomous
Zones) or, conversely, check the tendency towards isolation or self-ref-
erentiality. A TAZ is a temporary squat used to evade government con-
trol in respect of clandestine social activities, raves or other happenings.
If it escapes detection, it can be dismantled and set up again elsewhere
for a shorter or longer period of time (Bey 1993). The opposite of a
TAZ is a Social Center which concentrates on the problems and needs
of the neighborhood in which it is located. Nevertheless, although the
TAZ definition circulates widely within Social Centers, it is valid only
in a small number of cases (Quaderni Libertari 1994). An additional
obstacle to the growth of a Social Center are the difficulties encoun-
tered in circulating self-produced materials, e.g. music recordings.
In part, these problems have to do with cross-generational misun-
derstandings between militant squatters and equally difficult relations
between the latter and external visitors. As far as the gender composi-
tion of Social Centers is concerned, there is no denying that women
are still a minority (see Membretti 2003; Senzamedia 1996). Last but
not least, let us mention the emergence of would-be leaders in a few
Social Centers, as well as the fact that difficult inter-center relations
may be responsible for a low degree of coordination (Andretta et al
2002). As far as within-movement communication is concerned, it is
a recognized truth that hardly any Social Center – and especially those
located at a distance from each other – have regular interaction except
when they come under external attack or during preparations for par-
ticularly important events or demonstrations (interview with Daniele
Farina, Milan Leoncavallo, in Dazieri 1996).

Despite its difficulties, the ‘‘Disobbedienti’’ continue to have a loose
affiliation to the Global Rights Network, but both movements have
little contact with Leninist and pro-anarchist groups. The degrees of
openness of the latter vary greatly from city to city, so that it is their
interrelations with other groups and, generally, individuals that makes
the difference. These divisions become particularly noticeable when all
the sections of the movement come together on the occasion of dem-
onstrations and radio programmes.

Lastly, the survival of a Social Center may be jeopardized by external
attacks, for instance from fascist groups or the police. Over half the
existing Social Centers have suffered at least one such attack since their


Self-managed Social Centers are an innovative form of the Italian
movement born of the social crisis caused by the transition, in the
1970s, from Fordism to the present accumulation regime. Comparable,
though smaller movements have developed in Germany, Spain, Great
Britain, Switzerland and the Netherlands (Bieri 2002; Martı nez Lopez
2002), but not the United States, with the sole exception of New York
(Pruijt 2003).

First-generation Social Centers were established as early as the 1970s
as part of an overall anti-institution movement, but it was only in 1985
that squatters occupied an empty building with the intention of using
it for social, political and cultural events planned in the course of meet-
ings open to all. This event gave rise to a movement that quickly spread
throughout Italy and led to the occupation of over 250 properties in a
period of some 15 years. ‘‘Though it may be hard to tell at first, the so-
cial centers aren’t ghettos, they are windows – not only into another way
to live, disengaged from the state, but also into a new politics of engage-
ment’’ (Klein 2001). Due to their successful attempts to provide venues
for the material resolution of conflicts, over the years the Italian Social
Centers movement has emancipated the antagonistic movement from
the ‘‘ghetto’’ in which it was constrained. Thus it has actually opened
up a window into novel strategies of resistance and ways of combating
neoliberalist globalization policies. Social Centers were successful both
because they were a public movement ‘‘in the making’’, committed to
the creation of spaces and forums for public discussion, and because
they experimented with new cooperation models not founded on the
use of paid labor (Maggio 2000; Vecchi 1994).

An analysis of the development of Social Centers in time points to
analogies with the history of the working class (especially its struggle
for the establishment of a welfare system and cooperatives) and the
anarchist movement. In 1852, in ‘‘The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis
Napoleon’’, Marx himself found fault with the tendency to build par-
allel circuits, accusing the proletariat of converging towards ‘‘[...] a
movement renouncing an overthrow of the old world by means of
its great resources, and instead seeking to achieve its salvation behind
society’s back, privately, within its limited conditions of existence,
and hence necessarily coming to naught’’ (Marx 1996:39). There can
be little doubt that the very idea of creating havens free of capitalis-
tic relations is a mere illusion and that the self-referential isolation
policies pursued by some Social Centers will only make it easier to
discourage, repress and marginalize the movement. But the broader
Social Centers’ challenge is to change the existing state of affairs by
committing their networks to local-scale actions geared towards fur-
thering socialization processes and mutual aid – a goal that must be
attained by working not behind society’s back, but rather by looking
beyond dominant social relationships.

The most important achievement to the credit of the Social Centers
movement is probably its contribution to renovating publicly and pri-
vately owned vacated properties as an alternative to property specu-
lation. Considering that Social Centers mostly operate in degraded
peripheral areas, this action plays a role in counteracting the unfair
spatial distribution of urban resources. While devising and perfecting
its anti-neoliberal strategies, the movement underwent radical change
and today it is a sort of continuum formed both of temporary associa-
tions such as TAZs and stable organizations some of which continue to
prioritize confrontation and struggle, while others have accepted subsi-
dies from private individuals and local governments. The complex ap-
proaches, activities and connections of Social Centers make it difficult
to examine them in conjunction with New Social movements formed
of temporary or single-issue organizations. In fact, the analyst is con-
fronted with two different, though closely interconnected efforts: on
the one hand, actions consistent with traditional class struggle, geared
towards re-appropriating social space and time; on the other, collective
demands intended to deny the legitimacy of power and the current uses
of social and intellectual resources. The spectrum of possible responses
to these demands is necessarily wide, and Social Centers are currently
prioritizing small-scale actions that sometimes prove capable of fuel-
ing more thorough changes, particularly in showing the potentiality of
self-management and self-production. The extent to which this model
or its single parts can be made to work on a higher scale or extended to
the rest of society will necessarily depend on the ultimate outcome of a
confrontation process designed to redefine the power relationships. It
would be naıve to assume that Social Centers will be able to re-define
the balance of power simply by criticizing the existing state of affairs
and suggesting alternative social models and lifestyles. What is needed
is a libertarian project with an inherent potential for expansion in terms
of attracting growing sectors of the population and capable of overcom-
ing the existing balance of power. It is an irrefutable fact that, from
the outset, the declared aim of Social Centers has not been to seize
power, but to help break up existing power structures and that all these
practices can be interpreted as an ‘‘exodus’’ from, or ‘‘scream’’ against,
dominant practices. As there is no denying that going beyond the exist-
ing power structure requires breaking new ground in an unexplored ter-
ritory (Holloway 2002), the movement’s prospects for further growth
will ultimately depend on whether or not Social Centers will be able
to discard outworn action modes, devise means of changing the people
involved and critically analyse the composition of social classes today.

Although this approach might at first sight bear some resemblance to
that of the separatist Lega Nord, a party preaching disentanglement from
traditional power circles, an abyss separates the Social Centers movement
from the Lega. The most important of many far-reaching differences is
the stark contrast between the Social Centers’ aim to dismantle power
structures and build a social ‘‘order’’ founded on solidarity and the Lega’s
anti-solidarity policies. This conclusion is all the more convincing since
the spaces provided by Social Centers are open to all, including the very
immigrants targeted by the Lega’s racist policies.

In summarizing, Social Centers are committed to confounding
the continuous message of the power structure inviting citizens to
keep away from political activity since ‘‘there is no way things can be
changed’’. This message is closely reminiscent of the fascist regime’s call
to the people to abstain from political action and leave the ‘‘burden’’ of
decision-making to the Duce, the fascist party and fascist corporations.
Hence the need not to underrate the part that this minority movement
can play in the fight against neoliberalism.


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Okupa Madrid (1985-2011). Memoria, reflexión, debate y autogestión colectiva del conocimiento – Edición general de los textos: Miguel A. Martínez López y Angela García Bernardos. Colaboraciones con la edición: José Daniel (capítulo 1), Javier Gil (capítulo 5), Elísabeth Lorenzi (capítulo 8)


Algo cambiará en lo imposible
(inscripción en una pared del PSOA Malaya)

“En Madrid, en pleno corazón de la Bestia”. Esa frase la pronunciaban algunas compañeras y
compañeros del Palacio Social Okupado y Autogestionado (PSOA) Malaya para referirse al impacto simbólico que tenía nuestra presencia allí, en el centro de la ciudad, en el meollo del capitalismo urbano. Corría el año 2008 y en junio abría sus puertas al público este Centro Social al que irónicamente se rebautizó como “palacio” en reconocimiento de los lujos que otrora había albergado tan insigne edificio en plena calle Atocha, a pocos metros de la Puerta del Sol. Lo lacerante, y al tiempo motivador de su okupación pública, era que la propiedad pertenecía a una de las sociedades fantasma creadas por la trama de corrupción del ayuntamiento de Marbella (denominada “Caso Malaya”), con los imputados penalmente Pedro Román y Juan Antonio Roca a la cabeza.

La burbuja inmobiliaria se hallaba aún en su máximo apogeo y los tentáculos de la especulación urbana se extendían oscuramente por todas partes, así que el juez de turno decidió que aquel edificio debía ser devuelto a sus propietarios, por muy ilegales que hubieran sido sus argucias para adquirirlo, presuntamente (porque, en ese caso, se demorarán años en discernirlo sus graciosas autoridades judiciales) por medio del blanqueo de dinero de multimillonarias comisiones y sustracciones del erario público, orquestadas con crasa impunidad durante años en la costa marbellí.

La okupación sería abortada al cabo de poco más de ocho meses (en diciembre de 2008), pero
durante ese tiempo de combate desigual, al menos, como ocurre con tantas otras okupaciones, se pusieron de manifiesto algunas brechas del sistema de dominación, de la perversa lógica de unas leyes que protegen sin reparos a quienes especulan, mientras reprime a quienes lo denuncian.

Aquel centenario edificio llevaba varias décadas abandonado a su suerte, lleno de suciedad y
escombros en su interior. Una vez traspasado el umbral de sus cerrojos, se descubrían legibles aún los nombres de los inquilinos en los buzones y se hacía presente, sobre todo, la memoria histórica de los cinco abogados laboralistas que fueron asesinados el 24 de enero de 1977 en el número 55 de la misma calle. Aquellos abogados disponían de otro despacho en el número 49 donde se reunía parte del equipo que escapó a la matanza atribuida a un grupo de extrema derecha (el comando “Roberto Hugo Sosa” de la Alianza Apostólica Anticomunista, la Triple A)1. En varios de los edificios próximos al okupado se podían apreciar deslumbrantes operaciones de renovación y de reconstrucción de viviendas de lujo y de hoteles. Uno de estos, a pocos metros de distancia, el Palacio de Tepa, también a la sombra del tándem especulador Román-Roca2. Además, toda la zona trasera de Atocha 49, en el barrio de las Huertas, en torno a la Plaza del Ángel y las Cortes, lleva una larga década experimentando una notable elitización social que ha desplazado paulatinamente a la población residente más humilde.

El Seminario de Historia Social y Política de las Okupaciones en Madrid-metrópolis nació en el PSOA Malaya. Tras el día de inauguración, el 4 de julio, dos personas planteamos la propuesta del Seminario y al acabar el verano, el 22 de octubre, un nutrido grupo de gente interesada nos reunimos por primera vez en uno de aquellos vetustos despachos, compartido con el Centro de Medios Permanente. Algunas de las personas asistentes habían sido convocadas a propósito, otras se sumaron por interés propio en el proyecto. Ese grupo constituyente, en torno a la veintena, era muy abierto y heterogéneo. Concitó tanto a quienes ya habían transitado por varias okupaciones a lo largo de sus vidas o habían apoyado al movimiento durante muchos años, como a jóvenes que ni siquiera participaban en las okupaciones pero hacían trabajos universitarios sobre el tema o a otros/as que, simplemente, querían profundizar en sus simpatías y afinidades con el movimiento.

Solo una exigua minoría podía considerarse okupa en activo. Esa constante, aunque contraria a nuestros deseos iniciales, se repitió en casi todas las sesiones mensuales de los siguientes dos años.

El texto con el que se difundió esa primera convocatoria ponía de relieve los propósitos de partida del Seminario:

“Este encuentro tiene dos objetivos principales: 1) Escribir un libro sobre todas las experiencias de okupación que ha habido en Madrid y en municipios metropolitanos; 2) Reflexionar colectivamente sobre algunos de los aspectos social y políticamente relevantes para el movimiento de las okupaciones.

Por una parte, consideramos que aún existen muchas lagunas de información sobre todas las
experiencias que ha habido y sobre sus relaciones mutuas y con distintos colectivos sociales. Por lo tanto, una de las tareas básicas consistirá en el registro y documentación de esta historia colectiva.

Sin embargo, a diferencia de los libros escritos sobre otras ciudades, proponemos no quedarnos en una acumulación de datos sobre esas experiencias y, más bien, reconstruir esa historia poniendo de relieve las cuestiones que han sido centrales en esa historia, los logros y problemas vividos, los conflictos entre actores y la diversidad de posturas adoptadas. Esas cuestiones serán decididas por los participantes en el seminario. En todo caso, buscaremos profundizar en todas ellas y comprender lo ocurrido en distintas experiencias de okupación y en distintos momentos del movimiento.

Por otra parte, aunque el seminario nace con una vocación de autoinvestigación militante, el objetivo de elaborar un libro o cualquier otro documento audiovisual que pueda hacerse público es una oportunidad para dinamizar debates sociales y políticos en profundidad y entre distintos sectores y generaciones de activistas. De esta manera pensamos que se puede contribuir con una corriente de reflexión que nutra a los activistas actuales, a los discursos públicos de las okupaciones y a las posibles coordinaciones entre iniciativas de okupación. Es decir, el seminario se orientaría a pensar colectivamente sobre hechos, tendencias y estrategias que han podido configurar un movimiento de okupaciones, pero sin ánimo de erigirse en portavoz ni de ese movimiento ni de ninguna okupación en particular. Será, pues, simplemente, una especie de “laboratorio de ideas” de las que serán responsables sus participantes en cada sesión (cada cual elegirá su grado de anonimato o confidencialidad) sin ningún carácter representativo.”

El trabajo, por lo tanto, consistiría en una autogestión colectiva de la producción de conocimiento acerca del conjunto de okupaciones y, sobre todo, desde las experiencias vividas en las okupaciones.

En lugar de elaborar una historia lineal y acumulativa de datos, se proponía que los y las
participantes del seminario decidieran los temas que eran relevantes para comprender la historia de las okupaciones madrileñas. El tercer envite era una provocación a todos y todas las activistas: reflexionar y debatir regularmente con vistas a elaborar estrategias políticas de las okupaciones en el contexto actual.

Sin duda, esto último era lo más aventurado e inasequible dada la trayectoria de los últimos años. En Madrid nunca había sido fácil la coordinación entre okupaciones aunque desde la disolución de Lucha Autónoma (al filo del cambio de milenio), primero, y del desalojo del Laboratorio 3 en 2003, el panorama de las okupaciones se había tornado especialmente sombrío. El repunte de experiencias que se produce a partir de 2006 y 2007 tampoco alentó ninguna coordinación muy fructífera ni duradera (solo hubo un intento breve en 2008 y otro algo más consistente entre 2012 y 2013).

Pero, sobre todo, el problema principal residía en la carencia de reflexiones políticas profundas sobre el propio movimiento y, peor aun, sobre los vectores políticos, económicos, sociales, culturales y urbanos que configuraban su entorno. Sólo desde los tres principales Laboratorios se habían promovido reflexiones de cierto calado en el movimiento, dentro de una línea política de la “post- autonomía” o de la “autonomía difusa”. No obstante, parecían ensancharse las diferencias internas y tampoco surgían desde las okupaciones nuevos discursos críticos con semejante ambición.

Es evidente que un seminario como este, con la mencionada composición un tanto anómala y con la intencionalidad de formalizar un autoconocimiento crítico de las prácticas okupas (con todas las luchas adyacentes que comportan a su vez) se ponía el listón muy alto. Por fortuna, la sugerencia de autogestionar de modo colectivo y horizontal el seminario nos disponía favorablemente a que surgieran propuestas de toda índole, a compartir las inquietudes e interrogantes, a movilizar nuestras redes de contactos y nuestros archivos documentales. En definitiva, a afrontar las incertidumbres y derivas del seminario a partir de unas capacidades mutuas y sinérgicas en constante mutación. No era poco y el entusiasmo se vio gratificado poco a poco. Si bien nunca concluimos la totalidad de tareas que nos fijamos en las primeras sesiones, por lo menos este libro tiene la virtud de recopilar todas las valiosas palabras y vivencias de quienes nos reunimos alrededor de ese reto.

En el acta de nuestra sesión inaugural ya se reflejan las primeras preguntas puestas sobre la mesa, muchas de ellas siempre sucesivamente reiteradas. En esa jornada se fijaron también los primeros criterios y compromisos que han guiado el resto del trabajo:

“Cada uno/a de los asistentes se presentó y comentó algunos de sus vínculos con las okupaciones. M. presentó el proyecto del seminario de acuerdo a la convocatoria pública. J. propuso que el producto final del seminario (el libro o lo que sea) se distribuya con una licencia de libre acceso y copia. Hubo asentimiento con la propuesta. La autoría final será colectiva o con capítulos firmados por cada autor/a o autores/as reconociendo siempre el trabajo colectivo del seminario.

Después de hablar sobre distintas experiencias propias y de precisar la auto-restricción del estudio a Madrid y sus municipios metropolitanos, la discusión llevó a dos puntos importantes: 1) ¿Desde cuándo se puede hablar de la existencia de un movimiento de okupaciones? ¿Hay un solo movimiento o una “familia de movimientos” (E.)? ¿El movimiento de okupaciones se limita al “movimiento político de las okupaciones” o a todas las experiencias de okupación / ocupación, estuvieran o no vinculadas con un movimiento político reivindicativo? 2) ¿A qué tipos de okupaciones nos referimos?

Para la segunda cuestión J. propuso una clasificación útil:

A- Okupaciones urbanas de viviendas reivindicadas (comunales y compartidas)
B- Okupaciones urbanas de viviendas no reivindicadas (comunales y compartidas)
C- Okupaciones urbanas de viviendas reivindicadas (comunales y compartidas) en Centros Sociales
D- Okupaciones urbanas de viviendas no reivindicadas (comunales y compartidas) en Centros
E- Okupaciones urbanas de Centros Sociales reivindicados sin vivienda
F- Okupaciones urbanas de Centros Sociales reivindicados con vivienda (igual que C)
G- Okupaciones rurales reivindicadas sin vivienda
H- Okupaciones rurales reivindicadas con vivienda (comunales y compartidas)
I- (Más raras: okupaciones rurales con Centros Sociales, casi siempre con vivienda)
J- (Okupaciones de fábricas, instituciones, parques, etc.)

Se propuso estudiar en el seminario el conjunto de okupaciones y sus mutuas relaciones, aunque priorizando a los Centros Sociales pues han sido la experiencia más relevante en el movimiento. Con respecto al primer punto, la definición de “movimiento”, salió a relucir la dificultad que puede entrañar denominar sociológicamente así a muchas prácticas que, en ocasiones, han estado desconectadas entre sí y a la vez, muy frecuentemente, conectan a muchos movimientos sociales en su seno (lo cual explicaría el que muchos/as activistas okupas no se quieran identificar como parte de un solo “movimiento okupa” o que sólo vean la okupación como un medio para otros fines). R. le restó importancia a la denominación porque lo importante sería agrupar las experiencias por sus repertorios de acción. I. destacó que el movimiento se ha ido identificando, sobre todo, por haber extendido una crítica social a la especulación. P., J. y otros señalaron que en todas las okupaciones hay un tronco común: cultura libre, oposición a la propiedad privada, el problema de la vivienda, etc.

E. señaló que hubo un caldo común de experiencias y movimientos en el que surgieron las
okupaciones. K. dijo que su experiencia en Amparo (y en Onda Verde antes) era por una “oposición al sistema”. J. dijo que las okupaciones, para él, siempre han tenido que ver con el espíritu del movimiento libertario aunque, curiosamente, las personas que dinamizaban las okupaciones no se han identificado muy abiertamente con esa tradición libertaria. J. matiza que la procedencia de los okupas era de muy diversos movimientos sociales y políticos de izquierda hasta configurarse el área política de la “autonomía” abriendo “espacios liberados” para otros colectivos sin erigirse en vanguardia de ellos…”

Enseguida el colectivo Nodo50 (www.nodo50.org) nos facilitó una lista de correo electrónico. Más adelante, tras el desalojo de Malaya cuando apenas habíamos cumplido nuestro segundo mes activos, otro centro social okupado, el Patio Maravillas en su sede de la calle Acuerdo 8, nos cedió temporalmente su espacio para proseguir con los encuentros mensuales y con las reuniones de preparación. En enero de 2009 Traficantes de Sueños (www.traficantes.net) también nos prestó sus instalaciones para celebrar un debate sobre la okupación en Europa, el primero de SqEK (Squatting Europe Kollective: http://sqek.squat.net/) y promovido por varios miembros del seminario.

Poco más tarde, el periódico Diagonal, por un módico precio, mostró un vistoso enlace en su edición digital (www.diagonalperiodico.net) con el que se anunciaba el seminario y se invitaba a que nos enviasen documentos y relatos. Esa publicidad reenviaba directamente a la página
www.okupatutambien.net cuyos administradores nos alojaron virtualmente para informar de nuestras actividades junto a la más completa actualización de las okupaciones en Madrid que existía por entonces. En diciembre de 2009 nos reincorporamos al nuevo Centro Social okupado La Mácula, en la calle Sebastián El Cano, que daba continuidad al proyecto de Malaya. Ya habíamos cumplido un año y comenzamos a organizar una fiesta de aniversario que, sin embargo, se vio frustrada por el desalojo sorpresa de La Mácula en marzo de 2010. Sólo pudimos realizar una de las actividades conmemorativas, la presentación por Alan W. Moore de su proyecto House Magic (http://occuprop.blogspot.com/) recorriendo centros sociales okupados de toda Europa, volviendo al Patio Maravillas, por entonces ya en su nueva sede de la calle Pez 21.

Para más adelante tuvimos que posponer dos actividades que también pretendían proyectar
públicamente el trabajo del seminario. Por una parte, una exposición de magníficas fotografías en blanco y negro recogiendo escenas memorables de las okupaciones madrileñas de todas las épocas. Nos las facilitó Álvaro Minguito (www.alvarominguito.net) y se expusieron primero en la calle, durante las fiestas de Malasaña, para quedar luego como una permanente inspiración adheridas a las paredes de Casablanca, el Centro Social de la calle Santa Isabel 21-23 que sucedió, en abril de 2010, a La Mácula. Nos instalamos, pues, en Casablanca para realizar las últimas sesiones del seminario que se retrasaron más de lo deseable: en mayo y en septiembre de 2010. Y fue en uno de los sótanos de Casablanca donde invitamos a César de Vicente Hernando y su colectivo teatral Konkret para que representaran su Pieza didáctica de las ocupaciones, una obra de intensa reflexión y provocación políticas.

Todos estos colectivos y compañeros/as, a su manera, también han sido parte del seminario, han compartido sus objetivos y han colaborado en su difusión. Nuestro agradecimiento para ellos se suma al que sentimos hacia quienes asistieron a las sesiones, en calidad de invitados/as o participando motu proprio en los debates (cerca de trescientas personas en total). Cinco de esas sesiones fueron especialmente nutridas y animadas (con una asistencia de entre 30 y 60 personas): el análisis de las cuestiones legales, la okupación de viviendas (2) y las relaciones de género (2) en las okupaciones. En otras, tal vez nuestra publicidad previa no fue lo suficientemente eficaz y anticipada, por lo que realizamos los debates en grupos mucho más reducidos. Sólo la grabación de una de esas sesiones se perdió después y no pudo ser transcrita. Habíamos invitado a Elena, compañera que nos narró múltiples detalles de la emblemática okupación de Minuesa (1988-1994), y lamentamos de verdad la pérdida de aquella conversación, aunque Elena volvió a participar en el seminario más adelante en la sesión de feminismos. Por último, también echamos de menos a algunos invitados con quienes concertamos su intervención pero que por diversas razones nunca llegaron a tiempo.

A efectos de facilitar la lectura de los capítulos posteriores y también para mostrar las lagunas
temporales que en ocasiones se interponían entre nuestros deseos de activistas-investigadores/as y el resto de nuestras obligaciones (y devociones), se relacionan a continuación todas las sesiones públicas del seminario (omitimos, pues, las que realizamos con carácter preparatorio u organizativo, que solían ser una o dos entre cada sesión pública, aliñadas con abundantes intercambios a través de la lista de correo electrónico):

sesión Fecha Lugar Título Invitados/as
1ª 22/10/2008 PSOA
Malaya Presentación y autoorganización del
2ª 19/11/2008 PSOA
Malaya Las “ocupaciones” de la Transición (1) Juan Merinero y Jorge del Cura
3ª 12/01/2009 Patio
Maravillas Las “ocupaciones” de la Transición (2) Juan Merinero
4ª 23/02/2009 Patio
Maravillas Las primeras okupaciones de la década
de 1980: Arregui y Aruej
5ª 15/04/2009 Patio
Maravillas Lucha Autónoma y las okupaciones (1) Gonzalo Wilhelmi
6ª 14/05/2009 Patio
Maravillas Lucha Autónoma y las okupaciones (2) Gonzalo Wilhelmi y Jacobo
7ª 02/06/2009 Patio
Maravillas El caso emblemático de Minuesa Elena
8ª 13/07/2009 Patio
Maravillas Cuestiones legales de la okupación Endika Zulueta y Francisco García
9ª 30/09/2009 Patio
Maravillas La okupación de viviendas (1) Coral Herrera, La Juli y la Barraka
10ª 03/12/2009 Patio
Maravillas La okupación de viviendas (2) Luis
11ª 20/01/2010 La Mácula Las relaciones de género en las
okupaciones (1) Cristina Vega y Elena
12ª 17/02/2010 La Mácula Las relaciones de género en las
okupaciones (2) Carla e Ismael
13ª 27/05/2010 Casablanca La okupación y los medios de
comunicación Sara López, Marta Galán, Susana
Hidalgo, Jacobo Rivero, Mario
14ª 22/09/2010 Casablanca Modelos de Centro Social CSO Casablanca, CSO La Fabrika
de Sueños y ESOA El Dragón

Desde un punto de vista metodológico, y de forma muy sumaria, cabe apuntar que para desarrollar
este proceso nos basamos en los siguientes principios:

1) Autogestión, horizontalidad y apertura del proceso. Aunque existían unas sugerencias
iniciales acerca del cometido general del seminario, desde la primera sesión todas las
personas asistentes tuvieron oportunidad para opinar, tomar decisiones colectivas y
compromisos individuales para el resto del proceso. Esto generó un grupo de activistas que
adquirieron más responsabilidades y que comenzaron a conectarse más a través de la lista
de correo electrónico. Entre ellos y ellas nos auto-atribuímos las tareas de difusión previa de
las sesiones, el establecer los contactos con personas invitadas, la elaboración de preguntas
para dinamizar las sesiones, moderar los debates y la edición final de los textos. Sólo la
tarea de transcripción se encargó a personas externas que fueron remuneradas con los
fondos de investigación de los que disponía uno de los miembros del equipo (profesor
universitario) y con una gratificación que recibieron dos miembros del equipo por exponer el
proceso del seminario en un curso universitario de antropología. La fiesta que no pudo
realizarse por causa del desalojo de La Mácula estaba orientada a cubrir los gastos de
transcripción que, en todo caso, fueron casi los únicos de carácter monetario que comportó el
seminario. Otras aportaciones voluntarias de los miembros del seminario (como bebidas,
comida y fotocopias durante las sesiones, la digitalización de documentos, abrir un grupo en
la red N-1, etc.) eran de un bajo coste y, además, contribuyeron a generar un ambiente
agradable y enriquecedor de intercambio mutuo. A la lista electrónica y, por ende, a las
reuniones de coordinación y preparación, se accedía tras solicitarlo al administrador una vez
que se asistía a alguna de las sesiones (este era el único requisito imprescindible). En todo
caso, esa apertura no hizo variar en exceso el núcleo de activistas más dedicados que osciló
siempre en torno a las ocho personas, aunque veinte han estado suscritas a la lista hasta el

2) Producción colectiva del conocimiento y libre acceso al mismo. Las informaciones dispersas
sobre una larga trayectoria de experiencias de okupación, los múltiples puntos de vista e
interpretaciones sobre el movimiento, y la carencia regular de espacios de reflexión en común,
ponían de relieve que un proceso colectivo para darle un sentido a todo ello sería mucho más
enriquecedor que un trabajo individual, especializado, distante y objetivista. En consecuencia,
decidimos que las sesiones de debate público serían el momento principal de esa producción
de conocimiento, aunque a ellas se acudiera con guiones previos de interrogantes y aunque
abordásemos en paralelo otras vías de investigación. Estas últimas (entrevistas, elaboración
de una base de datos y acopio documental generado por el movimiento y por los medios
comerciales de comunicación) fueron exploradas ocasionalmente y abandonadas, al final, por
exceder las capacidades de los y las participantes en el seminario. Las actividades
complementarias (charlas sobre okupación en Europa, obra de teatro y exposición
fotográfica), además de todo el trabajo de discusión interna y de publicitación del seminario
(contactos con medios independientes de comunicación y, sobre todo, la presencia en la
página electrónica de Diagonal), nos disponían también a entablar constantes conversaciones
con más activistas fuera del momento específico de las sesiones públicas del seminario. Por
último, nos pareció lo más coherente con la ideología libertaria-autónoma que bulle en la
mayoría de las okupaciones, el adoptar un modelo de libre acceso colectivo a todo el material
que surgiera del trabajo del seminario. De este modo se decidió utilizar la publicación
electrónica www.okupatutambien.net para la libre divulgación de los materiales producidos y
una licencia del tipo copy-left que promueva su amplia distribución.

3) Enfoque cualitativo y comprensivo. Con ello queremos enfatizar una aproximación a la
historia social y política de este movimiento urbano en la que las vivencias subjetivas y la
diversidad de valoraciones adquieren el reconocimiento más visible, la primera carta de
presentación del conocimiento colectivo. Esto implica mostrar también los conflictos y disensos
internos, y toda suerte de autocríticas, como parte esencial de la historia del movimiento, pero
también un respeto primordial al trabajo activista de todas las personas que se han implicado
en las okupaciones. Comprender críticamente esta historia supone, ante todo, una ruptura con
las aproximaciones exteriores que simplifican esa diversidad inherente al movimiento y
rehuyen de las puntuaciones cruciales que hacen los sujetos sobre lo que les parece más o
menos significativo. No hemos pretendido, pues, poner de acuerdo a quienes participaban.
Tampoco hemos querido adornar unas cuantas cifras con las opiniones fruto de los debates.

Más bien, al contrario, con el privilegio concedido al debate colectivo se pretendía provocar
una reflexión estratégica del movimiento desde los análisis contrastados, las informaciones
suministradas, las valoraciones múltiples, las decisiones, en fin, acerca del conocimiento que
resulta útil para enriquecer las prácticas. Más que grupos de discusión, lo que convocábamos
eran “grupos de apropiación” de los conocimientos producidos en conjunto, anunciando
nuevos encuentros, animando a que se aportasen materiales y comprometiéndonos a que los
resultados finales pudieran leerse sin mediación mercantil alguna. De haber sido capaces de
finalizar los análisis estadísticos que nos propusimos, estos se hubieran supeditado igualmente
a la prioridad que, con este enfoque y en este contexto, le hemos dado a los discursos.

En la medida de lo posible, las transcripciones editadas se han enviado a las personas invitadas a los debates para que las supervisasen, corroborasen o modificasen según estimasen oportuno. Del mismo derecho han gozado los miembros permanentes de la lista electrónica. Obviamente, esta devolución informativa previa no era posible con todas las otras personas participantes de quienes no disponíamos modo alguno de contacto ulterior. En cualquier caso, después de tantos meses de demora con la edición definitiva, no estamos seguros de que todo el mundo haya hecho la revisión correspondiente por lo que, en la medida en que una publicación electrónica permite modificaciones del texto base sin grandes esfuerzos, quedamos receptivos a sugerencias de rectificación de quien así nos lo comunique.

Los textos resultantes de las transcripciones no se presentan aquí en bruto sino que se han editado. Esta tarea ha consistido, ante todo, en suprimir aquellas partes redundantes o, de forma más ocasional, en cambiar de lugar las intervenciones para facilitar la lectura. También se han corregido algunas expresiones o se han completado frases que podían inducir a errores interpretativos al leerlas literalmente, extraídas del contexto de debate en vivo en el cual fueron formuladas. Por otro lado, algunos miembros del seminario hemos escrito textos introductorios y aclaratorios de los contenidos expuestos, aunque esta producción propia se ha limitado a contextualizarlos sin pretensión de alcanzar un análisis de discurso en profundidad. Nuestro objetivo siempre ha sido el de conseguir una lectura eficaz, inteligible y, por lo tanto, apropiable por el conjunto de activistas, simpatizantes y por el público interesado (incluido el académico) que se acercase al libro.

En definitiva, en los capítulos siguientes ofrecemos una ilustración, en forma de textos colectivos, de las sesiones públicas del seminario de acuerdo a los principios y metodología con los que nos hemos dotado. Como se puede observar, hemos rehusado construir una historia minuciosa y exhaustiva de todas las okupaciones de Madrid (y, muchos menos, de toda la iconografía y de los eventos que han generado) aunque sí reproducimos algunos textos ajenos e informaciones complementarias que puedan contribuir a una mejor comprensión de los relatos editados. El trabajo, pues, sigue inconcluso y no faltarán, esperamos, quienes se sientan alentados a tomar el relevo. Sabemos que lo ocurrido a partir del 15 de mayo de 2011 ha significado también un revulsivo para el movimiento de okupaciones y de ello nos hemos ocupado en otros textos. A partir de la historia viva y dialogada que aquí hemos pretendido construir, creemos que también se pueden trazar conexiones con el ciclo de luchas actual en el que estamos inmersos.

El edificio en la calle Atocha 49 a día de hoy (2014) sigue abandonado, sumido en sus penumbras, con algunos vestigios de su pasado okupa aún ufanos en su fachada. A sus miserables propietarios sólo les ha bastado la complicidad judicial y el salario de un vigilante privado para poder seguir con sus negocios. El inmueble está intervenido por otro juzgado en el que se dirimen las responsabilidades penales de Román, Roca y sus acólitos. Poco importa que numerosos preceptos legales exijan el cumplimiento de las funciones sociales de la propiedad privada o su necesaria conservación, seguridad y ornato. El poder económico de algunos propietarios, provenga de patentes fechorías o de la vil explotación capitalista del trabajo en última instancia, les exime de muchas de sus obligaciones. Ellos y las autoridades que les cobijan prefieren el vacío y la ruina a la vivienda social o a la autogestión colectiva de todas las facetas de la vida. La okupación pone de manifiesto esas contradicciones y las denuncia. Libera los espacios para que se exprese la vitalidad colectiva. Los expropia temporalmente y permite que los apropiemos como bienes comunes.

Solo por esa legitimidad básica que la okupación expone con respecto a las necesidades y derechos sociales, por la apelación sustantiva que nos hace a nuestro sentido de la política, merece que las reflexiones de este libro no se queden únicamente en negro sobre blanco.

[EN] Squatting in Europe

A chapter from Squatting in Europe: Radical Spaces, Urban Struggles

Squatting in Europe
* This is a reprint of the article published in Pruijt (2012, The Logic of Urban
Squatting. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research DOI:10.1111/
j.1468-2427.2012.01116.x ) which is based on previous research and publi-
cations (Pruijt 2004a and Pruijt 2009)

Hans Pruijt

Urban squatting is living in – or otherwise using – a dwelling
without the consent of the owner. Squatters take buildings intending
relatively long-term use. Urban squatting can be distinguished from
squatting on vacant land. Occupancy without legal title has always ex-
isted, but this article focuses on squatting that is organized by, or at
least supported and/or inspired by, a social movement. This kind of
inspiration comes from an activist-promoted master framework that
is based on empowerment and enables ‘cognitive liberation’ (Nepstad,
1997: 471) inasmuch as it lets people see empty buildings as opportu-
nities and imagine that collective support for occupying those buildings
can be organized.

In Amsterdam in 1966 activists from the anarchist Provo Movement
launched such a framework in the form of a ‘White Houses Plan’. A
‘working group’ announced that they would distribute lists of empty
houses and would paint the doors and doorjambs of empty homes
white. The ‘Woningbureau (Housing Bureau) de Kraker’ was estab-
lished in 1969. The name reflects the fact that Dutch squatters started
to use the special term ‘krakers’ to designate people who aim to turn
their squats into long-term homes (Van Tijen, 2008). In Berlin, the
term instandbesetzen, a conflation of instandsetzen (renovate) and beset-
zen (occupy) was coined.

Contemporary urban squatting in Europe can be seen as flowing
from organized squatting in the 1960s, but squatting is not dependent
on a climate of countercultural upheaval. The fact that squatting took
place on a large scale shortly after the second world war (Friend, 1980;
Johnstone, 2000) testifies to this.

The literature offers widely divergent interpretations, conveying the
impression that the squatters’ movement is an elusive one. Various au-
thors portray the movement as a collective actor pursuing a particular
goal. For Corr (1999: 3), its goal is ‘to redistribute economic resources
according to a more egalitarian and efficient pattern’, for Wates (1980)
it is to address housing issues, while Mamadouh (1992) sees it as a
means to assert a romantic small-is-beautiful vision against the domi-
nant functionalistic practice of city planning. Kallenberg (2001) clas-
sifies squatting among the utopian struggles, which would imply that
the goal of the squatters’ movement is a better society. Katz and Mayer
(1985) suggest that the goal is to enable and further self-help. Adding
to the variety, there are authors who see squatting not as goal-directed
but as a movement driven by a need for countercultural and/or political
expression (Lowe, 1986; Van Noort, 1988). Assessments diverge too in
this strand of the literature. Clarke et al. (1976: 58) see squatting as an
example of a middle-class counterculture and Wietsma et al. (1982: 4)
as a ‘way to shape one’s life and one’s living environment in a way that
breaks with imposed norms and laws’. For McKay (1998) it represents a
manifestation of Do-it-Yourself culture. Della Porta and Rucht (1995:
121-123) classify the squatters’ movement as a ‘left-libertarian’ move-
ment, while, in sharp contrast, Katsiaficas (1997: 115) pictures squat-
ters as progenitors, and later a wing of the ‘international Autonomen’,
a more or less Leninist strand of political activism. Martínez (2007:
381) views them as a ‘rhizomatic’ or ‘immediatist’ movement, while
Adilkno (1994) sees them as postmodern, post-ideological and mass-
media-influenced. And some emphasize that people squat to lead an
‘extreme way of life’ (Anon, 1998: 20).

None of these assessments is completely incorrect; overviews of
squatting show a great variety of squatting projects within countries
and also within cities (Wates and Wolmar, 1980; Wakefield and Grrrt,
1995; Birke and Holmsted, 2007; Birke, 2009; Kaulingfreks et al.,
2009; van Gemert et al., 2009) and any of these interpretations will fit
somewhere, some time, to some extent and in some way.

This article is an attempt to contribute to a comparative analysis of
squatting that takes diversity as the starting point, rather than setting
off from one particular interpretation that would be spot-on in some
cases, but that would appear to be a very artificial model in others. The
core of the article is the development of a typology of urban squatting,
specifically designed as an alternative for the often-made distinction be-
tween squatting as a way of meeting a housing need and squatting as a
way of satisfying a need for countercultural and/or political expression
(Lowe, 1986) that has already been shown to be incorrect by Kinghan
(1977) and Van der Pennen et al. (1983). The latter found that meeting
unmet housing needs was an important motive for all squatters.
The theoretical and conceptual base is as follows. For the general
framework, I have drawn on contingency theory. McAdam and Scott
(2005) introduced contingency theory in the context of social move-
ment studies, but so far it has seen little use in social movement research.
Contingency theory explains diversity as the result of adaptation to op-
timize efficiency and effectiveness. In the case of squatting, awarding
an important role to efficiency and effectiveness is appropriate because
squatting hinges on a transformational process: unused buildings are
transformed into safe, acceptable or comfortable homes, or spaces that
are used in other ways and infused with life. Mintzberg (1983) concep-
tualized adaptation as congruence, i.e. achieving a fit with the environ-
ment, and configuration, achieving internal consistency. In Mintzberg’s
(1983) terminology, which I adopt, configurations are internally con-
sistent combinations of features that correspond logically to specific
environmental characteristics.

In selecting the dimensions of description I have drawn on New
Social Movement theory, because this approach is inherently compara-
tive and because the squatters’ movement has been counted among
the New Social Movements (van Loo et al., 1984; Ziere, 1992). The
concept of New Social Movements implies a comparison with old or
classic movements. New Social Movements are said to have a network
structure and an informal, unstable and enthusiastic model of organi-
zation (Calhoun, 1993) which offers participants the flexibility to be
active without a fixed commitment (Tarrow, 1994). Participants are
primarily middle class (Pichardo, 1997). Kriesi (1989) identifies the
key actors in a New Social Movement as belonging to a specific section
of the middle class: cultural and social service providers. These actors
oppose threats to their autonomy posed by technocrats and bureaucrats
and would like to see a society with little managerial control. We can
infer that when such activists apply their idea of an ideal society to
their own movement this will result in attempts to build network struc-
tures with horizontal decision making. In terms of goals, New Social
Movements are said to differ from other movements because they focus
not just on political goals but also on cultural objectives, on enacting
a cultural identity (Melucci, 1989; Polletta and Jasper, 2001). Finally,
the literature on New Social Movements suggests that activists tend to
be active in more than one of the movements that make up this move-
ment family (Kriesi et al., 1995). These various characteristics, which
are said to set New Social Movements apart from other movements, can
be translated into dimensions of description: activists’ goal, class, form
of organization and cultural and political embedding.

A contrasting literature exists that emphasizes demands and the
agency of activists who design frames to organize experience by simpli-
fying and condensing aspects of ‘the world out there’, to find resonance
and to guide action (Benford, 2000). Therefore, I include demands and
framing among the dimensions of description.
Beyond these dimensions derived from social movement theory, I
include the type of buildings as a dimension that is highly specific to

The empirical base is squatting experience in the Netherlands, the
UK, Germany and Italy. The Netherlands can be seen as a real-life
laboratory that offered activists ample opportunities to explore what
is possible in squatting. This is because affordable housing shortages
were persistent, while between 1971 and 2010 it was possible to squat
without breaking the law. All types of squatting are present in the 45
years of Dutch squatting history, but some possibilities were less de-
veloped in the Netherlands than in other countries. For this reason,
I have included the UK, Italy and Germany. The UK was the scene
of systematic campaigns to organize squatting for poor people (Bailey,
1973; Wates 1980), and the practice of creating and running large-
scale squatted social centres was well developed in Italy (Mudu, 2004).
Germany (Geronimo, 1995) and Italy (Welschen, 1996) offered cases
in which activists involved themselves in squatting for ulterior political
motives. Together with a similar case in the Netherlands, this provided
a base for analysing political squatting.

I studied squatting in the Netherlands by using the extensive de-
scriptive literature and through interviews, examination of the archives
and systematic collection of documentation produced by the move-
ment. An important source of information was the complete set of is-
sues of the main squatters’ periodical (Kraakkrant, 1976-81) and its
successors (Laatste Waarschuwing, 1981, Bluf!, 1981-88, NN, 1988-95
and Ravage, 1996-2002). Direct observations at meetings, parties and
actions including lobbying and other events were made from 1977-85
and 2003-10. Squatting in the UK, Germany and Italy was mainly
studied using the available literature, although visits to squats in these
countries were made.

The resulting typology consists of 5 basic configurations of squat-
ting. Configurations are combinations of features that are logically con-
sistent and fit to the environment, and can therefore be expected to be
efficient and effective.

The five configurations are:
1. Deprivation-based squatting
2. Squatting as an alternative housing strategy
3. Entrepreneurial squatting
4. Conservational squatting
5. Political squatting.

Below I will derive the various squatting configurations, placing an
emphasis on developing the logic of each configuration. A complete,
systematic overview of the dimensions of the configurations is given in
Table 1.

Note that the restrictive definition of squatting as relatively long-
term occupation excludes the use of buildings as crash pads, as well as
demonstrative occupations. Conceptually, squatting projects are the
units of analysis. A squatting project can only belong to a single con-
figuration, but it is possible for squatting projects belonging to different
configurations to share the same building.

Deprivation-based squatting

The oldest configuration may be called deprivation-based squat-
ting. This configuration involves poor, working-class people who are
suffering severe housing deprivation. Severe housing deprivation means
more than having a need for housing; it implies that such people have
virtually no other options than living in a shelter for the homeless. A
further restriction is that such individuals have a specific status that
allows them to be seen as deserving accommodation. Generally, there
is a broadly shared opinion about who does and who does not deserve
to be housed. The norms that govern this are time- and place-specific.
In England in the 1960s and 1970s, for example, only married people
with children tended to be eligible to be defined as homeless (Wates,
1980). In the 1960s in the Netherlands, being a homeless married
couple without children was sufficient to be classified as deserving
(Duivenvoorden, 2000).
A key aspect of this configuration is that it is tightly organized. A pro-
totypical example of deprivation-based squatting is the ‘family squatters
movement’ in the UK in the late 1960s. Activists determined to orga-
nize housing for homeless families started the movement in 1969. They
did this by squatting and then distributing housing that local authori-
ties, put under pressure by squatting actions, had turned over to them.
These were houses that had been removed from the regular rental stock.
A Family Squatting Advisory Service was established to organize this
distribution, which had one paid staff member (Bailey, 1973).

A different form of this configuration is mass squatting. The 1945-
46 wave of squatting in ex-military camps in the UK, initiated by a
committee of ex-servicemen (Friend, 1980) is an example.** Large-scale
deprivation-based squatting was not confined to the 1940s. Groups of
home-seekers occupied flats in Italy in the late 1960s (Welschen, 1996:

Starting in the early 1970s, the specific housing predicaments of
newly arrived migrants gave rise to deprivation-based squatting. For
example, in 1974 a Surinamese action committee in Amsterdam led
squatting in around 100 apartments in the Bijlmermeer by newly ar-
rived immigrants from Surinam (Van Diepen and Bruijn – Muller,
1977), and in Frankfurt, in the early 1970s, there were also activists
who occupied buildings in order to provide housing for immigrants
(Grundmann et al., 1981: 48). In 1998 in Bologna, the ‘The Committee
without Frontiers’ and Rifondazione Comunista organized squatting for
North African immigrants (Fekete, 1998). Contemporary examples of
deprivation-based squatting projects exist. In 2010, the squatters’ as-
sociation Zwart-Rode Vrijheid (Black-Red Freedom), set up to provide
housing for people with various personal troubles, was thriving in the
Dutch town of Etten-Leur.

An organizational pattern that makes a clear distinction between
activists and squatters fits the configuration of deprivation-based squat-
ting. The activists open up buildings for the squatters and support
them. This division of roles fits the overall logic of the configuration,
because it clearly puts the squatters in the position of people who need
to be helped. It also implies some protection against possible accusa-
tions of queue jumping: the activists do not take the initiative and or-
ganize squatting for selfish motives; they do it to help others. A social
distinction between the squatters and the activists, when the activists
are of middle-class origin, is functional here.

In deprivation-based squatting, it is possible to take advantage of
the perception that the squatters are needy and deserving by choosing
empty buildings belonging to owners who have a (moral) obligation to
house the needy and would therefore be embarrassed to be seen evicting
squatters. Among such owners are the state and the Church. Ideally, the
target for squatting is regular housing stock, left empty for inexplicable
or inexcusable reasons. The better the condition of the buildings, the
more embarrassing it is that the owners have left them empty.
The central demand in this configuration does not involve structural
change, but instead focuses on helping the squatters to obtain (tempo-
rary) leases or alternative accommodation. This type of squatting can
be variously embedded in socialist, humanitarian and/or religious activ-
ism; one may say that it constitutes a protest against government inef-
ficiency and insensitivity.

Careful framing can help win supporters and put pressure on the
authorities. In this configuration, the framing is straightforward. The
needs of homeless families, who ideally have become distressed for rea-
sons beyond their control, i.e. the working poor, are pitted against the
insensitivity of bureaucrats and politicians. Squatters claim respectabil-
ity, which enables the public to identify with them. When evictions
take place, a shock effect is produced by the uncivilized or insensitive
behaviour of the authorities or their agents. Bailey (1973) describes
how bailiffs, by violently evicting families from squatted council-owned
houses in London, created a public relations disaster for the city offi-
cials who had hired them.

A more radical political demand that is sometimes made is to requi-
sition unused private property. An example is the campaign undertaken
by a Brighton group who called themselves the ‘Vigilantes’. In 1945
they occupied houses that were only rented during the holiday season.
This resulted in a new law that made requisitioning possible. It was only
implemented in Labour-run cities (Friend, 1980).

In the UK, the limitations of this configuration in terms of the de-
mands that can be raised became apparent when, in 1946, 1,500 peo-
ple squatted investor-owned apartments in London, with Communists
playing an organizing and supporting role. In contrast to the generally
positive coverage of the government-owned ex-military camp occupa-
tions, much of the press reporting was hostile as the right of individ-
ual owners to do with their property what they pleased was attacked.
Evictions and punishment ensued (Friend, 1980: 116; Johnstone,

Deprivation-based squatting is susceptible to cooptation, i.e. trans-
formation into a form that is useful to state officials (Pruijt, 2003). A
salient example of cooptation can be found in the history of squatting
in the UK. There, some squatters’ organizations were transformed into
management offices that rented out short-life public sector accommo-
dation. This was called ‘licensed squatting’ (Bailey, 1973; Pettitt, 1980).
The deals with local authorities that made this possible required squat-
ters’ organizations to give up organizing squatting. Lowe (1986: 148)
called licensing ‘a classic example of the cooptation of a critical social

A specific problem of this configuration of squatting is that it has
little to offer to people whom the authorities or the public do not recog-
nize as having a genuine housing need (ASS, 1996: 31). Home-seekers
who have problems beyond homelessness, or people whose lifestyle os-
tensibly deviates from the mainstream, will have difficulty meeting the
respectability requirement.

A further problem, to the extent that there is a division of roles
between activists and squatters, is that the continuity of squatting de-
pends on a small core of activists who may shift interest or burn out.
It is also very important that squatters in this configuration have no
other serious problems beyond homelessness, such as substance abuse,
dealing drugs or stealing, sexual or domestic violence. If they do, ad-
ditional risks of repression loom, and activists supporting squatters who
have multiple problems run the risk of turning into unpaid social work-
ers (Grundmann et al., 1981: 49).

Squatting as an alternative housing strategy

A newer configuration might be called squatting as an alternative
housing strategy, i.e. squatting as a more or less viable alternative to
(sub)renting. Compared to the previous configuration, it is less restric-
tive. Squatting as an alternative housing strategy opened up squatting
to people of middle-class origin. Examples are students or downwardly
mobile individuals who have chosen to dedicate themselves to activi-
ties that bring few financial rewards, e.g. visual artists and musicians.
Squatting as an alternative housing strategy is wide open to home-seek-
ers outside the category of people seen, at that specific time, as urgently
in need of housing – for example, people who are unmarried, have no
children, are young or are well-trained.

Coming from a desperate situation is not required, this configura-
tion is open to squatters who were not previously homeless but lived in
a rented room or a student dormitory and want to move into an apart-
ment. Squatting as an alternative housing strategy can be attractive for
people who want to live in a group and cannot find legal accommo-
dation that makes this possible and for radical DIY enthusiasts, who
would rather create housing for themselves by investing a lot of time in
it than working long hours in a job to pay a high rent (Moan, 1980).
Simply living rent-free without investing a lot of time is also possible,
if one is either lucky enough to find a place that does not need much
work or willing to put up with primitive circumstances.

Although it opened up squatting for people of middle-class origin,
squatting as an alternative housing strategy is available to the poor and
vulnerable. For the latter, it has advantages over deprivation-based
squatting, because it involves less or no stigmatization.

That we are dealing with a configuration that is distinct from depri-
vation-based squatting is illustrated by the reflections of Pettitt (1980:
122) who decided to move into a squat herself, after a period of time
during which she had dedicated herself to the London Family Squatting
Movement and helped others to squat:

Somehow we accepted the reasoning which implied that if one
wasn’t in a ‘family’, then one didn’t need a permanent home of one’s
own. My own train of thought went something like this: ‘Me? But I’ve
got a degree! How can I justify needing to squat? I don’t look deserving
enough. It’ll make squatting look silly if people like me do it, with no
cockney accents and no children.

In this configuration, the basic desire is not to get help but to be
left alone and in peace. Demands are mainly tactical tools toward the
goal of being left alone. Because demands are not very important, in
contrast to deprivation-based squatting, in this configuration there are
no strict requirements on framing, although explaining the action to
neighbours and to the public may be helpful. Squatters do not present
themselves as unlucky souls who require assistance. The disempowering
effect of being (self-)labeled as deprived is avoided. Squatters do not
stigmatize themselves as losers, instead they derive pride from a self-
created housing solution.

The fact that squatters do not claim to be among the deprived and
needy, and are not presented as such, gives rise to potential moral and
legitimacy problems when they squat homes that are intended to be let to
low-income people. In the Netherlands, this applies to social housing that
is distributed under state control. Moral and legitimacy problems do not
occur, however, with types of buildings that allow squatting to be seen as
adding to the affordable housing stock, rather than fighting for a share of
it. Suitable buildings include commercial spaces that were never intended
to be used for housing. Large buildings that do not contain apartments
but are suitable for communal living also fit into this configuration well.
The same holds true for rental units that have been taken off the market
because of demolition plans. Housing which is (far) below rentable stan-
dard is suitable, as are empty homes that are so expensive that they can
never be counted as being part of the affordable housing stock.

When spaces that meet the criteria outlined above are chosen, squat-
ting becomes a two-edged sword: squatters help themselves outside the
perimeter of the existing affordable housing stock and at the same time,
by removing themselves from the waiting queues for authority-allocat-
ed housing, indirectly help other low-income home-seekers.

Compared to deprivation-based squatting, squatting as an alterna-
tive housing strategy involves less division between activists/organizers
on the one hand and squatters on the other. There is more self-orga-
nization in autonomous teams, and less top-down organizing. ‘Less’ is
not ‘none’ – the phenomenon of informal leadership exists, although
it is sometimes contested; in the Netherlands, for instance, there was
a longstanding debate about ‘union bosses’ in which the rise of leaders
was criticized. Logically, self-organization is an appropriate concept in
a configuration in which squatters are not defined as needy.

Some authors, for example Lowe (1986), see this type of squatting
as a way of satisfying a need for countercultural and/or political ex-
pression. This, however, obscures the fact that meeting housing needs
tends to be an important motive for all squatters regardless of whether
they are subculturally oriented (Kinghan, 1977; Van der Pennen et al.,
1983). Indeed, many squatters live in a squat just as they would in a
rented place, at least in the Netherlands. Thus, it seems more accurate
to note that squatting as an alternative housing strategy can be embed-
ded in counterculture and politics. This entails the following.

Apart from accommodation, squatting offers the opportunity to
adapt the housing situation to a chosen lifestyle. Punks may, for exam-
ple, choose to live together with punks, feminists may start a women’s
squat. Experimenting with communal living is easy. Squatted com-
mercial spaces can be converted in creative ways. In Amsterdam, for
example, an artist built a small wooden house inside a large space in
the former Handelsblad building (also known as the NRC building).
Squatting offers ample possibilities for creative interior and exterior

Empowerment is an element in counterculture and countercultural
politics. It results from the act of establishing squats. Squatters break
free from a dependent attitude toward both the state and the market, at
least in the area of housing, and distance themselves from the bureau-
cratically regulated way of home making. They gain self-confidence be-
cause they take care of their own housing needs, by occupying a build-
ing and making it inhabitable. They break the power exerted over them
by city planning, waiting lists and the norms of private property rights,
which require that homeless people remain quietly homeless while
around them houses stand empty.

One of the appeals of squatting is that it promises an immediate tan-
gible result in the form of a realized squat. This is different from politi-
cal participation through formal channels in which a division of labour,
hierarchy and inevitable compromise make it difficult for participants
to trace the result of the energies they have invested.

Some squatters involve themselves deeper in squatting. They form
a network or squatter scene. Spending time in the company of other
squatters is rewarding because of the shared experience and because it
offers the relaxation of not having to defend the principles of squatting.
The non-squatting environment tends to label squatters as different,
which in itself helps forge a group identity. Know-how on technical
matters, such as dealing with owners, locks, windows, broken floors,
plumbing, heating, electricity and how to obtain relevant supplies is
rapidly disseminated.

Ideology is only loosely coupled to practice. All squatting is highly
practical, but, in contrast to deprivation-based squatting, demands to
authorities are relatively unimportant when squatting is an alternative
housing strategy, obviating the need for a clear consistent explanation
of actions. This allows for considerable freedom when creating an ide-
ology around squatting such as instant anarchism, i.e. suddenly dis-
covered with little influence from the anarchist tradition, or ideologies
with an anti-capitalist or anti-property-rights theme. Another possibil-
ity is to emphasize continuity with mainstream values such as self-reli-
ance, community and liveability. The non-centralized structure further
promotes ideological diversity.

Within the squatter scene, movement building can take place. We can
distinguish different forms of organization in the squatting movement:

• General cooperation and mutual assistance. This means that squat-
ters make themselves available to other squatters or potential squatters
to provide advice, help them out with problems or organize a group
that assists when a new building is squatted. Neighbours help each
other and cooperate.

• Internal organization in large buildings. In large buildings a lot has
to be arranged collectively, for example the energy supply. Commonly,
there will be regular house meetings.

• Associations. The establishment of squatter groups is very im-
portant, especially in districts in which mainly separate apartments or
small apartment buildings are squatted. Squatter groups have meetings
and some collective money. Squatter groups and collectives that oc-
cupy large buildings can start to work together, thereby forming a wider

• Structured networks without division of labour. For example, a
telephone tree for mobilizing support in case of an eviction threat.

• Organization based on a voluntary division of labour. This entails
the creation of small institutions that provide services to squatters or
those interested in squatting. Examples include information services for
potential squatters that sometimes maintain lists of empty properties
and provide advice to make squatting accessible and more likely to be
successful; collectives that write squatting manuals; and squatters’ me-
dia such as newsletters, magazines, radio and television stations, web-
sites, online forums and mailing lists. In Amsterdam, a bureau exists
that investigates property speculators: the SPOK, Speculatie Onderzoeks
Collectief (Speculation Investigation Collective). Art centres such as
Tacheles in Berlin, described by Holm and Kuhn (2011: 7) as spaces cre-
ated to ‘help squatters achieve self-realization’, book shops and public
kitchens have a function as part of the infrastructure of the movement.

• Organized campaigns. A goal can be, for example, to squat a
large property. Squatters develop a strategy, mobilize people, as-
sign tasks, cooperate during the action and evaluate afterwards.

• Overarching citywide, regional or national organizing.
Collective threats, such as proposed anti-squatting legislation,
stimulate squatters to call overarching meetings and organize
protests in their cities, to coordinate national protests and set
up committees.

• Coalitions with tenants. For example, to improve living condi-
tions in the neighbourhood.

Squatters’ movements can overlap with other movements in pro-
test waves. Squatters’ movements are part of a ‘left-libertarian social
movement family’ (della Porta and Rucht, 1995: 121-3), including,
for example, the ecology movement and the new peace movement. The
movements within this family have organizational overlaps. Squatters
can take the notion of applying direct action, and their experience
with it, to sundry troubled spots in society. Historic examples from the
Netherlands in the 1980s of squatters branching out into other fields

• A blockade of the road leading to the nuclear power plant in
Dodewaard and blockade actions against the transportation of
nuclear waste on its way to be dumped in the sea; as well as
blockading the entrances to the Shell laboratory complex in
Amsterdam as part of anti-apartheid protests.

• Direct action tactics, pioneered in the squatters’ movement,
have also been transferred to anti-militaristic protest. Military
command bunkers and one military office were raided and
documents detailing contingency plans in a State of National
Emergency were stolen, displayed and published. A similar ac-
tion occurred at a building used by a covert police observation

• A raid to disrupt an extreme rightwing party meeting in a hotel
ended in a devastating fire caused by a smoke-bomb.

• Squatters have also played a major role in urban protests, for
example against the construction of the new town hall in
Amsterdam, occupying the site with an ‘Anti-City Circus’, or
derailing Amsterdam’s campaign to attract the Olympic Games
by harassing the International Olympic Committee members
assembled in Lausanne. In 1999, squatters were active in the
logistics part of a tour, the ‘Inter-Continental Caravan’, of
500 Indian peasants though Europe who wanted to show how
Western policies affect their lives.

Squatting as an alternative housing strategy can lead to various out-
comes. A key payoff of squatting is that it enables people to satisfy
their immediate housing needs by direct action, i.e. creating (often
temporary) homes. According to a 1981 study (Van der Raad, 1981)
Amsterdam housed around 9,000 squatters. Duivenvoorden (2000) es-
timated that in the Netherlands as a whole, between 1965 and 1999,
50,000 people lived in squats at one time or another. Also of interest
is the longevity of the squats. There is a relation with quality because
a longer life expectancy for a squat makes it possible to invest more
in repairs, construction and maintenance. Wates (1980) estimated an
average life span of several months, but less than one year, for squats
in the UK. I estimate an average squat life span of several years in the
1980s, strongly declining after 1994, for Amsterdam.

Some squats have become permanent homes through legalization.
The Municipality of Amsterdam bought 200 buildings that were occu-
pied by squatters (Duivenvoorden, 2000: 323), thereby legalizing them.
This fitted in with an already formulated government policy to supply
housing to young people. The role of pressure caused by resistance to
evictions cannot be discounted. Officials then turned most of these
buildings over to established housing associations that concluded lease
contracts with individual squatters (Draaisma and Hoogstraten, 1983).
This allowed squatters to consolidate what they had achieved. The flip-
side is that legalization takes away the alternative edge (Bussemaker,
1986). Because legalization entails repairs and sometimes conversion
to the level required by the building code, it tends to increase costs,
putting an end to the situation where money matters little. In this situ-
ation, some people with very low incomes have to leave, or they become
dependent on some arrangement by which they can substitute work for
‘rent’. Nevertheless, in the Netherlands few, if any, opportunities for
legalization have been missed. In Berlin, however, there were a sizeable
number of squatters who refused to negotiate for legalization.

Squatting can cause a housing shortage to gain prominence on the
political agenda. The media can play an independent role in this. This
occurred in the case of Vetterstraat in Amsterdam in 1965. The squat-
ters were just trying to help themselves, but a newspaper printed the
following comment:

A big riot might be useful. We risk forgetting that in this country
there is a disgraceful housing shortage. The burden of this is passed
almost exclusively onto a varying group of young people. The housing
situation is a sick spot in our society. But we have almost made this ill-
ness invisible (Trouw, 7 January 1965).

In the Netherlands, a major effect of squatting is that it has put the
housing shortage on the political agenda. In 1978 in Amsterdam, a
twenty-year-old could expect to wait more than 7 years to be allocated
a distributiewoning (literally, ‘distribution apartment’, a social housing
unit). The minimum age to be put on the waiting list was twenty-five.
From that point, one had to wait a few years to get to the top of the
queue. In 2011, in Amsterdam it still takes years of patience to eventu-
ally obtain an apartment in the ‘social sector’, i.e. state-controlled hous-
ing for citizens with low and medium incomes.

Sometimes squatters explain their actions as a protest against a
shortage of affordable housing and refer to this when mobilizing public
support. An example is the ‘Groote Keijser’ in Amsterdam in 1979-80,
a case in which squatters refused to give up a row of occupied canal
houses (Keizersgracht 242-252). They explained their stand as a pro-
test against a housing shortage that affected 50,000 home-seekers in a
population of 600,000.

In the monumental inner city of Amsterdam, squatting led to the
establishment of new ‘weak’ functions, such as housing young people,
often living in groups – weak in the sense that these functions tend
to lose out in the competition for land because there is little financial
profit to be made from them. In some cases these functions are pro-
tected through legalization (Duivenvoorden, 2000: 323; Breek and de
Graad, 2001).

A specific problem of squatting as an alternative housing strategy
is that two of the strengths of this configuration – that many people
can do it and that the organizational structure is decentralized – si-
multaneously represent weaknesses because they limit the possibilities
for squatters to exert social control over their fellow squatters. This is
relevant because of the precarious legitimacy of squatting. To illustrate
this: in a 2006/ 2007 survey (N = 2173) in the Netherlands, 36.8%
of respondents agreed with the statement ‘Squatting an empty build-
ing should always be forbidden’; 42.5% disagreed. Cases can occur
in which squatters damage the building and/or display behaviour that
disturbs the neighbours, contributing to a media backlash.

Entrepreneurial squatting:
social centres, free spaces, breeding places

Squatting offers opportunities for setting up almost any kind of
establishment without the need for large resources or the risk of becom-
ing mired in bureaucracy. Examples of such projects are neighbourhood
centres, squatters’ bars that provide an infrastructure for squatting as
an alternative housing strategy and raise money for actions and char-
ity projects, artists’ work spaces, practice facilities for bands, women’s
houses, restaurants, print shops, theatres and movie houses, tool-lend-
ing services, alternative schools, daycare centres, party spaces, art gal-
leries, book and information shops, spiritual centres, give-away shops
(shops in which everything is free), food shops, saunas, workshops, e.g.
for bicycle repair or car or boat restoration, environmental or third-
world-oriented projects or social projects such as a shelter for people
in distress or an advisory service with language training for migrants.
In Italy entrepreneurial squatting projects tend to be routinely la-
belled as social centres. Activists in other countries such as Spain and
the UK have adopted this label. In 1998, 150 squatted self-managed
social centres in Italy offered opportunities to enjoy and develop social
life in a non-commodified environment (Maggio, 1998: 234). Mudu,
(2004) counted 200 social centres in Italy.

Ruggiero (2000: 170) states that social centres have important func-
tions in reducing loneliness and repairing the lack of opportunities for
identity building caused by the decline of large workplaces, unions and
political parties. They also allow unemployed people to engage in pro-
ductive activity such as organizing concerts and producing and selling
CDs, magazines and T-shirts. Social centres maintain strong links with
the alternative music scene. Some see this as meaningful work with a
welcome degree of self-control, for others it represents self-exploitation
(Wright, 2000: 128). The centres provide contacts, access to resources
and opportunities for acquiring skills that are relevant in the job market
(Ruggiero, 2000: 182-3).

Often social centres or free spaces are established together with
housing. In the Netherlands, squatters promoted the combination of
functions in one building as an asset in its own right (Duivenvoorden,
2000: 252-3).

The scale and the type of buildings can vary. Examples range from
one small storefront to a large commercial centre, a military complex,
warehouse, shipyard or an entire village.

Because of the broad range of entrepreneurial squatting, it is hard to
make general statements about the class origin of participants. In the
Netherlands, there were many artists as well as others who have had
at least a few years of university training. Consorzio Aaster (1996: 29)
reports on a survey among 1,395 users of social centres in Milan that
includes the level of education as a variable. Of the respondents, 36.1%
had at least a few years in university, 20.1% had no more than the com-
pulsory 3 years of secondary education. Mudu (2004: 926) indicated
that visitors to social centres in the northern and central parts of Italy
also tend to be mixed in terms of social class, while social centres in the
south tend to involve ‘people living on the fringes of society’.

As far as organization is concerned, there is variation, if only because
the scale varies so much. A fairly common characteristic is informal
organization. The status as squats limits external obligations. Because
of this, there is relatively little need for formal organization, as long
as there is no legalization. Mudu (2004) observes that the informal
structure of squatting projects allows for continued progress even when
there is a high turnover of participants.

In terms of factors that promote mobilization, unemployment is im-
portant. When substantial youth unemployment exists, such as existed
in the Netherlands in the early 1980s and has existed in Spain since
2005, there are large numbers of resourceful young people looking for
opportunities to engage in meaningful activities. Initiatives often ap-
peal to specific age or ethnic groups. For example, an Italian survey of
social centre visitors (N = 1,395) showed that only 4.9% were older
than thirty-five (Consorzio Aaster, 1996: 23). However, some centres,
such as the Leoncavallo in Milan, have multiple spaces and activities
that attract different age groups. And in the UK the Exodus collective
in Luton started by organizing raves, branched out into squatting, and
became known for cutting across ethnic barriers (Malyon, 1998).

Entrepreneurial squatting projects are practical and are therefore
not very dependent on sophisticated ideological framing. At least at
the start, whipping up a lot of public support tends to be unnecessary.
This changes when there is an eviction threat, which can prompt activ-
ists to demand that city administrators and politicians act to help save
the project. When the need for framing arises, it is logical to advance
a functionalist frame, emphasizing the valuable role of the project in
the community, for example as a breeding place for the creative class
(Romano, 1998; Florida, 2002; Pruijt, 2004b; Uitermark, 2004).

As far as countercultural and political embeddedness in this con-
figuration are concerned, there are two issues that are regularly debated.
The first issue is whether legalization results in the loss of the oppo-
sitional edge. An in-depth study of squatted ‘free spaces’ in Amsterdam
describes the commonly occurring effects of legalization as a loss of links
to various societal structures, of ties with other free spaces, and a decline
in dynamism and political engagement (Breek and de Graad, 2001: 77).
There are projects where oppositional identity did not wither away,
but rather died abruptly with legalization, such as the Groote Keijser,
the already mentioned canal houses Keizersgracht 242-252. In other le-
galized squats it eroded gradually, for example in the NRC-complex,
Tetterode in Amsterdam. Sometimes a role in alternative culture has
remained, such as in the case of the Poortgebouw in Rotterdam, which
has remained a venue for alternative music. An important factor is the
level of control that occupants retain after legalization. Often legaliza-
tion involves a non-profit housing organization taking control of the
building and turning the squatters into individual tenants. In other
cases, the ex-squatters remain in control as a collective (Breek and de
Graad, 2001: 50).

Legalization is not the only explanation for the erosion of the Dutch
squatter scene’s political edge. There has been a general decline in
left-wing protest in the Netherlands since 1980, which was the apex
of a protest wave. After 1980 resources for social movements in the
Netherlands also declined, as it became both easier and more necessary
for young people to find paid employment. The state also began to put
pressure on students to complete their studies swiftly.

Some projects did retain an oppositional edge after legalization, such
as the Mehringhof in Berlin and Vrankrijk in Amsterdam. Vrankrijk was
bought by its squatters. It is worth noting too that various legalized
projects, such as Kulturzentrum Lagerhaus in Bremen or the Fabrik in
Berlin never had an oppositional identity; from the beginning they fo-
cused on (alternative) culture.

The second discussion is whether it is possible to escape the trade-
off between, on the one hand, choosing to assume a countercultural/
political identity and thus only attracting members of a highly exclusive
‘scene’, for instance vegan anarchists, or, on the other hand, choosing
to attract a wide range of people at the expense of becoming culturally
mainstream and non-political.

Marco (2000: 14), who was active in the Eurodusnie collective in
Leiden in the Netherlands, criticized the Dutch squatter scene for be-
ing exclusive, and contrasted it to the large number of social centres
in Italy, which he describes as central gathering places for the ‘anti-
capitalistic part of the population’ while also appealing to a wide variety
of people. Many social centres solve the dilemma by offering space for
a broad range of activities. Attracting a large audience – the Leoncavallo
in Milan, for example, gets 100,000 visitors per year – places a burden
on activists. They may see their ideologically inspired engagement slide
into cleaning up the mess after a consumerist crowd.

Managing the social centres entails walking a narrow line between
a ‘ghetto mentality’ and ‘possible normalization as social enterprises’
(Wright, 2000: 132). Perhaps predictably, some have criticized the
social centres for having become commercial enterprises. Several so-
cial centres got together to draw up a plan, the Charter of Milan, to
leave behind self-chosen isolation, confrontations with the police and
‘prejudice-ridden, anti-institutional discourse’ and instead to develop a
‘more subtle infiltration of local institutions, a dialog that is not subser-
vient but attains a new quality of antagonistic practice’ (Klein, 2001;
Maffeis, 2002: 134). Membretti (2007) speaks of flexible institution-
alization. Some representatives of social centres tried to counter the
threat posed by the Berlusconi ascendancy by running, successfully, for
local office (Klein, 2001).

Most of the visitors come to the centres for their social contacts and
for concerts and art (Ruggiero, 2000). However, the social centres are
also ‘social and cultural hubs’ in a network that supports mobilization
against, for instance, capitalist globalization (Klein, 2001). The Italian
social centres have spawned an innovation in the protest repertoire,
the ‘Tute Bianche’: a block of demonstrators dressed in white overalls
symbolizing invisibility or ghostliness as a result of post-Fordist restruc-
turing (Azzellini, 2002), later called ‘Disobbedienti’, ‘the disobedient’
(Mudu, 2004). Some centres are more politically oriented and some
are more oriented toward (counter)culture. Tensions along this distinc-
tion also exist within centres. In addition to this, there are differences
between autonomist and anarchistic centres (Wright, 2000).

Entrepreneurial squatting has a wide array of possible outcomes.
Projects can develop into institutions that have a long life span. As
an example, the Vrijplaats Koppenhingsteeg in Leiden, the Netherlands
lasted 40 years as a squat before it was evicted in 2010, and plans for
its resurrection in another location exist. Most long-lasting initia-
tives acquired a legal status, such as the squatters’ bar Molli Chaoot in
Amsterdam that has been in existence since 1979, and Amsterdam’s
anarchist bookshop Fort van Sjakoo, that was squatted in 1977.

In the Dutch town of Utrecht, the main venue for pop concerts,
Tivoli, with 300,000 visitors per year, was opened up in 1980 by punk-
music-loving squatters. In Amsterdam, the Paradiso pop music club
was started by a squatting action in 1967. In Italy, major elements
of the cultural landscape, such as the Forte Prenestino in Rome and
the Leoncavallo in Milan are the products of entrepreneurial squat-
ting. Leoncavallo, which started in the 1970s, obtained a long life by
adopting the strategy of squatting another building after eviction but
continuing to use the same name. Leoncavallo has been evicted and
reopened in other buildings several times.

A few firms got started in squatted premises. In 1981, the collective
De Spruitjes (The Sprouts) started selling vegetables in de Paleisstraat
in Amsterdam, close to the Royal Palace. By establishing their shop
in a freshly legalized squat they could defy the economic logic that
bans greengrocers from central locations, and continued to do so for 18
years. Bier & Co, a specialty beer importer with more than 35 employ-
ees in 2011, started in the early 1980s in several squatted buildings. It
was a cooperative before it was changed into a regular private company.
In 1983 the brewery ’t IJ, producer of biological beers, started in a squat
on the bank of the IJ river in Amsterdam.

That the many artists’ workspaces created in squatted buildings
contributed to the favourable climate for the arts in Amsterdam was
acknowledged by the municipal authorities: the City set up a bureau
dedicated to the preservation and creation of ‘breeding grounds’ to en-
sure the continuous supply of affordable space for artists. An outcome
of entrepreneurial squatting is the build-up of experience that can be
used in a different context. In Amsterdam, for instance, an organization,
Urban Resort, was created to make unused office and commercial build-
ings available at low cost to people starting out in the cultural or creative
sector. One of their projects was the building that was left behind by the
newspaper Volkskrant. Urban Resort’s managing director Jaap Draaisma
drew on experience gained in the large Weijers squat, which was opened
in 1981 and included housing, a restaurant, an evening shop, a squatters’
bar and an espresso café, and concert facilities, and was in the process of
acquiring many more initiatives when it was evicted in 1984.

Conservational squatting

The fourth configuration, conservational squatting, involves squat-
ting as a tactic used in the preservation of a cityscape or landscape. The
goal is to prevent a transformation, in many cases a planned transfor-
mation, and to promote development in a different direction. Such op-
portunities arise because impending changes in land use result in vacant
buildings. Squatting can increase resistance to land use change because
the hot spots of the change – those places where the original inhabit-
ants and users have already been displaced – become populated again.
Historic buildings that are standing empty awaiting demolition offer
opportunities. Entire neighbourhoods that are scheduled for clearance,
or at least partial clearance, have also invited conservational squatting
alongside other types of squatting. Examples are:

• The Tolmers Square neighbourhood in Camden, London, in the
early 1970s, where houses were to be replaced by office blocks.

• The Nieuwmarkt neighbourhood in Amsterdam, also in the ear-
ly 1970s, that was planned to be cut through by an urban mo-
torway, built in a corridor cleared for subway construction and
lined by office blocks, as well as to be the site for a new hotel.

• Kreuzberg in Berlin. In Kreuzberg in 1979, the community ac-
tion group ‘SO 36’ occupied an empty fire station to prevent its
demolition. The activists proceeded to occupy houses that were
slated for razing, because they wanted to preserve both useable
housing stock and the structure of the neighbourhood.

• Friedrichshain in Berlin, 1990. Activists exhorted people to
squat empty houses in the Mainzer Straße to prevent destruc-
tion. This project involved 11 houses and 250 occupants (Holm
and Kuhn, 2011).

Conservational squatting can also be undertaken to preserve the so-
cial function of a given building in the face of gentrification, for exam-
ple low-income housing that the owner wants to convert to market-rate
condominiums, in other words to gentrify.

For a movement aiming to preserve a cityscape from being destroyed
by the construction of infrastructure, squatting buildings in critical lo-
cations is one of the tactics that can be employed. Here, the buildings
themselves are not very important, the objective is to get in the way
of the planned infrastructure. Examples are the No M11 Link Road
campaign in the UK in the 1990s and the Betuwe Railway (1998-99)
in the Netherlands. In such cases, squatters have the advantage of being
immune to the standard NIMBY reproach, because they move into the
area precisely because of the opportunity to contribute to the protec-
tion of the environment or the neighbourhood.

The actors in conservational squatting tend to be ‘middle class in-
terventionists’ (Wates, 1976: 127) such as students or professionals
who move into the area (cf. Bosma et al., 1984). The ‘middle class
interventionists’ tend to be young people with a special interest along
with a housing need. In the Tolmers Square neighbourhood, the first
‘proper’ squatters were three architecture students (Wates, 1976: 160).
They learned about the neighbourhood and its problems when they did
a case study as part of their degree program. The students discovered
that there had been no inhabitant participation in the planning pro-
cess and that the Council was only interested in the land, not in the
inhabitants and their fate following redevelopment (ibid.: 120). Their
recommendations amounted to a plea for piecemeal redevelopment
and renovation of as many buildings as possible instead of demolition.
In a meeting that they set up with inhabitants, the Tolmers Village
Association was created, in the daily management of which the student
squatters played an important role. In the Nieuwmarkt neighbourhood
in Amsterdam, at least two of the initiators and central activists in the
resistance against the planned transformation had prior activist involve-
ment in spatial planning issues (Bosma et al., 1984). In 2000, environ-
mentalists were among the activists who squatted the military fortress
Pannerden in the Netherlands, which had fallen into disrepair after its
last use in 1940. Their idea was to prevent further decay, and move
against possible redevelopment of the building as a hotel. The squat-
ters created homes, a museum, a visual artists’ workspace and cultural
activities and conducted monthly tours of the fortress.

Conservational squatting can also develop from squatting as an al-
ternative housing strategy, when the squatted building is threatened to
be demolished and when the occupants see opportunities for restora-
tion. An example is a row of six houses in the Nieuwelaan in Delft, built
in 1912, that was squatted in 1981. In 1995 the squatters presented a
plan for a complete renovation.

Another possible starting point for conservational squatting is to take
over the baton from tenants who are resisting a planned transformation.
An example is the resistance that started in 1975 against a planned park-
ing garage in Piersonstraat in the Dutch town of Nijmegen. In 1980 the
tenants had exhausted all possibilities to thwart the scheme by legal ac-
tion, and the city had been successful in removing tenants by offering
rehousing and financial compensation. One of the leaders of the tenants’
protests approached the Nijmegen squatters’ group, requesting that they
start taking over houses directly after they were vacated (van Wakeren,
1998; Bruls, 2006). The squatters called a mass protest and built street
barricades in an attempt to prevent eviction and demolition.

Because conservational squatting is dependent on support from reg-
ular inhabitants, and can involve cooperation with tenants and other
interested parties, it is logical that activists try to control who will squat
available empty houses. In the Tolmers Square Neighbourhood, there
was an ‘informal screening system’ for prospective squatters (Wates,
1976: 161). In Amsterdam’s Nieuwmarkt neighbourhood, activists set
up a group that distributed houses that were to be squatted. To be ac-
cepted, prospective squatters had to meet criteria such as being pre-
pared to stay to the end, i.e. the eviction, and being ready to fight. The
activists backed this up by establishing a scheme in which the squat-
ters would collectively pay for necessary repairs, which made squatting
houses that were in an exceptionally bad condition a more reasonable
proposal, and by running a technical service centre where various con-
struction tools could be borrowed. They also made a commitment to
arrange for rehousing after a possible eviction.

Core activists exercised control in the neighbourhood. Drug addicts
were asked to leave. Bosma et al. (1984) quotes a squatter who recalled
that one of the leaders did not allow him to paint the outside woodwork of
his house in ‘hippie colours’, he had to use a traditional canal house green.
Activists using conservational squatting in a neighbourhood plan-
ning struggle are likely to be faced with two types of conflict, as both
the Tolmers Square and the Nieuwmarkt cases bear out. One is a con-
flict of interest between the preservationists and inhabitants who want
to move out of the neighbourhood anyhow and are planning to benefit
from a rehousing scheme when their home is demolished. The second
conflict is one of lifestyle; squatters can antagonize longstanding resi-
dents. Noise disturbances can exacerbate this.

A key ingredient of conservational squatting is the demand that
planners change course. For this reason, careful framing is important.
It involves making planners, investors, developers, municipal decision
makers, etc. accountable and showing that the building or neighbour-
hood is worth preserving. If applicable, squatters can seek to demon-
strate the historic value of their squat. A classic example is a house at
Achter Clarenburg 2, in Utrecht. The City bought it in 1969, plan-
ning to demolish it to make way for a new road. Students squatted it
in 1971. One of them, a history student, discovered features hidden
behind a modern facade and clutter that showed that the house was
built around 1330. Alerted by this discovery, the central government’s
Monument Preservation Service scrambled to get it listed (Van den
Berg, 2007). In Rotterdam, one of the city’s last farmhouses was ready
for demolition when it was squatted in 2005. The squatters presented
plans that combined preserving the farmhouse as a historic building
(van Ooststroom, 2010), celebrating Dutch rural traditions, farming
ecologically and hosting cultural activities.

The fact that squatting is sometimes seen as destructive – and build-
ings have sometimes been trashed by squatters – can be a reason for
squatters to explain that their actions can contribute to conservation
efforts. Activists in the Nieuwmarkt neighbourhood reported in a news-
letter about the squatter conversion of commercial buildings on the
Zwanenburgwal as follows:

The block has been squatted and converted by the occupants them-
selves at their own expense, with an enormous effort. Gas, electricity
and water have been installed; toilets, heating, walls etc. constructed.
While the municipality has not done anything here in decades, this is
the first complex in the Nieuwmarkt where existing buildings have been
converted into affordable housing. At this moment around 100 people
live in 55 apartments. In the complex, four children have already been
born (Aktiegroep Nieuwmarkt, 1977: 11, 13).

In an architecture, housing and urban planning magazine, Bijlsma
et al. (1974: 13) promoted squatting as an important tool for citizens
who want to help conserve their city and neighbourhood. They argued
that squatting is a way of preventing property developers, investors or
the state getting rid of unwanted houses by tricks – such as making
holes in the roof or letting the door stand open to attract drug users or
‘sleeping bag tourists’ in the hope that they will destroy it or cause it
to burn down. The authors add that a neighbourhood that looks run-
down attracts investors, which is a reason for activists to make sure that
squatted houses look good. The squatters who lived in Fort Pannerden
made it clear to the public that they had a rule not to apply paint or
drill holes in the structure.

In terms of outcomes, squatting can be a successful means of sav-
ing buildings. The already mentioned medieval house in Utrecht was
restored, and one couple from the original squatters was still living in
the house 40 years later. In Delft, the renovation of the Nieuwelaan
houses that were squatted in 1981 finally began in 2004. In 2006, Fort
Pannerden’s squatters were summoned to leave. The squatters refused
because there was not yet a definitive plan for renovation and because
they suspected that the fortress would remain empty. It took the po-
lice, aided by the army who sent men and equipment including three
bridge-laying tanks, two days to carry out the eviction (Visser, 2006).
Three weeks later, squatters retook the fortress. This time, instead of
an eviction an agreement was concluded that allowed the squatters a
role as managers of the fortress until renovation started in 2008. After
the renovation, former squatters were involved in the foundation that
assumed responsibility for the fortress. Other conservational squatting
projects failed, or partly failed. The houses in Piersonstraat in Nijmegen
were cleared, which caused a riot, although the parking garage was
never built.

Conservational squatting also made an impact on neighbourhood-
wide planning conflicts. Wates, writing about the Tolmers Square neigh-
bourhood (1976: 81), concludes that ‘the only effective way of preventing
the physical fabric from deteriorating proved to be the squatting of empty
buildings’. The buildings on Tolmers Square itself did not survive, but
surrounding Georgian streets escaped demolition and office construction
in the area was less extensive than originally planned.

In the Nieuwmarkt neighbourhood, squatters were able to hang on
to their buildings on Zwanenburgwal and Ververstraat, preserving them
from demolition. The struggle against a planned motorway through the
Nieuwmarkt neighbourhood, in conjunction with a subway line under-
neath, and surrounded by office blocks involved a coalition between
elitist conservationists, who were mainly interested in preserving mon-
uments, and anarchist activists who wanted a mixed-use, affordable
vibrant neighbourhood in which the human scale predominated. The
subway line was built as planned but the motorway project was stopped
after an activist campaign, which caused prospective developers of of-
fice buildings to lose interest. Furthermore, the City made two changes
to the plans that were in accordance with the activists’ demands that
entailed restoring the original street plan. One decision was to place a
new housing block at the south side of the Anthoniesbreestraat in such
a way, that only a space wide enough for a narrow street remained,
precluding its eventual later development as a major traffic artery. This
decision was made after a violent confrontation during an attempted
demolition in 1974 and following a recommendation made by officials
to give in to the demands as a way to prevent further deterioration of
relations (Hoekema, 1978). The second decision was to construct new
housing on top of the subway tunnel, a considerable extra outlay, which
was put on the subway construction budget (Mamadouh, 1992).

In 1975, while the squatters were preparing the defence of the squats
on the Rechtboomsloot, which included a hanging and covered bridge
across the canal, the City Council revoked an earlier decision to create
new subway lines after the one that cut though the Nieuwmarkt.
In the case of Kreuzberg, the project overview of the Internationale
Bauaustellung Berlin 1987 (Feye, 1987) lists various buildings, that were
slated for demolition, squatted and finally renovated. Feye (ibid.: 198)
notes that the squatting actions in Kreuzberg prepared the climate for
the policy change that occurred in 1981. This change entailed buildings
no longer being stripped from tenants; a switch was made to a more
careful method of urban renewal. Instead of the originally planned de-
molition of 2,200 apartments, only 14 side wings and backhouses were

Successful use of squatting to prevent the conversion of afford-
able rental properties into condominiums occurred in Rotterdam, the
Netherlands (Kaulingfreks et al., 2009: 12, 94). When the owner of the
block Zwaerdecoonstraat/Snellinckstraat had managed to induce half of
the tenants to move out and had the insides of the empty apartments
demolished, the remaining tenants organized squatting by students and
artists in an attempt to block gentrification. Squatters who caused a
disturbance were told to change their behaviour or leave. Policymakers
found the creative community that developed attractive, which led to
the decision to renovate the buildings as affordable rentals. The ten-
ants were able to stay while the squatters had to move on to another
neighbourhood. Although, as in this case, squatters can clearly fight
gentrification, at least since 1981 (Mier and Jansen, 1981), the issue has
been raised as to whether squatters may inadvertently be spearheading
gentrification (Pruijt, 2003). Perhaps it would be more correct to say
that squatters may spearhead preservation, which may be a precondi-
tion for gentrification.

Political squatting

Squatting can be a promising field of action for those who are en-
gaged in anti-systemic politics and who identify themselves with
revolutionary or ‘autonomous’ ideas. For them, power – in this con-
figuration counterpower vis-à-vis the state – is important. Squatting is
not a goal in its own right; it is attractive because of its high potential
for confrontations with the state. The label ‘political squatting’ does
not imply that I see other forms of squatting projects as apolitical, in-
deed, as Wates (1976: 160) suggested, squatting is generically politi-
cal. I have chosen this label because here the involvement in squatting
is driven by an ulterior anti-systemic political motive. The reason for
considering political squatting as a separate configuration is that it has
its own logic, which deviates sharply from the logic of the other con-
figurations. A case in point is the Amsterdam squatting group called the
‘Woongroep Staatsliedenbuurt’, which had a strategy that was coherent
in itself but that did not fit in logically with squatting as an alternative
housing strategy, deprivation-based squatting, entrepreneurial squat-
ting or conservational squatting. The most salient way in which this
group was different was in organizing large-scale squatting of social
(low-income) housing allocated by the municipal housing authority.
For the other squatters in Amsterdam, this type of housing was off
limits because they felt that squatting was all about adding to the low-
income housing stock, not competing for a share of it. Disapproving of
the squatting of distributed social housing is consistent with what I de-
scribed as ‘squatting as an alternative housing strategy’. The ‘Woongroep
Staatsliedenbuurt’ also did not fit into the configuration of deprivation-
based squatting: many participants squatted for themselves, it was not
their ideology to help a group that was being wrongfully ignored by
the authorities. The Woongroep Staatsliedenbuurt’s main justification for
squatting allocated low-income housing was that the municipal hous-
ing queue system functioned as a way of pacifying the tens of thousands
of home-seekers (Duivenvoorden, 2000: 151).

In line with this argument, the municipal housing distribution of-
fice was attacked several times; files were destroyed. The idea was that a
collapse of the housing queue system would set the scene for a revolt of
home-seekers. Thus, in this case, the driver was a political motivation.
Before this, in Germany in the early 1970s there had been a wave of
political squatting. Political groups that had part of their roots in the
student movement, such as the ‘K-Gruppen’, Leninists known for their
internal disputes about the ‘correct line’, and especially ‘Spontis’, repre-
senting a more anti-authoritarian strand, launched squatting projects in
various cities. This wave started after activists had become disillusioned
with an earlier strategy of trying to radicalize workers by taking up
blue-collar jobs and becoming active within firms. When it became
apparent that this strategy was not effective, they decided to focus their
attention on the sphere of reproduction, that is on working-class neigh-
bourhoods. Most activity was in Hamburg and Frankfurt, cities ruled
by social democrats (BesetzerInnenkongress, 1995). During a radio de-
bate, a Frankfurt activist explained:

It was about exposing speculation with buildings and land;
we wanted to show that the Frankfurt social democrats were
exceedingly reformist and to document that the so-called re-
formists tactically cooperate with financial capital (transcript
published in Grundmann et al., 1981: 49).

We really thought for some time that it should be possible
to widen the housing struggle cycles – the occupations, evic-
tions and mass organization in-between – beyond the, at most,
5,000 or 6,000 people that participated, and that this could
become an influential factor in changing the political land-
scape, at least in Frankfurt. I still recall how thrilled we were to
read headlines in the Frankfurter Neue Presse like ‘Dual Power
in Frankfurt’. And for a little while, we were prepared to be-
lieve this; that there was a dual structure of urban power: the
formally institutionalized one, and us (transcript published in
ibid.: 51).

In 2003 political squatting made a very short comeback in the
Netherlands, albeit in a very moderate shape. ‘Rood’ (‘Red’), the youth
organization of the Socialist Party (SP), positioned on the left wing
of the social-democratic Partij van de Arbeid, started a campaign of
occupations to address the housing shortage for young people, which
involved actual squatting.

Especially when compared to squatting as an alternative housing
strategy, there is a relatively pronounced distinction in political squat-
ting between leaders and the rank and file. Together, political squat-
ters may view themselves as a vanguard, poised to lead a mass into a
wide-ranging struggle. They see the non-political squatters, i.e. squat-
ters whose projects fit in the other configurations, as potential recruits
for this mass that they will lead.

In Italy in the late 1960s and early 1970s, political groups such as
Lotta Continua latched onto the occupations that had started sponta-
neously (Rising Free, 1973; Welschen, 1996: 82-6). In a later phase,
Autonomen became involved, seeking confrontations ‘even if it contrib-
uted little or nothing to the preservation of occupied houses’ (Welschen,
1996: 86, my translation).

The Autonomen consisted of different groups that partly fought
against each other and partly complemented each other. They tended
to join other groups, for example in mass demonstrations, and then
take violent action. They refused to comply with the restraint on vio-
lent behaviour asked for by demonstration organizers. They also tried
to obtain hegemony over the entire countermovement (Welschen,

Welschen (1996: 129-30) points out that Autonomist ideology was
rooted in Leninist thought, adapted by Toni Negri and others to the
reality that young people were getting less inclined to participate in
top-down controlled movements; the ideological leaders thought that
concentrating on concrete action, instead of building an organization,
would lead to a cycle of increasingly severe confrontations with the
state. The idea was that such confrontations would, in turn, stimulate
the centralization of the movement.

In Amsterdam, political squatters developed the strategy of taking
over the defence of several buildings whose occupants had lost hope
of being able to stave off eviction, and turning these into fortified fo-
cal points for confrontations with the state. A high-profile example is
the Groote Keyser. The political squatters were especially interested in
mobilizing against the social democratic party that was in control of
city politics. They also worked hard to create stable structures in the
squatters’ movement, with the ideal of building a coherent, prepared
group of disciplined activists who were committed to confronting the
state. Many squatters who did not share the ideological background of
the political squatters went along with this, led by feelings of solidar-
ity. This course of action seemed attractive because it helped squatters
win concessions, and because of the empowerment brought about by
stronger organization and the experience of being taken seriously by the
local state and the media.

Nevertheless, a cleavage developed in the Amsterdam squatter scene.
Squatters who saw squatting primarily as an alternative housing strat-
egy or as a basis for entrepreneurial projects increasingly disliked the
centralized coordination and the almost paramilitary organization and
style that surfaced in confrontations. It started to dawn on them that
they had been manipulated by the political squatters.

The political squatters, in turn, became disappointed: they resented
the large number of squatters who, in their view, acted without a clear
political vision, i.e. squatting as an alternative housing strategy, or were
only interested in their own small enterprises, i.e. entrepreneurial squat-
ting. A conflict erupted, following a small internal uprising against the
leadership of the political squatters, and an attempt by the political
squatters’ leaders to reconstruct the movement that entailed branding
some squatters ‘traitors’.

In terms of framing, the theme of treason seems recurrent. It is a type
of accusation that can be directed both at social democrats in city govern-
ments as well as against squatters operating in other configurations.
The outcomes of political squatting tended to be disappointing for
the participants. The political squatting campaign of the early 1970s
in Frankfurt and other German cities ended in evictions, not in the
mass mobilization that activists had hoped for. German political squat-
ting did not even leave a legacy that inspired future squatters: the next
German squatting wave that started in 1979 followed the pattern of
squatting as an alternative housing strategy (Koopmans, 1995: 170).
In Amsterdam, a conflict with other squatters in 1988 forced the
political squatters to withdraw from the scene (Adilkno, 1994). This in-
fighting was not just about goals, or ideology or organization structure.
It involved various characteristics that together set the configuration of
political squatting apart from squatting as an alternative housing strat-
egy and entrepreneurial squatting. Therefore, this internal conflict can
be understood as interconfigurational conflict.

In the Berlin squatters’ movement, a fissure developed along the di-
viding line between squatting as an alternative housing strategy and
political squatting. Inspired by developments in Italy, some of the
squatters began to define themselves as ‘Autonomen’, the part of the
movement that refused to negotiate about legalization. The Autonomen
were especially enraged about the repression directed against squatters
and criticized the other squatters for only fighting to preserve their own
free spaces and not against the system:

Conquering ‘free spaces’ and making them secure . . . this is classical
reformism. That does not destabilize any system – the capitalist system
reacts very flexibly: free spaces can be integrated, resistance channelled
into ghettos without explosive power: playgrounds (Geronimo, 1995,
quoted in BetsetzerInnenkongress, 1995: 16).

In Amsterdam in 1982 a ‘Militant Autonomen Front’ claimed a
light bomb attack on the municipal housing distribution office. This
provoked a devastating attack from within the squatters’ scene, in
which the Autonomen were subtly ridiculed. The protagonists were the
editors of the squatters’ magazine Bluf! (‘Bluff!’). An involuntary acces-
sory was Ton van Dijk, a journalist of the mainstream magazine Haagse
Post, who was eager to produce a juicy story about emerging terrorism
in the Netherlands. The editors of Bluf! approached him and offered to
arrange, in return for money, an exclusive interview with the Militant
Autonomen Front. Ton van Dijk was blindfolded, taken to a ‘secret lo-
cation’, and given the opportunity to interview three masked ‘members
of the Militant Autonomen Front’. These roles were played by the Bluf!
editors themselves, who had prepared for the interview by memorizing
an extensive array of revolutionary clichés. The Haagse Post published
the nonsensical interview as its cover story, showing the photograph of
the brave journalist in the company of the three masked men, that was
supplied as part of the interview deal. Bluf!, in turn, published a picture
of the blindfolded journalist surrounded by the three grinning Bluf!
editors (Kommando GIRAF, 1982).

Concluding notes

The root cause of diversity in squatting is that those who initiate
squatting projects have varying goals. In the typology developed in this
article, there is no type of squatting that has subcultural expression as
its goal. This is because of the importance of the need for space for all
squatters, including those engaged in subcultural expression. Instead,
there is the configuration ‘squatting as an alternative housing strategy’
where the goal is to house oneself, and in which there is a two-way
relation between squatting and countercultural expression: the oppor-
tunities for countercultural expression are a bonus that adds to the at-
tractiveness of squatting, and once someone is settled in a squat, she
or he will find an environment that is, to some extent, conducive to
countercultural development. Thus, I argue against making subculture
the central point in our understanding of squatting.

Neither does ideology seem to be a good starting point for an analysis
of squatting. In squatting, ideology is loosely coupled to practice. Seeing
it as loosely coupled is a way to avoid tripping over some paradoxes,
such as that between the belief espoused by squatters that ‘the squatters’
movement is dominated by a great revulsion against hierarchical order,
authority, planning and pressure’ (Wietsma et al., 1982: 134) and the
existence of hierarchical order, authority, planning and pressure within
the movement, several examples of which have been presented in the
pages above.

For all configurations, there are solid examples that show that they
can be viable. Of the two configurations in which housing is most cen-
tral, deprivation-based squatting and squatting as an alternative hous-
ing strategy, the latter seems to have everything going for it. It is open
to everyone, regardless of social class, it is interesting for resourceful
activists but can simultaneously offer a haven for vulnerable people. It
allows a wide range of skills to be exercised, empowers and produces
fun instead of a display of misery.

This leads to the question: why does deprivation-based squatting
exist at all? The analysis presented above suggests that the reason is le-
gitimacy. Squatting is a breach of property rights, and thereby likely to
provoke negative reactions. The breach of property rights can be easier
to swallow when it involves housing needy people in buildings that
belong to owners who a have a moral obligation to house the needy.

Deprivation-based squatting offers this opportunity.

Helping oneself, as in squatting as an alternative housing strategy,
can be an extra tax on tolerance. This effect can, however, be mitigated
by targeting houses or buildings that are either too dilapidated or too
sumptuous to be let as affordable housing. This can deflect accusations
of queue-jumping. The extra tax on tolerance caused by self-help is
not present in deprivation-based squatting, at least in cases where it
is clearly organized to help other people. Thus, the level of tolerance
is a situational factor, to borrow a term from Mintzberg’s (1983) con-
tingency theory, with deprivation-based squatting fitting a low level
of tolerance. The UK squatting history suggests that deprivation-based
squatting paved the way for squatting as an alternative housing strategy.
Entrepreneurial squatting, in so far as it involves providing a service
to the community, can deflect attempts to portray squatters as usurp-
ers, in addition to the effect already produced by targeting unwanted
buildings or buildings that have at least been empty for a long time. A
deprivation- based squatting project can be incorporated as a separate
division in an entrepreneurial squatting operation.

Squatting as an alternative housing strategy and entrepreneurial
squatting, once some legitimacy has been established, could go on for-
ever, unless there is very efficient repression or all potential opportuni-
ties are destroyed by an effective ‘anti-squatting’ industry, i.e. specialized
firms that offer to prevent squatting by putting tenants into properties
that might be squatted, relying on those tenants to keep squatters out,
but offering them no security of tenure.

The fairly common idea that movements inevitably have a life cycle
does not seem to apply to squatting as an alternative housing strategy
and entrepreneurial squatting. Tarrow (1994) describes a life cycle dy-
namic that involves the increased use of violent means and militant
rhetoric to motivate core participants and continue to get public, media
and state attention, while this in turn causes supporters to walk away.
Such an escalation can occur in the resistance against evictions, but
this does not have to affect the squatting of new buildings. Van Noort
(1988) observes that squatters in Amsterdam had become trapped in
a dynamic of radicalization, causing them to lose all attractiveness.
However, in contrast to his assessment, squatting continued. In terms
of the configurations, it was political squatting that was subject to a
radicalization dynamic, leaving squatting as an alternative housing
strategy and entrepreneurial squatting unaffected.

Castells (1983: 328) suggests that the inevitable fate of urban move-
ments is institutionalization leading to identity loss, while Kriesi et al.
(1995) describe protest as occurring in waves, in which institutionaliza-
tion is the phase between protest and reform. Mamadouh (1992) shows
how city planners co-opted the views promoted by squatters; however
her conclusion that this was the end of the squatters’ era proved to be
unwarranted. Conservational squatting was affected, not squatting as
an alternative housing strategy nor entrepreneurial squatting. In addi-
tion, conservational squatting later resurfaced in the form of resistance
to gentrification. That squatting as an alternative housing strategy and
entrepreneurial squatting do not seem to have a life cycle dynamic can
help explain why squatting can be persistent over time.

Squatting is, along with rent strikes and the development of alter-
native spatial plans, one of the few action repertoire strategies that are
specific to urban movements. Urban movements can be seen as aimed
at realizing collective consumption demands within a framework of
promoting the city as a use value against commodification (Castells,
1983). Squatting has the unique property of combining self-help with
demonstrating an alternative and a potential for protest. The vari-
ous configurations point to different possibilities. Deprivation-based
squatting addresses problems in the provision of social housing, while
conservational squatting asserts a vision of a city in which citizens are
not spatially sorted according to income, functions are integrated and
a small-scale urban fabric is maintained. Squatting as an alternative
housing strategy can address exclusion from the housing market, for
example of young people, or a housing shortage in general, but it can
simultaneously demonstrate the use value of buildings, blocks or neigh-
bourhoods that planners have slated for demolition, or develop into a
protest against real estate speculation. In so far as promoting squatting
as an end in itself is part of the movement’s identity, it offers a barrier
against cooptation. Entrepreneurial squatting can be a means to ad-
vance cultural demands. Examples are venues for pop music that were
originally created by squatting. Finally, political squatting can increase
the level of disruptiveness that the other types of squatting already have
potentially, but it carries the risk of triggering internal conflict and a
repressive backlash.



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[EN] Introduction to ‘Squatting in Europe’

Introduction to Squatting in Europe: Radical Spaces, Urban Struggles

Miguel Martínez, Gianni Piazza and Hans Pruijt

While homelessness is rampant worldwide, the production of
empty spaces is a regular feature of contemporary society. When build-
ings sit empty for a long time while homelessness persists, it is clear that
in these cases markets and states fail to fulfill their expected role as effec-
tive allocators of space. Often, people decided to take matters into their
own hands by squatting a diversity of spaces: office blocks, factories,
theaters and bars as well as houses. For some squatters, squatting is a
purely individual solution; others feel that the possibilities of squatting
should be developed further, feel solidarity towards other squatters and
work to build a squatters’ movement.

Squatting is also an intervention in urban development and renew-
al, i.e. urban and housing politics and spatial adjustment, which is re-
interpreted and shifted. Squatting often involves attempts to practice
non-hierarchical and participatory organizational models. Squatted
social centers offer an alternative mode of activities such as critical and
radical political meetings and countercultural events outside of, and in
antagonism with, commercial circuits. Social center activists and squat-
ters are thus often engaged in broader protest campaigns and social
movements, fighting against precariousness, urban speculation, racism,
neo-fascism, state repression, militarization, war, locally unwanted land
use, privatization of education/university reforms. By drawing atten-
tion to the existence of vacant buildings, sometimes on prestigious
locations in metropolitan areas, squatters question neo-liberal ideol-
ogy. An example is a demonstrative Parisian squat that existed just in
front of the Presidential Palace. Squatting helps to show the vacuity
of current political debate. Politicians call for social cohesion and self-
responsibility. However, when people actually take these values seri-
ously by engaging in squatting, they are often treated as criminals who
undermine social integration.

Squatting may not be seen to be a very powerful movement.
However, looking at its history and reflecting on the links with other
movements and its international dimensions makes one realize that it is
by far not as marginal as it may seem at first glance.

In the following chapters, researchers associated with the Squatting
Europe Kollektive (SqEK) present an analytical and explanatory tour of
the European squatting experience.

In chapter 2, Hans Pruijt addresses the diversity in squatting by de-
veloping a typology. Five basic configurations, various combinations
of features that fit together well and are effective, are discussed. In the
case of squatting, configurations differ with respect to the characteris-
tics of the people involved, type of buildings, framing, demands made
by activists, mobilization and organizational patterns. Each configura-
tion also entails specific problems. Deprivation based squatting involves
poor people who are distressed because of severe housing deprivation.
Typically, middle class activists open up squats for poor people to move
into. This set-up deflects accusations of queue-jumping, making this
configuration appropriate when squatting has little legitimacy. In squat-
ting as an alternative housing strategy people organize squatting to meet
their own housing needs. Entrepreneurial squatting offers opportunities
for setting up nearly any kind of establishment, without the need for
large resources nor the risk of getting bogged down in bureaucracy.
Prime examples are the occupied social centers that are prominent in
Italy and Spain. Conservational squatting involves squatting as a tactic
used in the preservation of a cityscape or landscape against efficiency-
driven planned transformation. All these four configuration have po-
litical aspects, but they are also squatting projects that are driven by ul-
terior political motives, particularly engaging in anti-systemic politics.
This fifth configuration is called political squatting.

The next three chapters are about entrepreneurial and politi-
cal squatting, especially in the shape of establishing social centers. In
chapter 3, Pierpaolo Mudu traces the development of squatted Self-
Managed Social Centers (CSAs) in Italy. Overall, 250 Social Centers
have been active in Italy over the past 15 years, especially in urban
areas. Currently about 100 are open as venues for social, political and
cultural events. He argues the main impetus was the disappearance in
the 1970s of traditional public spaces and meeting places such as open
squares, workplaces, party offices or the premises of groups involved in
the antagonistic, i.e. anti-capitalist and anti-fascist, movement. Social
centers have been opened by a variety of grassroots left-wing organiza-
tions and collectives, some have an autonomist and others an anarchist
political flavor. They are commonly organized through forms of direct
democracy and in non-hierarchical structures. The task first on a Social
Center’s agenda is daunting: it must renovate and refurbish privately
or publicly owned empty properties and turn them into usable public
spaces open to the general public. For this task it relies exclusively on
collective action, i.e. cooperative working modes which do not come
under the provisions governing regular employment contracts. There is
considerable variation in size, attitudes towards legalization, acceptance
of commercial sponsorship for performances, and orientation towards
the neighborhood.

In chapter 4, Gianni Piazza examines the decision-making processes
in squatted social centers. He approaches this issue by comparing two so-
cial centers located in the Sicilian city of Catania. These centers were very
different in terms of campaigns and activities, political ideological orien-
tations, relation to national networks, legal position and attitude towards
institutions. The methods used were participant observation, analysis
of self-produced documents and semi-structured interviews. The social
center Experia had a coherent radical Marxist political identity, careful-
ly shielded by refraining from building ties with the local government.
Decision-making was strictly consensual, which in case of disagreements
led to delays. The social center Auro had a much more variegated identity,
it united groups with cultural interests and radical political groups, and
it was legalized after striking a deal with the city government. Central
decision-making was largely confined to the building and matters of in-
frastructure, while the various groups made decisions about their own ac-
tivities. Decision-making was consensual, unless there was a stalemate as
a result of disagreement. In such cases, a switch to majoritarian decision
making occurred. This guaranteed speed, which was fitting for a social
center that opened itself up to the community.
Squatters’ movements often have links with other social movements.

In chapter 5, Miguel A. Martínez López examines the relationships
between the Spanish squatters’ movement, especially as manifested in
social centers and the alter-globalization movement. He points to vari-
ous area of overlap:

• squatters staged protests against international commercialized
megaprojects such as the Olympic games,
• counter-information on global issues, information about pro-
tests in Europe and Latin-America and about the Zapatista
movement in Chiapas (Mexico) widely circulated in social cen-
• the Zapatista ideology of not seizing power but encouraging
self-organization in civil society extended into the social centers,
• social centers as organizations became increasingly involved in
alter-globalization movement actions.

In addition to the overlap, there were also various similarities be-
tween the two movement scenes such as the use of artistic and hu-
morous tactics mixed with street confrontations with police, the com-
bination of party and protest, a Do-It-Yourself ethic, a high level of
countercultural coherence between means and ends, a fondness of the
idea of creating temporary autonomous zones, an ideology of “the per-
sonal is political” and “think globally, act locally”, plus a willingness to
take personal risks. In terms of organization, both were characterized
by an open and horizontal model of organization with assemblies as the
platform for decision-making and a rejection of official spokespeople,
formal organization and institutionalization; both scenes consisted of
roughly half of their membership of university graduates.

Chapter 6, by Claudio Cattaneo, addresses a different configuration
of squatting: squatting as an alternative housing strategy, i.e. people
who squat a place for themselves to live in. Squatting as an alternative
housing strategy can facilitate a variety of lifestyles that cannot be easily
accommodated by the regular housing market. A prominent example
is communal living. In this chapter, the focus is even more specific,
because it is on communal living with very little money, with the objec-
tive of having a low environmental impact and in rural or rural-urban
areas. The strength of the case under analysis, Can Masdeu in Barcelona,
resides also in the combination of housing, numerous public activities
and the involvement of the surrounding neighbours in the squat.

Chapter 7, by Andrej Holm and Armin Kuhn, highlights yet anoth-
er configuration: conservational squatting. In an analysis of the history
of the Berlin squatters’ movements, their political context and their
effects on urban policies since the 1970s, they show how massive mo-
bilizations at the beginning of the 1980s and in the early 1990s devel-
oped in a context of transition in regimes of urban renewal. The crisis
of Fordist city planning at the end of the 1970s provoked a movement
of ‘rehab squatting’ (Instandbesetzung), which contributed to the insti-
tutionalization of ‘cautious urban renewal’ (behutsame Stadterneuerung)
in an important way. In contrast to this first squatting wave in Berlin,
they contend the large-scale squatting during in the 1990s – mainly in
the Eastern parts of the city – as political squatting.

The various squatters’ movements covered in this book did not de-
velop in isolation. There was international diffusion, which is the topic
of chapter 8, by Lynn Owens. This chapter reveals as the key mecha-
nism of diffusion the frequent visits by squatters to fellow activists in
emergent movements in other countries, with the explicit objective to
spread knowledge and experience. For example, the squatters’ move-
ment of Berlin (covered in chapter 7) and of Madrid (described in
chapter 5) had visits by Dutch squatters that were significant events in
their history. Between established movements, exchange of knowledges
and experiences continued through international meetings.
Deprivation based squatting, the final configurations of squatting,
i.e. middle class activists opening squats to help poor people, is at the
heart of chapters 9 and 10. In France, this is the prevalent configuration
of squatting.

In chapter 9, Thomas Aguilera maps out the squatters’
movement in Paris, clearly showing the different strategies adopted by
city officials when facing the perseverance of squatting actions, in spite
of the lack of a very unified movement.

Squatting is often shrouded in masculine ideological rhetoric
about struggle, claiming the “right to the city”, creating “temporary
autonomous zones” and so forth. Nevertheless, squatters are in prin-
ciple quite vulnerable because of the strong legal protection of private
property and the virtually unlimited repressive powers of the state.
Plus, the squatters who actually live in their squats, as opposed to
squatters who are involved in a social centers, are sitting ducks for the
forces of repression. Mostly, their fate can be determined by decisions
that authorities take about them. Within bounds defined by the legal
framework and the political alignments there is variation in such deci-
sions. Therefore, in chapter 10, Florence Bouillon presents an analysis
of the processes of categorizations of squats that applied by govern-
ment officials in France.

In the last decades, Spain and the Netherlands have seen changes
in their relevant legal framework resulting in an increasing criminal
persecution of squatting. In England, this process is also under way.

In chapter 11, E.T.C. Dee examines the role of media discourse in the
move towards criminalization of squatting in England. In spite of be-
ing a long-term and well-established practice in this country, due to
a relatively favourable legislation, recent mass media discourses have
contributed to display a rather negative image of squatters. Stereotypes
of squatters, thus, tend to hide the relevant variations of the squatting
practices as well as pave the way for a more repressive treatment by the

[EN] Margit Mayer Preface to ‘Squatting in Europe’

Preface to Squatting in Europe: Radical Spaces, Urban Struggles

Margit Mayer

Thanks to the Occupy movement, the call to squat is once
again raised more widely and acted upon with increasing frequency.
The movements of the Arab Spring and the 15M movement in Spain,
which catalyzed similar “real democracy” movements of ‘Indignados’
in Italy, France, the Netherlands, Germany and Greece, as well as the
Occupy movement in the US all started out with taking over – not
buildings but – public and private squares and plazas. Most of these
movements used the (re)appropriated spaces to set up tents, kitchens,
libraries, and media centers to collectively organize their assemblies
and working groups, their rallies and marches, as well as their everyday
lives in a horizontal, self-managed, and direct-democratic style. In the
process, they have transformed public spaces into commons – com-
mon spaces opened up by the occupiers who inhabit them and share
them according to their own rules. As with squatters of social centers or
large buildings, the occupied squares represent(ed) not only a collective
form of residence on the basis of shared resources, but also a politi-
cal action: in this case laying siege to centers of financial and political
power. Importantly, they have also served to explore direct-democratic
decision-making, to prefigure post-capitalist ways of life, and to de-
vise innovative forms of political action. As with squatting, the prac-
tice of occupying has enacted a democratic (re)appropriation of public
squares epitomized by their inhabitation. As with squatting, the power
of bodies that continue to be present – that don’t go home at the end
of the demonstration and that speak for themselves rather than being
represented by others – exerts a forceful message as it gives ongoing pres-
ence to political protest.

In today’s situation of the worldwide spread and the open future of
the Occupy movement, it is helpful to take some lessons from squatters’
movements as they have influenced the trajectory of many contemporary
movements and struggles. Squatting is a unique form of protest activity
that holds a potential of unfurling energies; it focuses action in a way that
is prefigurative of another mode of organizing society and challenging a
paramount institution of capitalist society: private property.

The special features of squatting

Squatting – simply defined as living in or using a dwelling without the
consent of the owner – occurs in many different circumstances, and as
such, even if it occurs with the intention of long-term use, is not neces-
sarily transformative of social relations. Most forms of stealth squatting
or other forms of deprivation-based squatting, whether carried out by
homeless people themselves or by advocate activists opening up build-
ings for destitute would-be squatters, are not part of transformative
progressive social movements.

Thus, squatting as a tactic can be used by individuals to improve
their housing situation outside of any social movement, or it can be
used, as a technique or action repertoire, by a variety of different social
movements (including right-wing movements). Of the many different
types of squatting, the one highlighted in this book is part of wider
progressive or radical social movements. This squatting movement as-
sertively operates in the open (rather than stealthily), engages in net-
working and coalition building with tenant organization and urban or
environmental and/or other social justice movements; it makes explicit
demands on the state, calling (most often) for affordable, decent hous-
ing and social centers, but also for (more or less) radical solutions to the
underlying causes of the lack of adequate housing and social infrastruc-
tures. Crucially, it uses the occupied space not only for collective living
arrangements, but also for collective self-organization and empower-
ment, in the case of the self-managed social centers for political and
counter-cultural activities.

Thus, for these movements squatting is a two-fold experience: it in-
volves, first, the actual act of civil and social disobedience, which then
allows other counter-cultural and militant practices to take hold, pre-
figurative free spaces to be built, and thick bonds of solidarity to be
forged. Horizontal and assembly-oriented forms of self-organization
and political participation are as essential to this practice as cooperative
management and direct democracy. But since the movement is also
making use of the illegal act of squatting (also as a way to draw public
attention to massive social and housing problems, the high social cost
of speculation, or the waste of public land and buildings), this chal-
lenge to the primacy of the individual right to private property puts the
movements at risk of repression, even when they enjoy broad legitimacy
and popular support. Repressive or containment strategies of the state
often force the movements to ‘choose’ either eviction or some form of
legalization. But under specific circumstances, some squatting move-
ments have been able to experiment with double track strategies and
been able to go back and forth between (or even apply simultaneously)
direct action and negotiation, most often in some kind of division of
labor between radical core groups and more moderate supporters, and
thereby managed to extend their squats and with them the infrastruc-
tures for their collective living, working, and political organizing.
Even where squats have been evicted with more or less police force,
their actions have often led to saving old buildings from being demol-
ished; in many European cities squatters movements have enhanced
political participation of tenants and residents, and led to new forms
of institutionalized participation and “careful urban renewal” instead of
“urban removal.”

Observers have also begun to identify certain patterns and waves of
squatting that correlate with movement cycles and different phases of
urban development and urban politics, shifting from fordism to neo-

What’s new about squatting in neoliberalism?

The neoliberalization of capitalism has reintroduced “accumulation
by dispossession” as a way to solve the problems of flagging capital ac-
cumulation (cf. Harvey 2005). As with original accumulation, it in-
volves the conversion of common, collective, and state forms of prop-
erty rights into exclusive private property rights and the suppression of
rights to the commons. Neoliberal forms of dispossession complement
the (intensification of) the older, time-tested forms by also chipping
away at common property rights that have been won in the course of
the Fordist class struggle (such as access to education, health care, wel-
fare, and state pensions) and reverting them to the private sector.
However, neoliberalization dissolves forms of social solidarity not
only in favor of private property, economization, and marketization,
but also in favor of unbridled individualism, personal responsibility,
and entrepreneurial activation. These latter dimensions resonate in
some ways with movement values of self-determination and empower-
ment, and with its critique of the bureaucratic and paternalistic Fordist
welfare state. In both neoliberal as well as new social movements’ vi-
sions instead of the state, individuals, communities, and voluntarism
should be playing stronger roles so as to create more vibrant societies.
Both view ‘too much state intervention’ as hindering not only personal
development and self-realization, but also societal self-regulation –
which the neoliberals, of course, prefer to see happening via the market
and economic rationality, whereas progressive movements would like to
see happening through alternative networks.

In the course of the neoliberalization of urban governance, a series
of political demands as well as organizational forms of the new social
movements have become incorporated into the neoliberal project. With
new public management and the shift from public to private and semi-
public institutions via outcontracting, not only established third-sector
but also oppositional organizations were integrated into this regime;
and with the shift from centralized to local and more differentiated
modes of decision-making, more consensus-oriented and participatory
modes found their way into local governance.

What’s more, with intensifying interurban competition, cities have
discovered cultural revitalization and creativity-led economic and ur-
ban development policies as a useful strategy to enhance their brand
and improve their global image. Becoming a ‘creative city’ is increas-
ingly seen as necessary to attract tourists, global investors, and affluent
middle and upper classes. Politicians have thus become keen to instru-
mentalize dynamic local subcultures and harness them as a competitive
advantage in the interurban rivalry. In this context, the cultural milieus
of artists and other ‘creatives’, subcultural scenes including squats and
self-managed social centers, have taken on a new function as they mark
urban space as attractive. They charge them with cultural capital, which
in the scheme of ‘creative city’ policy then becomes transformed by
investors into economic capital.

Clever urban politicians harness the cultural production that goes
on in squatted centers as branding assets that contribute to the image of
‘cool cities,’ ‘happening places’ or sub-cultural magnets. Many German
cities offer contracts for interim use of urban space (see for Berlin’s
example Colomb 2012), while Dutch cities have created a so-called
‘Breeding Grounds’ policy in order to “maintain and recreate the cul-
tural functions previously performed by large squats” (Owens 2008,

Not just in Holland, but also in the UK, an industry of anti-squat
agencies has sprung up, where interim use of vacant private property is
managed on the owners’ behalf on the basis of “guardian angel” con-
tracts that require payment of utilities but not rent, and that strictly
control the rights of the temporary tenants: they are in a very weak legal
position, the agencies barely respect their privacy, often neither visitors
nor pets are allowed; the tenants may be prohibited from contacting
the press, and they can be evicted with 14 days’ notice. About ten times
more vacant spaces in Holland are occupied by such “anti-squatters”
than by actual squatters thanks to this clever commercial strategy, and
in spite of the infringements of the residents’ rights, most appear to ap-
preciate living in high-value central city real estate (cf. Priemus 2011;
Buchholz 2011).

Neoliberal urban policies thus on the one hand manage to hijack
and incorporate alternative and subcultural activism including the cre-
ativity of squatters (who, in the process, may find it difficult to main-
tain their political autonomy), while on the other they entail intensify-
ing repressive strategies, stricter laws, tougher policing, and hence more
evictions and fiercer criminalization of squatting. Often local authori-
ties implement both strategies simultaneously, which tends to sharpen
the differences among and create collisions between cultural and politi-
cal squatters. As a result, radical political action and alternative cultural
production that before had been part and parcel of the same move-
ment increasingly become differentiated and sometimes even opposed
to each other. Such processes can be observed in all European cities,
and have accelerated in the wake of the economic crisis, which has
provided a rationale for dismantling alternative infrastructures and for
cutting back on funding for self-organized projects of all kinds – at the
same time as neoliberal urban regeneration and hyper-gentrification of
central city land accelerates displacement pressures and threatens leftist
“free zones” and alternative infrastructures, seeking to displace them
with trendy bars, chic new designer stores, and expensive condos.
This hostile environment has been making radical oppositional poli-
tics far more challenging than in the past.

Even while critical of neoliberal urban policies and resisting ‘creative
city’ programs, the activities of squatters often end up contributing to
upgrading and valorizing such contested urban areas – the more so
where cultural experimentation has displaced political radicalism. At
the same time, demands for self-management and self-realization have
lost their radical edge, as participation and self-management have be-
come essential ingredients of sub-local regeneration programs as well
as in the public discourse (if with the purpose of encouraging activa-
tion and self-responsibilization rather than political empowerment). In
this situation, struggles for the recognition and legalization of auton-
omous squats are taking on a qualitatively new political significance.
Withdrawing these spaces from neoliberal utilization for profit-making
and disrupting the private property-based logic of capitalist urban-
ization puts the struggle over the proper conception of rights on the
agenda. And claiming the currently secondary rights – such as the right
to economic security, education, or housing, the right to organize,
or rights to freedom of speech and expression – as primary over and
against the right to individual private property and profit, would “entail
a revolution” (Harvey 2006: 57) because the latter is essential to capital
accumulation as the dominant process shaping our lives.

The more people comprehend the logic of this system the more they
see housing being speculated upon while their own access to adequate
shelter becomes precarious. Claiming housing as a right has a great po-
tential to win mass support. Once that argument has entered the collec-
tive imagination (re)appropriating vacant buildings becomes a logical
and defensible next step.

New opportunities opened up through the
crisis and through Occupy

The financial crisis created a situation, where more people are with-
out (adequate) housing, while more than enough buildings owned by
the 1% sit vacant awaiting better yields. The “market” as well as the
political and legal system favor those owners and stigmatize those who
struggle to find shelter. In this situation, occupying is not only the logi-
cal response, but is increasingly resorted to, politicizing previously apo-
litical squats by foreclosed and homeless people.

After their eviction from squares and plazas all over the US, the
Occupy movement has fanned out into neighborhoods to (re)claim
abandoned and foreclosed properties for ordinary people. The Spanish
15M movement, after it was pushed off the Puerta del Sol in Madrid,
joined community groups and came to the defense of homes threatened
by foreclosure, occupied an abandoned hotel and more than 30 build-
ings, and secured, through negotiations with the federal government,
a vacant tobacco factory and turned them into social and community
centers. “Occupy the ‘hood!” became a new rallying cry, spin-off or-
ganizations (such as Organize4Occupation, O4O – with the second
O crossed through with the squatting sign) were formed, direct action
events at bailed-out banks and the physical presence of Occupiers at
threatened buildings have prevented evictions, and re-taken and refur-
bished homes, while other actions have disrupted auction sales of fore-
closed houses.

With these actions, new connections are forged between the Occupy
movement and community-based groups that have been resisting evic-
tions and displacement for a long time, lending more visibility to those
struggles. As these campaigns become more coordinated, they scale up
local struggles, turning them into regional movements that protest the
same banks at the same time or go to each others’ rallies; and partici-
pants increasingly see themselves as part of national and international

SQEK and this book

Mainstream research has paid scarce attention to the unfolding of
squatting movements, their dynamics, their differences, their transfor-
mations, let alone their new challenges. With careful observation and
analyses of squatting movements and the development of self-managed
social centers in a variety of European cities this book provides a huge
treasure trove of insight into the differentiated experiences, path-
specific developments, internal operations, unique achievements and
challenges of the politics of occupying – from the period of Fordist
growth via deindustrialization and urban restructuring all the way to
the current neoliberal era and austerity politics. With an emphasis on
comparative research and the involving of activists in the research, the
Squatting Europe Kollektiv has chosen the most productive methodol-
ogy to push our understanding of this extremely important yet under-
researched movement.

Several chapters in this book do a great job identifying the radical
and transformative potential of those squatting movements that chal-
lenge the neoliberal market logic and are political while at the same
time providing movement infrastructures. Especially the large squats
that serve as (self-managed) social centers along with places of resi-
dence (integrating counter-cultural, political and productive activities)
and that strengthen the political activities of the local movements, are
analyzed in order to comprehend how they offer not merely spaces for
performances, happenings, concerts, exhibits, community organizing,
and homes, but also for organizing protest and political events, and
how they manage to be open not just to movements and the alternative
scenes, but also to urban residents beyond those circles, which allows
them to serve as “recruiting” spaces.

Much still needs to be better understood – about the containment
strategies of the authorities, the management strategies of the squats
themselves, the local and global sides of this movement and its relation-
ship to the anti-globalization and Occupy movements. But the chap-
ters brought together in this book by the Squatting Europe Kollektiv
provide an excellent base for gaining a better understanding of these
questions and for building the power of this movement, by researchers
and activists together.


Buchholz, Tino (2011). Creativity and the capitalist city. The struggle for afford-
able space in Amsterdam (film) http://www.creativecapitalistcity.org/
Christie, Les (2011). Occupy protesters take over foreclosed homes,
CNNMoney, December 6 <http://money.cnn.com/2011/12/06/real_es-
Colomb, Claire (forthcoming 2012). “Pushing the urban frontier: temporary
uses of space, city marketing, and the creative city discourse in 2000s
Berlin,” Journal of Urban Affairs.
Gabbat, Adam and Ryan Devereux (2011). “Wall Street protesters to occupy
foreclosed homes,” Guardian, 6 December <http://www.guardian.co.uk/
Harvey, David (2005). A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford UP
Harvey, David (2006). “Neoliberalism and the restoration of class power” in:
D. Harvey, Spaces of global capitalism. Towards a theory of uneven geograph-
ical development. London/New York.
Novy, Johannes, Claire Colomb (2012). “Struggling for the Right to the
(Creative) City in Berlin and Hamburg: New Urban Social Movements,
New ‘Spaces of Hope’?” International Journal of Urban and Regional
Research, March, doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2427.2012.01115.x
Owens, Lynn (2008). “From Tourists to Anti-Tourists to Tourist Attractions:
The Transformation of the Amsterdam Squatters’ Movement,” Social
Movement Studies 7/1, May, 43-59.
Priemus, Hugo (2011). “Squatters and municipal policies to reduce vacan-
cy. Evidence from The Netherlands,” Enhr Conference, Toulouse, July

[ES] Okupa Madrid (1985-2011). Memoria, reflexión, debate y autogestión colectiva del conocimiento

[ES] Okupa Madrid (1985-2011). Memoria, reflexión, debate y autogestión colectiva del conocimiento

Este libro cuenta una historia de más de 25 años muchas veces olvidada, incluso por sus protagonistas. Se utilizan las herramientas metodológicas de la “investigación activista” para construir colectivamente, de forma coral, interrogándonos mutuamente y deliberando, una reflexión sobre el significado de las luchas urbanas articuladas en torno a la práctica de la okupación de viviendas y Centros Sociales en Madrid.

En lugar de proporcionar un relato experto y unidimensional, el análisis de la historia política y social de las okupaciones se despliega, primero, ofreciendo casi en crudo los debates, la conversación y la memoria narrada. El texto se va enriqueciendo con diversas aportaciones para entender mejor los contextos y los detalles relevantes, pero el núcleo principal del libro lo constituyen las transcripciones de las sesiones convocadas por el Seminario (celebrado en Centros Sociales de Madrid entre 2008 y 2010). Se trata de un dispositivo abierto de autoinvestigación social donde no se oculta el proceso de producción del conocimiento en el que se esclarecen los diversos puntos de vista de los/as participantes.

Una historia oral y crítica que, en segundo lugar, provoca al lector/a para que se confronte con ese pasado reciente de una manera activa, pensando en qué le afecta ahora y cómo puede informar sus estrategias presentes, sus aspiraciones y sus actividades políticas y sociales más cotidianas.

Por último, se habla de okupación, como movimiento o como espacios de agregación, pero no se hace de una forma exclusivamente cronológica, sino optando por detenernos en una serie de nudos y cuestiones que muestran la radicalidad de las apuestas de transformación que han surgido de esas experiencias: autonomía, derechos, cooperación, género, contra-información, activismos.

Creemos que lo sucedido desde mayo de 2011 está estrechamente vinculado con este legado de autogestión y de impugnación de la opresión que ejercen las élites sobre el grueso de la sociedad. De hecho, nuevos experimentos de okupación se han multiplicado desde entonces. La creatividad emanada de las okupaciones, en definitiva, habría contribuido a tejer la actual maraña de luchas populares que nos permiten divisar otros horizontes posibles para vivir mejor en común. A ese mismo propósito esperamos que sirva la lectura y apropiación de lo contenido en estas páginas.

Autoría: Seminario de Historia Política y Social de las Okupaciones en Madrid-Metrópolis

Edición general de los textos: Miguel A. Martínez López y Angela García Bernardos
Colaboraciones con la edición: José Daniel (capítulo 1), Javier Gil (capítulo 5), Elísabeth Lorenzi (capítulo 8)

Madrid, 2014.

  • Portada / Referencia edicion / Índice
  • INTRODUCCIÓN. Agregación social y apropiación del conocimiento: memoria de una investigación-activista en el movimiento de okupaciones de Madrid (Miguel A. Martínez). Página 1
  • CAPÍTULO 1. Los precedentes libertarios de la okupación en Madrid durante la década posterior a la Dictadura (1975-1985). Página 17
  • CAPÍTULO 2. El primer ciclo de okupaciones en Madrid (1985-1995). Página 83
  • CAPÍTULO 3. Movimiento okupa y movimiento autónomo: el papel de la Coordinadora de Colectivos Lucha Autónoma. Página 129
  • CAPÍTULO 4. El peso de la ley, sus resquicios y la legitimidad de la okupación. Página 219
  • CAPÍTULO 5. Cuatro ejemplos de okupaciones de viviendas en Madrid: de los Noventa a la actualidad (2009). Página 273
  • CAPÍTULO 6. Experiencias actuales de Centros Sociales Okupados y Autogestionados en Madrid-Metrópolis (2010). Página 327
  • CAPÍTULO 7. Feminismo, relaciones e identidades de género en el movimiento de okupaciones de Madrid. Página 383
  • CAPÍTULO 8. Medios de comunicación en el movimiento de okupaciones. Página 471


[EN] Out now! The Squatters’ Movement in Europe: Commons and Autonomy as Alternatives to Capitalism

[EN] Out now! The Squatters’ Movement in Europe: Commons and Autonomy as Alternatives to Capitalism


The Squatters’ Movement in Europe is the first definitive guide to squatting as an alternative to capitalism. It offers a unique insider’s view on the movement – its ideals, actions and ways of life. At a time of growing crisis in Europe with high unemployment, dwindling social housing and declining living standards, squatting has become an increasingly popular option.

The book is published by Pluto. You can find it on Amazon and at all decent independent bookshops.

ISBN – 9780745333953

The book is written by an activist-scholar collective, whose members have direct experience of squatting: many are still squatters today. There are contributions from the Netherlands, Spain, the USA, France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and the UK.

In an age of austerity and precarity this book shows what has been achieved by this resilient social movement, which holds lessons for policy-makers, activists and academics alike.


Introduction – Claudio Cattaneo and Miguel A. Martínez
Box 0.1 – Some Notes about SqEK’s Activist Research Perspective – Miguel A. Martínez
Box 0.2 – SqEK Processes as an Alternative to Capitalism – Claudio Cattaneo, Baptiste Colin, Elisabeth Lorenzi

1: Squatting as a response to social needs, the housing question and the crisis of capitalism, by Miguel A. Martínez and Claudio Cattaneo
Box 1.1 The Environmental Basis of the Political Economy of Squatting

2: The Fallow Lands of the Possible The Life Cycle of Squats in Geneva and Beyond, by Luca Pattaroni
Box 2.1 Anti-Capitalist Communes Remaining Despite Legalisation: The Case of House Projects in Berlin – Lucrezia Lennert

3: The Right to Decent Housing and A Whole Lot More Besides – Examining the Modern English Squatters Movement at its Beginnings and in the Present Day, by E.T.C. Dee
Box 3.1 Criminalisation One Year On – Needle Collective

4: The Power of the Magic Key. Scalability of squatting in the Netherlands and the US, by Hans Pruijt
Box 4.1 Provo – Alan Smart
Box 4.2 My Personal Experience as a NYC Neighbour – Frank Morales

5: Ogni sfratto sarà una barricata: squatting for housing and social conflict in Rome, by Pierpaolo Mudu
Box 5.1 The French Housing Movement: Squatting as a Mode of Action Among Other Tools – Thomas Aguilera

6: Squats in urban ecosystems: overcoming the social and ecological catastrophes of the capitalist city, by Salvatore Engels di Mauro and Claudio Cattaneo

7: Squatting and Diversity – Gender and Patriarchy: In Berlin, Madrid and Barcelona, by Azozomox
Box 7.1 Some Examples of the Great Variety and Diversity within the Berlin Squatting Environment

8: Unavoidable Dilemmas: Squatters dealing with the Law, by Miguel A. Martínez, Azozomox and Javier Gil
Box 8.1 The Interaction between Spheres of Morality and of Legality – Claudio Cattaneo
Box 8.2 ‘Your Laws are Not Ours’: Squatting in Amsterdam – Deanna Dadusc

Conclusions – Miguel A. Martínez and Claudio Cattaneo

Appendix: The story of SqEK and the production process of this book, by Claudio Cattaneo, Baptiste Colin and Elisabeth Lorenzi

Notes on contributors