[EN] What is a “Good” Squatter? Categorization processes of squats by government officials in France

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

What is a “Good” Squatter?
Categorization processes of squats by government officials in France

* This article is a revised and updated version of an article published in the journal Déviance et Société in
2010 as “Le squatteur, le policier, le juge et le préfet: procédures en actes et classements ad hoc”.

Florence Bouillon

A number of important laws favouring the right to housing
have been adopted in France in the last three decades. A respite from
expulsions during winter (15 November to 1 March), grace periods,
financial support, social accompaniment and re-housing of tenants in
case of expulsion (1998 law against eviction) are some significant mea-
sures characterizing these evolutions. Clearly, the right to housing has
progressed. Though the problem of bad housing is far from resolved
in the absence of an adequately ambitious social housing policy, these
laws testify to a consensus of society and politics on the importance that
must be given to the problematics of exclusion from “decent” housing
in France today.

Yet, it is remarkable that all these measures contain restrictive clauses
concerning squatters. If they confer rights on holders of lease agree-
ments, it is left to judges to decide when the occupants have “actually”
occupied the space. Evidently, the legislator concerned with respect-
ing private property did not wish to grant the occupant “without right
or title” the same security as a tenant. How does the magistrate then
decide whether or not to apply the laws for advantages in housing to
illegal occupants of empty houses?

A first glance at the decisions of French courts relating to squat-
ters shows that squats are evicted mechanically. Indeed, in 96.4% cases
(CERCRID [Centre de Recherches Critiques Sur Le Droit], 2003) judges
accept demands for the expulsion of squatters and travellers installed
on lands without amenities. This reading of the litigation of squats is
found to be partly contradicted by ethnographic investigations made
in Marseilles squats between 1998 and 2005. This inquiry consisted
of a long-term direct observation conducted within fifteen squat areas.
During these stays, several narratives of expulsion were assembled and
police interventions in the squats were directly observed. Furthermore,
18 interviews on eviction procedures were conducted with squatters, a
lawyer, a judge in chambers and several policemen. Finally, I had access
to some thirty judicial files relating to squats. I also assisted in the hear-
ings in seven cases.

All this evidence allowed me to complete and nuance the statistical
data (on the quasi-styematic expulsion of squatters) and update the
diverse modalities of intervention in squats. In fact, even before an evic-
tion procedure came to my notice, a significant part of the squats were
subject to expulsion by the police. Statistics cannot take them all into
account and moreover, they say nothing of the respite the judge can
award occupants. Finally the decision of expulsion does not imply that
it is always effective, the prefect must order of the police force to carry
out the eviction, which is not always the case.

It is clear from these few observations that where the technical and
mechanical application of the “spirit of the law” is presumed, we are
in fact confronted with a “game”. The question that then comes up is
twofold: what are the precise outlines of this margin of maneuver and
how do government officials use it?
In order to answer these questions, I posit that law is a social activ-
ity (Weber, 1986) and as such, it constructs itself (Latour, 2002). In
other words, it produces and transforms itself at each moment of its
elaboration and application. From this perspective, law is a shifting, un-
stable subject that leads to a systematic work of interpretation by those
who are in charge of writing as well as applying it. I will therefore see
with a sociologist’s gaze, with the intention of being empirical (ethno-
graphic) and focused on the practices of the production of normativity
(Dupret, Ferrié, 2004, 355), to advance the following hypothesis: the
squat is a place of normative tension, which in order to be resolved
requires a work of categorisation by different institutional actors in-
volved. The procedures of classification and categories of judgment mo-
bilized is henceforth the object of investigation.

The squat in the law’s eyes

Before considering government officials’ practices on squats,
the legal framework of their action must be specified. Two important
qualifications are laid down by the French legislature. The first strictly
separates people who enjoy rental lease even if it is no longer binding,
from those who never signed one. It must be mentioned straightaway
that only the holders of a lease explicitly enjoy the measures favour-
ing housing rights and especially those protecting occupants from ex-
pulsion. Others form the big category of “occupants without rights or
titles”, and the application of these measures depends on how govern-
ment officials judge the situation.

This first distinction having been established, a second one must
be made within ‘occupation without rights or title” between contrac-
tual situations (official housing, use on loan, precarious conventions
of occupation…) and non-contractual (squatters, occupants of uncon-
structed land, strikers and demonstrators who occupy a premises or a
public space). The existence of a contract, even if properly speaking
it is not a lease, gives rights, particularly the right to stay on in the
places. Squatters are, along with Roma [gypsies], amongst the least pro-
tected of all inhabitants. Be as it may, a squat does not constitute an
offence in France. As civil litigation, it falls under the jurisdiction of
the magistrate’s court. Apart from smash and grab or break-in, which
are difficult to establish, squatters therefore risk “only” eviction. So that
this eviction can take place, a juridical procedure is necessary a priori:
according to article 61 of the 9 July 1991 law, except in a special ar-
rangement, expulsion or eviction from a building cannot be pursued
except by a court decision or minutes of conciliation and after orders
to quit the premises. Yet, sometimes, for several reasons, squatters leave
before any procedure is undertaken: they ignore its existence, they do
not wish to have dealings with the law, they don’t intend to remain in
this building, they suffer from forms of intimidation from the landlord,
neighbours or police…indeed, as the cases described here will show, the
squat is the object of immediate eviction by police officers. Three actors
thus play a crucial role in the expulsion of squatters: the police officer
(by evicting forcibly or not), the judge (by allocating a grace period or
not) and the prefect (by lending the support of the police or not). On
what grounds do these government officials decide the destiny of habi-
tants and determine the different treatments observed?

Tensions of police judgements

According to former squatters who were questioned, evictions from
squats by “strongmen” commissioned by landlords are less frequent in
France today than some twenty years ago. With the institution of laws
favouring the right to housing, tolerance of such evictions has dimin-
ished. A visit of Internet sites on defence of landlords rights also indi-
cates that they are at present informed of the risks they run in case of
“violent” evictions. If today armed expulsions by landlords or even in
certain cases by exasperated neighbours, have not entirely disappeared,
expulsions taking place without procedure and by force are above all
carried out by police officers.

In which case can the police then evacuate a squat without waiting
for the judge’s decision? In other words, what does the “special arrange-
ment” mentioned in the 9 July 1991 law empirically cover? The most
frequent response to this question, from police officers as well as squat-
ters, refers to the “48 hour rule” of occupation. Over and above this
period, the procedure is not compulsory and the prosecutor or police
officer can decide to terminate the occupation. This rule, which is not
registered as such in the texts, corresponds to the somewhat vague no-
tion of being caught red-handed (flagrant délit). According to article
53 of the penal procedure code, ‘flagrant délit’ is defined as a misde-
meanour actually being committed or having just been committed. It
is therefore first of all correlated to a notion of time. But this time is
more flexible than the 48-hour rule would imply. Police officers must
in fact carry out an interpretive work that consists of defining the oc-
cupation. Are the inhabitants already living in the squatted place and
does the place or its occupants present some kind of danger? When
they are notified of the opening of a squat (the information comes in
most cases from the neighbours), police officers estimate the situation
both from a visual and discursive point of view: whilst police officers
try to penetrate inside a squat, something that is difficult to do if the in-
habitants are reluctant, they simultaneously proceed to investigate the
neighbourhood in order to identify the duration of the life of a squat
and characterize its occupants. The assessment of a squat is oriented by
the search for “traces” of habitation, which determine the possibility
and relevance of an immediate intervention.

More precisely, in addition to the elapsed occupation time, the evic-
tion depends upon a general interpretation of the situation. My obser-
vations considered four aspects: the presence of a violation (offence by
entering the place, illegal electric connection…), the social difficulties
apparently encountered by the occupants, the pressure exercised by the
neighbourhood and/or the landlord for expulsion and the supposedly
criminal character of activities conducted in the squat (consumption
of drugs, etc.). Finally, the nature of the occupation must be decided
in order to determine the correct attitude: if the question is of a settled
home and if the occupants have not been guilty of any other offence,
then the squat is transformed into a “residence” and the police forces
should not intervene. On the other hand, if the squat is not yet lived in,
or if it constitutes an acknowledged danger, then police intervention
must be instantaneous.

But the field inquiry revealed other possibilities within the scope of
police intervention, which more or less respect this legal framework.
Indeed, in the eyes of some police units, and in some cases, forcible
evictions take place on the borders of the law. As one of the policemen
interviewed explained, if the “families” benefit from the advantages of
eviction within a legal framework, people seen as “marginals” are likely
to be evicted at all costs: “more or less legal subterfuges to intervene”
are then found. In Marseilles, the field inquiry showed that squats oc-
cupied by “young strays”, mainly isolated adolescents without papers
from Maghreb, are evicted in this manner. Suspected of delinquency
and generating a strong feeling of insecurity amongst neighbours, these
adolescents do not have any means of opposing the police (no knowl-
edge of French or of legislation and lacking external support, etc.). The
squats they occupy have the shortest life expectancy, at best from a few
days to some weeks. Squats occupied by the Roma, currently victims
of ostracism in France, are sometimes also evicted without any legal

If police activity is, here as elsewhere, framed by the law, law enforce-
ment consequently falls on the borderline of legality. Police inquiry in
the squats aims at distinguishing a “residence” squat from a “public
order problem” squat. Thus, the squat is certainly typical of the police
mission’s dual nature as identified by Dominique Monjardet (1996). It
consists of both “applying the law” and “using force”. It remains to be
known how the judgment of police officers is constructed and the na-
ture of the evidence arousing their suspicion or their compassion. The
protective power of the “family” was mentioned, but it can be offset
by the great disqualification of groups like Romas. Besides, my inquiry
shows the strong indexing of police controls according to the physical
appearance of people (sex, age, clothing style, skin colour), which influ-
ence police controls in France (Jobard, Lévy, 2009). Thus, more than
facts, a set of “representations” related to the more or less assumed huge
deviancy of squat inhabitants operate as discriminatory factors in police
activity amongst occupants who have neither rights nor titles.

Judges face to face with squatters:
to be (or not to be) of “good faith”

Because some inhabitants of squats are spotted too early and/or be-
cause they are not perceived as legitimate inhabitants, they do not ben-
efit from the legal procedure before eviction. For various reasons, many
will leave on their own account without waiting for this procedure.
This could be due to ignorance (of legal protection offered by the pro-
cedure), intimidation (exercised by the landlord, neighbours, police)
or mobility (departure for another city, asylum in another accommo-
dation…). Only a section of the inhabitants of squats who cannot be
quantified precisely will therefore appear before a judge and the prefect.
Most often, in more than 75% of squat cases (CERCRID, 2003)
squatters are judged by a court hearing, “accelerated procedure” or
“emergency”. It has been noted that the judge nearly always pronounces
eviction from a squat: consequently, granting or refusing a respite is the
principal stake in a court hearing.

The construction and housing code authorizes the judge to grant
respites extending from 3 months to 3 years, whatever the status of
the occupant. Amongst the decisions examined by CERCRID, such a
respite is granted to squatters only in 6,5% of the cases (CERCRID,
2003: 80). Therefore, it goes without saying that most often, when
confronted with a squat situation, the judge evicts without any other
kind of consideration. From the judges’ perspective, who are the (rare)
“legitimate” squatters?

My field inquiry and more specifically the motivations behind judg-
es’ decisions as revealed by the files examined, show that judges grant
respites to squatters on grounds that suit the two involved parties. As
far as the landlord is concerned, three elements are decisive: first, the
status and position of the landlord of the occupied building, because
the loss suffered by a physical body (small private landlord) is estimated
to be more important than the loss experienced in the same situation by
a legal entity (such as a society or public person such as a collectivity).
On the other hand, the length of time during which the building was
vacant before being occupied is evoked, because it reflects a more or
less advanced state of abandonment. Finally, as an extension of this sec-
ond element, the judge is attentive to the landlord’s real interest in his
property: the latter should be proved with material evidence (minutes
of public meetings, estimates of building firms, etc), that the building
is the object of current or future projects.

Thus, lively debates sometimes take place between the landlord of a
premises and its occupants, the former trying to demonstrate that the
building will be soon restored, accommodate tenants or sold, whereas
the latter will on the contrary attempt to prove that the projects ad-
vanced are fictional or circumstantial. Without generalizing all situ-
ations of squatting, it could be said that in Marseilles, from 1999 to
2005, out of twenty odd evictions from premises, about half underwent
repairs and were occupied. The rest remained in the same state, that is
to say empty and run down.

When the judge thinks in terms of content his decision cuts across
these considerations and those of squatters. The question is to find a
“right balance” between the landlord’s constitutional and inalienable
law to his property and the social and sanitary situation of squatters.
As far as the latter are concerned, the defence lawyer’s primary aim is
to convince the judge that squatters are in real material difficulty. He
must prove that even if they have no rights or titles, they are driven to
occupying the premises. They are not usurpers but “truly poor”. The
occupants’ modest incomes are then displayed along with the lack of
regular work and “the state of necessity” in which they find themselves.
It is also recommended that occupants be shown to have taken other
steps to find accommodation. The judge will be all the more indulgent
if the occupants have exhausted all legal solutions and in particular, pre-
sented files to HLM offices whose certificates and file numbers will be
produced. Above all, these arguments aim to testify the squatters’ good
faith, that is to say, their real desire to acquire legality.

Having proved that they are “genuine” poor, squatters and their law-
yers have to demonstrate that they are also “good” poor. Groups, par-
ticularly youngsters are very quickly designated as “bands” and arouse
strong suspicion. On the other hand, the squat is commonly considered
an anarchic, anomic place where immorality reigns. Consequently, the
squatters’ lawyer must show his clients’ inoffensive nature. He insists
on their moral feelings and their aspirations to normalcy. He specifies
that they are not “drug addicts”, they “don’t steal” and their marginali-
sation does not necessarily coincide with delinquency. He affirms the
occupants’ insertion in their neighbourhood and if possible, presents
letters and petitions of support signed by neighbours. The fact that a
recognized association supports the squatters particularly their daily life
style inside the squat can be factors of reassurance for the judge.

Thus, the associational framework (the famous DAL association, the
organization advocating for the right to housing that since the begin-
ning of the 1990s organized appropriation of empty buildings for peo-
ple without residence or those who were badly housed) is therefore an
advantage even if it is in no way a guarantee, for some squats supported
by organisations of this kind have suffered immediate evictions. But for
the lawyer, it can tilt the balance of power in favour of squatters more
than in the case of an isolated occupation. However, the presence of an
association in a court hearing of squatters occurs rarely.

In juridical processes, squatters are classified according to three ma-
jor criteria: the “genuine poverty”, “sincerity” and “harmlessness”. The
question is to prove that they suffer from marginality and do not rep-
resent a danger for the collectivity. Squats resulting from poverty in
which occupants justify their practice by the need to survive are most
likely to be effective on grounds of “good faith” so that the stigma of
delinquency can be successfully averted. Alternative squats (artistic, po-
litical collectivities) have more difficulty in appearing as squats from
necessity; but they are also less suspected of deviancy than the former.
A short description will illustrate the preceding statements. It lists
the arguments mobilized by lawyers in court hearings of a squat of art-
ists. Installed in the enclosure of a partially disused municipal building
in the neighbourhood of the Panier in Marseilles, the SLAAF (Sans
Local d’Activités Artistiques Fixes) was opened in 2000 and evicted in

There were fifteen of us, mostly inhabitants or SLAAF
sympathizers, present in the hearing of 7 January 2001. The
squatters’ lawyer opened the debate. He began by pleading the
inadmissibility of the complaint, arguing that the mayor of
Marseilles was incompetent to act in the arenas of culture such
as housing that fall under the district Council’s jurisdiction.
The mayor’s lawyer then spoke. He quickly rejected the formal
arguments and asserted the legal nature of the right of action.
He then came down to the facts by developing five successive
points. First, he recalled the illicit nature of the occupation
and contested that the occupants penetrated into the build-
ing without breaking-in. He then insisted on the antiquated
and dangerous aspect of the premises. Indeed, the premises
were unfit for habitation. He evoked the illegal electrical con-
nections set up by the squatters, which constitute a source of
danger. His defence dealt essentially with the illegitimacy of
the dwelling. He first questioned their need: One of them was
even the son of the judge, Your Honour! The lawyer then dis-
tinguished these illegal artists from those who rented work-
shops and lodgings on the floor of the same building by pay-
ing a rent as was required to the municipality. Or, it was not
enough to carry a portfolio of designs under the arm to be an
artist. Not only were the so-called squatters hardly artists, but
above all, they were a source of danger: the lawyer quoted a
letter sent to the mayor by these legal artists saying the place
was now open to all and they lived in fear of robberies. The oc-
cupation was therefore not as peaceful as they claimed! Besides,
the legal artists had a real project for the building (space for ex-
hibition, pedagogical space and cultural restaurant) supported
by the city council. Like his adversary, the city council’s lawyer
claimed he did not wish to argue about who were true artists.

But his entire plea attempted to redefine the fake bourgeois/
young authentic artist couple, which he knew to be at the heart
of the defence, as true serious and constructive artists/rebel-
lious and immature youngsters. The squatters’ lawyer then
took the floor and pleaded on fundamental grounds. He began
by asserting entry into the premises without break-in. Then
he very clearly opposed SLAAF occupants to the “false artists”
mentioned above, whom he tried to discredit: Do you see Van
Gogh writing a letter denouncing poor artists? He castigated
the rich artists, whose main activity consists of hand kissing
and eating starters in social receptions at the town hall. These
were the real artists! He clamoured, pointing to us, seated on
the benches in the courtroom. Armed with the thin file pre-
pared by the squatters, the lawyer then intended to give proof
of the works realized and the additional value added to the
place. He insisted on the cleanliness. The city council would
therefore not be cheated. Quite the contrary. He then talked of
the activities organized by the inhabitants, from the opening of
SLAAF in the neighbourhood and the letters of support from
artisans and neighbouring shopkeepers. This occupation was
peaceful and even appreciated. They were not drug addicts, nor
delinquents! He then mentioned the electricity bills that had
been duly paid. They were not parasites! Above all, the lawyer
wanted to prove the occupants’ good faith. He insisted on the
real needs of housing by providing copies of demands for social
housing. He evoked letters sent to the city council in order
to open a dialogue after the proposal of mediation had been
refused. Finally, the lawyer attacked what he termed the phony
associative project of the resident artists. In no case would this
project materialize before June. He asked for the grant of re-
spite until September.

At the court’s exit, SLAAF occupants were happy. They had appre-
ciated their lawyer’s plea and his frankness. On my part, I note three
schemes of legitimacy identified earlier (genuine need, sincerity, harm-
lessness). However, I will never know if the judge in charge of the file
was sensitive to them. After the hearing and certainly with the medi-
atisation of the affair by the regional press, the mayor withdrew his
complaint and went to the extent of promising the inhabitants the sig-
nature of a convention of precarious occupation. But some weeks later,
he changed positions and summoned them to appear once again before
the court where their eviction would finally be announced.

The perfect ultimate resort:
the question of “troubling public order”

Once the judge decrees eviction, it is up to the prefecture to final-
ly decide if a squat should or shouldn’t be evicted by authorizing the
use of force. Besides, basically, re-accommodation (or more often no
re-accommodation) of squatters also depends on the prefect.
When does the prefect postpone eviction? From my observations,
the government official generally takes such a decision in case of a risk
of serious public disorder. This is adopted when the squatters are sup-
ported and threaten to mediatise their situation and/or when they ap-
pear to suffer from particularly dramatic living conditions. Young chil-
dren clearly inspire more compassion than adults, in particular single
men who are perfect figureheads of the “bad” poor.

Adjournment of eviction normally opens the way to negotiation be-
tween the government official and the landlord, who, since the 1998
law (which, in this sense, is also a protector of property rights), re-
ceives compensation for the sum of unpaid rents. Thus, the inhabit-
ants of some squats benefit from a form of juridical status quo, while
awaiting re-accommodation and/or seizure of the occupied building
by public powers. They settle their occupation dues on a monthly ba-
sis and the state pays the remaining amount. Another question, which
the prefect must decide is whether or not to grant accommodation to
the evicted squatters. As opposed to occupants with titles, there is no
legal compulsion to re-accommodate squatters after an eviction. Re-
accommodation again falls within the discretionary power of the ad-
ministration. Fieldwork revealed that in most cases, no re-accommo-
dation is granted. Persons identified as without fixed domicile (Sans
Domicile Fixe [SDF]), alternative groups (who however do not all ask
for access to ordinary housing), “isolated” immigrant workers, foreign-
ers without papers… are those who practically never benefit from re-
accommodation. The presence of young children and the institution
of a balance of power by mobilisation of inhabitants and their support
(associations, militants, neighbours) could nonetheless positively influ-
ence the decision to re-accommodate.

Moreover, it must be noted that when housing is assigned, most of
the time it is simply temporary accommodation: some nights in a hotel
or a place in a household. It is not rare that inhabitants refuse these
proposals, even if it means putting up encampments in the same street,
so as to draw the attention of the media and public authorities to their
situation. Some only see this as “manipulation” by associations more
anxious to ensure their own publicity than help the evicted. However,
one can easily imagine people tired of being shunted from one tempo-
rary accommodation to another hoping to find some stability at last.
Moreover, as I frequently observed, the reluctance to accept accom-
modations miles away from the neighbourhoods where families have
been living, where children are going to school or parents working and
where links of sociability and solidarity have been constructed, makes
perfect sense and renders suspicions of “manipulation” or allegations of
so-called demands of “special treatment” redundant.

Thus, in most cases, the prefect does not postpone eviction of squat-
ters nor does he apply the step of re-accommodation. When he grants
the assistance of law enforcement agencies, the last stage of eviction
begins. A letter from the prefecture is addressed to the police agree-
ing upon a date with the bailiff. An eviction calls for some organiza-
tion: on the fixed date, the bailiff, the police officers, the locksmith and
the removal men are all present. Most evictions take place early in the
morning. Physical resistance is rare and occurs essentially in political
squats. Once the eviction is carried out, a locksmith is responsible for
immediately shutting the premises. Next, the squat is walled up and
“anti-squat” armoured doors are installed. Sometimes too, the insides
of the place are destroyed (police forces speak of rendering an apart-
ment “lifeless” so as to discourage new squats).

Eviction is not only a traumatizing moment, it further undermines
the inhabitants. Thus, Claire Lévy-Vroelant and Jérôme Segal make the
following observations on the eviction of 150 Romas from a building
in Montreuil in 2003: “this eviction adds to the misery of precarious-
ness. Efforts at integration are shattered. Children were enrolled in pri-
mary or secondary school, in special classes, access to health care was
instituted by constituting medical files, the demand for literacy classes
was going to be heard, etc” (2003, 224). Evictions consequently lead
to heightened impoverishment of populations already victims of ostra-
cism and great social vulnerability. In no sense do they resolve the squat
“question”, because in the absence of an alternative, it is highly prob-
able that the persons concerned will sooner or later occupy a new build-
ing. Eviction thus contributes to producing the very situation it was
supposed to end: occupation without right or title to vacant housing.


As far as a squat is concerned, the “spirit of the law” is finally not so
easy to identify: the legislator as we saw, does not oblige the judge to
protect the inhabitant who has neither right nor title, whilst leaving
him the opportunity to do so. It is in this zone of uncertainty that a
judge, a police officer or a prefect can exercise his power of discretion.
The tension is then between two perceptible poles: ultimately it must
be determined if the squatter is a “voluntary marginal” or a “victim” of
bad housing.

The ethnography of litigation of a squat confirms the importance
of a “delinquential” reading of a squat by government officials. Social,
economic and residential fragility of the large majority of inhabit-
ants is hidden by the stigma of deviance. By offending the “absolute
and sacred” right of private property, squatters don the clothes of the
“wicked”, even seditious poor from whom society must above all be
protected. In this general repressive frame, some differentiations are
nonetheless applied. The figure of the child, because it is linked to in-
nocence and equally part of a legal compulsion to protect it, appears
most effective in changing the stigma. But it does not form an un-
shaken bastion. Besides, it is always open to “reversal” since bad living
conditions in a squat could be a motive to place children with foster
parents. Parents then find themselves obliged to take up the responsi-
bility and emotional cost of a situation they suffer. Other parameters
more often work against the inhabitants: the fact of being young, male
and especially foreign. At the moral level these modalities of classifica-
tion are objects of a juridical translation through channels of categories
like “good faith” and “troubling public order”. These ad hoc grading of
squatters on which the forms of procedural acts will depend, update the
dialectic between “true” and “false” poverty, which has lain behind the
reversibility of a policy of assistance quickly veering to repression when
confronting target populations (Geremek, 1997).
However, it would be wrong to affirm that laws in favour of hous-
ing rights have no effect on government officials’ decisions on squats.
Indeed, several examples testify that some judges and prefects base
themselves on laws favouring housing of “disadvantaged people” to
grant respites to occupants without rights or titles. But on the sub-
ject of the squat, nothing is won. Firstly, because as mentioned in the
introduction, of the persistence of initiatives to criminalize the practice
or limit squatters’ rights. On the other hand, some “favourable judge-
ments” for squatters have not become a precedent, as Joane Benhayoun’s
thesis of law affirms (2005): jurisprudence on the subject has shown
itself to be undeniably protective of property rights during the last
few years, although measures upholding the right to housing have not
ceased to multiply. Therefore, if the question of law remains decisive as
far as future living conditions of squatters are concerned, that of social
“norms” is equally so. Today, it is also around collective representations
of the realities of a squat that struggles must be conducted.


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[EN] Configurations of Squats in Paris and the Ile-de-France Region: diversity of goals and resources

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

Configurations of Squats in Paris and the Ile-de-France Region: diversity of goals and resources

* This chapter comes from a paper presented at the SqEK meeting which
took place in Berlin, 29-31 March 2011, in “New Yorck” Squat and from
a paper presented at the 7th Conference of Social Sciences, CEU, Budapest,
May 2011 (also published in http://blogs.sciences-po.fr/recherche-villes/
files/2011/05/WP_Aguilera_2011-03.pdf). I thank the researchers and ac-
tivists for their remarks and comments.

Thomas Aguilera

The latest national survey on housing (Annual Report of
Fondation Abbé Pierre, 2011) shows that in France more than 3.6 mil-
lion people live in precarious housing conditions. Among them, more
than 600,000 people do not have a roof. Paris is one of the densest
European capitals and space is a rare resource. However, paradoxical-
ly, we estimate that 9% of the housing in Paris is vacant (more than
120,000 vacant houses). Many housing associations and organiza-
tions, and above all squatters, denounce this situation. Likewise, there
is also a huge problem of a lack of cultural spaces in Paris. Some surveys
show that an artist has to wait more than 30 years to get a workshop
and that the city council only assigns 6 workshops per year (Langlois-
Mallet, 2008; Lextrait, 2001). In this context, squatting could be seen
as a solution to these problems. It lets inhabitants acquire a house or
a workshop. In fact, there were more than 2,000 squatters in Paris in
June 2010 (Aguilera, 2010). They live in an illegal place. Sometimes,
social centers propose an alternative way of occupying urban space:
they develop cultural and social activities beyond the traditional and
institutional policies. They can also be an open place where people can
talk about politics. Nevertheless, the squat is also a problem for public
actors and urban planners. On the one hand, in France, private prop-
erty is fundamental and constitutionally protected. It means that the
juridical institutions cannot allow an illegal occupation if an owner
complains. On the other hand, the right to housing is also fundamen-
tal (even if it is lower than the right to property in the hierarchy of
the French Constitution). The squat becomes a public problem built
within the tension between these two rights.

How can we explain the persistence of squatting? During the spring
of 2010, more than 21 squats existed in Paris and we can have all the
reason to believe that they just represent the visible part of a shadowy
phenomenon. Understanding the role of disorder enables us to under-
stand how the national and city governments try to build and preserve
public order. The policy makers have to bargain with squatters because
they are part of multilevel urban governance including the federal gov-
ernment, the police, the municipality, the real estate investors, the pub-
lic housing developers, and the owners. Although the squat is an illegal
settlement, it is recognized by authorities to contribute to the life and
the development of the city. A squat could be generally defined as an
unsanctioned, collective or individual, occupation of a building in or-
der to live or develop activities in it without the consent of the owner.
Different types of squats exist and each scholar working on squats gives
his own typology: Cécile Péchu (Péchu, 2010), Florence Bouillon
(Bouillon, 2009) and Hans Pruijt (Pruijt, 2004) all deploy their own.

In this paper, we address all kind of squats precisely in order to under-
stand the different configurations of settlements. We present in this
chapter the different configurations of squats in Paris and the surround-
ing region, and the relationships between squatters and local officials.
In the first section, we present the data and the methodological ap-
proach (I). In the second section, we present squatting as a challenge to
urban policies: the squat is at the same time a roof, a tool for advocating
the strengthening of the right to housing and a critique against housing
and cultural policies (II). Finally we present the different configurations
of squats in Paris (III).

I. Data and locations of squats in Paris and
the Ile-de-France Region

We chose to take into account all types of squats based on the juridi-
cal definition. We built up a database containing 60 squats since 2001,
the year of the election of the new socialist mayor Bertrand Delanoë,
of which 21 remained open in 2010. In Paris, we classified 17 “artistic”
squats, two “political and activist” squats, two “emergency and precari-
ous” squats. First, we adopted an ethnographic approach (observation,
participant observation and interviews) in order to document the world
of squatting in Paris and to understand the functioning of the collec-
tives and above all the relationships between squatters, humanitarian,
nongovernmental organizations and associations defending the hous-
ing right, officials, lawyers, housing developers, and neighbors. Then,
we conducted interviews with officials, local representatives from the
city council, urban developers, and lawyers. We spent more than 130
hours of directly observing and conducted 39 interviews over 65 hours
with: 15 squatters; one homeless person; three merchants; one neigh-
bor of a squat; the housing department director of the city council of
Paris (twice) ; the culture department director of Paris; one local deputy
mayor ; one local urban planning deputy mayor ; four police command-
ers ; one lawyer ; one local social worker ; one journalist ; the director of
the mission “Squat et Rave” of Médecins du Monde ; the director of the
Fondation Abbé Pierre  ; two association leaders ; one director of security
for a social housing developer ; two directors of the GPIS (Groupement
Parisien Interbailleurs de Surveillance / Security Organization for the
Housing Developers of Paris). We also did a daily review of national
(Le Monde, Libération) and local (Le Parisien) newspapers and websites
(squat.net, Rue 89, Mediapart) in order to update my database.

1.1. The geography of squats in Paris: the poorest part of the

At the very beginning of the research, we strove to update our view of
squatting in Paris. Indeed, during the interviews we realized that no one
was able to present current data: where are the squats? How many
squatters live in Paris? Each actor had a part of the answer because they
Configurations of Squats in Paris and the Ile-de-France Region | 213
had to deal with a particular matter. We thus tried to pool all the infor-
mation needed together in order to give an updated landscape of squats
in Paris. A quantitative work enabled us to confront and confirm some
of our hypothesis. The second objective of this qualitative and quantita-
tive work was to develop a geographical analysis of the squatting phe-
nomena in Paris. We built maps in order to understand the different
logic both of the squatters and the officials in charge of creating and
executing housing and cultural policies.

This map lets us understand some of the logics at work. Most of the
squats are in the north and east of Paris on the right side of the Seine.
The 18th district is the poorest of Paris. The median annual wage per
family is 16,766 Euros while in Paris as a whole it is 23,293 Euros
(INSEE, 2007). The buildings are old and much more damaged com-
pared to the other districts of Paris. Indeed, 72,7% of the houses are
in buildings which were built before 1949 (63% for Paris) (INSEE,
2006). Many important renovation and building programs have been
implemented in the 2000s in order to provide affordable public hous-
ing. Nevertheless, during the renovation programs many buildings stay
vacant and provide good opportunity for squatters. Thus, the social
composition and the housing context in the 18th district have allowed
squatters (precarious families, drug addicts, immigrants but also artists)
to use these spaces to live. This district is also the drug market of Paris
and attracts many drug addicts. The renovation programs implemented
by social developers caused the eviction of squatters and their transfer
in the north of Paris (Porte de la Chapelle). Nevertheless, in March 2010
the eviction of the last squat in the north pushed squatters to return
to the 18th. We find many squats in the 19th district where there are
many vacant spaces and Brownfield sites that squatters have easily oc-
cupied. Many artists live in this district and there is a large and active
cultural life (and the local city councils sometimes support them). The
13th district hosted many squats during the 2000s (les Frigos, l’Atoll 13,
la Glacière, le Barbizon) but the renovation programs and the intense
surveillance built around social housings has successfully prevented
new squatting.

1.2. Squats of public housing at the regional scale

The squats in Paris are mainly what we call “activity” squats which are
predominantly composed of social centers and artists. They represent
up to 80% of the “visible” squats in Paris City. The rest of the occupa-
tions are made up of “emergency and precarious” (10%) and of “politi-
cal” squats (10%). However, in order to broaden the perspective at the
regional scale, we found an official data base from the association in
charge of coordinating all social housing developers (AORIF, 2006).
This database only concerns squats of social housings (owners are pub-
lic housing developers) and we estimate that there are 1800 squats in
the whole region (1,200 squats are in private buildings) if we follow this
two unique surveys on squats in Ile-de-France (Quercy, 2002 and
AORIF, 2006).

At the regional scale, the squats are spread out according to the in-
come distribution and the quality of the buildings. Some observations
and interviews with housing developers allow us to assume that they
have a stronger capacity to protect themselves from squatters in the
richest departments (in the south and west). The department of Seine-
Saint-Denis is deeply impacted because of the co-presence of a precari-
ous population, illegal immigrants who cannot legally afford a house
and a very vulnerable precarious, housing stock.

II. Squats as challenges to urban policies

More than simple occupations, an illegal occupation is a mode of
action to resist to the political order, to contest public authorities
and to assert a right to housing while being a first response to this
claim and a survival strategy. If we follow Cécile Péchu, we are deal-
ing with “sectorial illegalisms” (Péchu, 2010: 10): “an illegal spot for
the immediate realization of the claim. The squat is at the same time
a negotiation tool and a response to the request that it supports”.
This definition enables us to understand that the squatters build their
own place while asserting (more) spaces to live or survive. Three main
features appear here.

The first is that squatters short-circuit and “hack” the urban hous-
ing and cultural policies (Aguilera, 2010). Indeed, they are out of the
legal and traditional frame for resource allocation of spaces provided by
the city council and public and private developers. For example, they
usually do not subscribe for a social housing or a workshop, and this
maybe for numerous reasons: sometimes by choice because they refuse
to wait for institutional allocations but more usually because they don’t
have access to the “official channels”. They do not sign up for social as-
sistance (Warin, 2008, 2009, and 2010). They do not either have the
social resources nor the “administrative and legal knowledge”. Thus,
they find the ways to obtain these resources: “the urban poor often have
to step outside the law in order to gain access to housing” (Azuela et
Duhau, 1998:157). Legality is too expensive, so people self-organize in
order to find the means to survive.

The second remark is that these spaces of illegality are, in general,
spaces of precariousness. Moreover, this financial fragility assures the
transition to a legal fragility: “The very fact that a city is divided into ‘le-
gal’ and ‘illegal’ areas has profound implications for society as a whole,
since a truly public order, in the sense of social norms to which all
members of society must adhere, does not exist. As long as a substantial
part of the population gains access to land by a different set of process
from the rest of society, it is clear that not all individuals are subject to
the same rules, regardless of whether or not those rules can be formally
classified as “law”(Azuela et Dubau, 1998:157).

The third feature is that squats appear at the same time as a critique
of the urban policies, a tool to ask for a roof and a strategy to survive
without public support. The squat as a mode of action (Péchu, 2010)
combines a strong political discourse against housing policies (DAL,
Jeudi Noir) or the political order in general (for example for the anar-
chist squats of Montreuil, East-Paris), with demands for welfare, hous-
ings (from the federal government or the municipalities) and shelter for
homeless people. The most striking example seems to be in 2009 in the
Parisian squat of “Rue Baudelique” (18th district of Paris), which hosted
during one year more than 2000 undocumented immigrants coming
from 25 different nationalities while petitioning for legal regularization
and documents. They illegally inhabited a place to enter into the legal-
ity. Furthermore, we can interpret this mode of action as anti-free rider
(Olson, 1987), in the sense that to get the benefits of the squat (a roof
and relocation to legal housing) people have to be squatters (Péchu,
2010). Thus, we understand that we come back to an old debate con-
cerning squats. Is it used as a tool or as an end? Even if we can show that
illegal occupations combine both dimensions (Merklen, 2009), we try
here to distinguish them in order to understand the differences between
various configurations. We propose a factorial analysis with two axes:
one concerning the means/ends cleavage, the other one representing
the level of resources of the dwellers. We call “resources” the social (net-
works), economic (financial resources) and political (links with offi-
cials, representatives, lawyers, media and police) capital held by the

Hans Puijt examines the phenomena of the institutionalization of
squatting wondering if the “institutionalization of an urban movement
is inevitable”? (Pruijt, 2003). He defines three configurations. The first
one is the terminal institutionalization. It “implies that, in the repertoire
of action, convention replaces disruption. The second is flexible institu-
tionalization, when conventional tactics complement disruptive ones”
(Pruijt, 2003:136). The third is the cooptation whereby one part of the
squatters, usually the less radical or the leaders, is absorbed into leader-
ship of the city. This analysis is linked to the resources and goals. For
Hans Pruijt, the squat as an aim is more vulnerable to repression from
public actors and is less likely to persist while the squat as a means, as
a tactic to get other resources (mainly a house), allows some positive
results. Thus, he distinguishes the squatting movement and the hous-
ing movement. In Paris, we have both kinds and we present in the next
section the different cases.

III. The configurations of squats and the
conditions of mobilization

On the top of the resources axis, we observe one kind of squat particu-
larly used by the “Jeudi Noir” (Black Thursday) collective, who are dedi-
cated to media logic, and the association “DAL” (Droit Au Logement
– Housing Right Association). These two collectives use squatting as a
tool and a mode of action for activists. But the squat is also a goal itself
for artists, anarchist activists and precarious families who are looking
for a roof to survive.

3.1. Jeudi Noir: media logic, building agendas and coopta-

This collective was founded in 2006 to denounce the high price of
housing in France. Its first actions were to invite journalists to visit
flats to show the extremely high prices of housing for students and pre-
carious families. Then, it added another mode of collective action with
squatting in 2007. The activists have since opened 13 squats. They seek
and find vacant buildings to squat and draw the attention on the inef-
ficient housing policy of the municipality and of the State. Two main
claims are highlighted by the collective: the application of the DALO
and of the requisition law of 1945. One of the specificities of the ac-
tion group compared to the other Parisian squatters is their massive use
of Media: “we don’t want more activists but more Media” (Collectif
Jeudi Noir, 2009). The media logic is the central dimension of their
action. The squat is only a tool to draw the attention of the media and
thus of national and local representatives. We call them “agenda build-
ers” because they are able to create two kinds of “cycles of attention”
(Baumgartner and Jones, 2005). The first agenda concerns squats. Each
occupation of Jeudi Noir increases the number of articles about squats
in newspapers and television. The second agenda is Housing policies.
Each occupation represents the opportunity to challenge politics.

A brief sociology of the members of the group shows that they are
students, artists but also activists (ecologists, socialists, and extreme-
left activists) who do not necessarily need to squat. During the juridi-
cal procedure in 2010, one of the leaders selected the more precarious
people to put their name on the official list of the squatters in order
to prevent the risk of a bigger fine because of the solvency of some of
them. Indeed, in France, the judge analyzes the personal situation of
the squatters to know if they are “truly” poor and need a roof to survive
or if they do not necessarily need to squat (Bouillon, 2010). The result
of the juridical procedure often depends on the solvency of the squat-
ters. We analyze here a “professionalization of precariousness”: the aim
is to build a “precarious” movement with no precarious people. As we
explained above, the squatters from Jeudi Noir are often students, archi-
tects, and artists. Compared to other kind of squatters, they have more
economic resources. But poverty becomes a resource to gain legitimacy
in a social conflict where the judge could be more lenient with the poor.

What is very interesting in this squatting movement is the relation-
ship between the leaders, who do not live in the squat, and the local
officials. Indeed, the leaders are now officials themselves (one is a repre-
sentative of the regional assembly, another is a member of the Socialist
Party, and another is a representative of a local municipality of Paris).
They have a strong political capital and thus, strong social resources.
They build quasi-friendly relationships with the representatives of the
municipality of Paris, with the head of the housing department and
with the policemen in charge of controlling them. Thus, they accept
the rules of the political game, of representative democracy, while other
squatters denounce it. Moreover, although they squat, they respect the
rules of the public order. Their presence is not disruptive at all. Usually,
city officials come to support them in their action, and take advantage
of this public tribunal to criticize the national government. For exam-
ple, the mayor Bertrand Delanoë came to the squat “The Marquise” at
Place des Vosges. The President of the Region, Jean-Paul Huchon always
assists them during juridical procedures. Just before the night of the
eviction of the last squat “avenue de Matignon”, a communist member
of the National Assembly slept in the street in front of the squat to
block policemen.

3.2. Droit au Logement (DAL): a housing movement using
squat as a means

The DAL movement was born in 1990 from a division with the
“CML” (Comités des Mal-Logés / “Committee of people in bad housing
conditions”). The CML used the squat in a “classist” way if we follow
the typology of Cécile Péchu (Péchu, 2006, 2010). They squatted social
housings to denounce the way the State allocates housing. The occupa-
tions were carried out during the electoral campaigns to draw the atten-
tion of the candidates and the media. However, the creation of the DAL
represents a change in the repertoire of action. At the very beginning
the DAL refused to use squatting as a mode of action: they wanted to
avoid action that was too disruptive and not to be consider as “an ille-
gitimate” actor in order to be able to negotiate with public authorities.
But in 1993, they squatted again in Avenue René Coty and in the “rue
du Dragon” in 1994. This last occupation made the DAL enter into the
public sphere thanks to a massive use of the media and had three main
results. First, each squatter was relocated by the State and the squat was
evicted. Second, the State accepted to use the Requisition Law of 1945.
Third, the Right to Housing was declared “constitutional”. By disturb-
ing public order and using an illegal tool of activism, DAL achieved
their goals. For Cécile Péchu “this is a cover of the squat that lies be-
tween the spectacular action intended to put pressure on authorities
and real action to resolve the housing problem of squatters” (Péchu,
2006). Squatting by DAL is “efficient”: Each occupation is followed
by the relocation of 90% of the squatting families (mainly precarious
African families). In the 18th, 19th and 20th districts of Paris (the most
heavily squatted districts), they rehoused almost 700 families with 15
squats. In the Seine-Saint-Denis department, almost 100 squats have
accommodated 1000 families. In the 19th district of Paris, 6 squats or-
ganized by the DAL were evicted since June 2002. After each eviction,
the activists succeeded in getting relocation of all the families from the
State, the City Council or the SIEMP (“Société Immobilière d’économie
Mixte de Paris”/ Public-Private Housing Developer of Paris). This is the
result of many negotiations between leaders, officials and families. It
shows us that the DAL has a considerable political and social capital
which is used by the activists during these conflictual negotiations.
Nevertheless, the squat is only one mode of action among others for
this housing movement. The DAL combines different kinds of action
which are, sometimes led in the same place: demonstrations, sit-ins,
real squats, symbolic squats, hunger strike, office occupation, illegal ac-
commodation, and concerts. This combination enables the activists to
target different actors: the national government, municipalities, private
owners, housing developers. The “efficiency” of the movement is partly
due to this strategy. The proportion of squats in their total number of
actions increased even while only representing 8% of the actions of
the DAL, and 20% of the actions of the CML (Péchu, 2006:462). But
the DAL has a stronger use of the media to bring the housing problem
into the public sphere. Cécile Péchu distinguishes two types of squats:
the “real” squat and the “symbolic” one. The real one is used both as
a house and as a mode of asserting the right to housing. The symbolic
one is only used to publicize a message. The temporality is the similar to
the one of the Jeudi Noir: the squats emerge during electoral campaigns
and “non-expulsion period”. However, nowadays, since the creation
of Jeudi Noir, the DAL has received less attention in the media than
the former. This is due to the fact that the DAL has less social and po-
litical networks than Jeudi Noir and is therefore a less institutionalized
movement. Indeed, as we showed the activists of Jeudi Noir are closer
to the political class while those from DAL prefer to build an open con-
flict with officials and representative in order to put them under pres-
sure to obtain the relocation of the families. DAL is closer to the “squat
of deprivation” of Hans Pruijt and the “classist” type of Cécile Péchu.
The leaders nevertheless maintain relations with officials but they use
them in a very different way. They call them to request more houses
rather than to require help against eviction. The number permanent
activists in the association are no more than 20. The decisions are very
centralized and the DAL movement corresponds to a Pruijt’s notional
of flexible institutionalization.

3.3. Artists and social centers

The squat appears as a mode of action. The two cases above show that it
can be used as a means to obtain more than a roof over one’s head. It is
the “housing side” of issue squats. Nevertheless, the squat can also be an
individual and collective occupation aiming at living alternatively in the
city beyond the official public policies and the rules of the ownership:
counter-culture, alternative art against commercial and mainstream art,
concerts, and innovative social services provided to the inhabitants of
the district or homeless people. People can chose to organize themselves
to demonstrate that self-organization of society is possible and to strug-
gle against an individualist society based on private property rights. In
France, the word “squat” includes all the meanings we present in this
paper, but in other countries the specific configuration we are evok-
ing in this section is the “social center”. People wishing to create new
human relations as well as social and cultural activities, enter illegally
in a building and appropriate the place. Of course the squatters also
use the building as a house but the main goal is to turn into a place of
meetings, festivals, concerts, theater plays, art classes, kindergarten, or
bicycle workshops. All these activities are linked to the daily life of the
neighborhood which usually accepts the presence of the squatters and
defends them against when the owner wants to evict them (Aguilera,
2010). Most of the Parisian social centers are animated by artists (17
of 21 in 2010). We observed that all of these social centers and artistic
squats are more or less tolerated by the City Council.

There is a profound problem concerning cultural spaces in Paris.
Some surveys show that an artist has to wait more than 30 years to get
a workshop. As we presented before, squatting can be both a problem
for public actors but at the same time, a solution. In fact, for artists
it is a solution in the sense that illegally occupying a building enables
them to create and exhibit inside Paris: “we need more space to live and
create. In Paris, some spaces are unoccupied so we enter and use the place”
(Mathilde, squatter). Since the election of the socialist mayor in 2001,
Bertrand Delanoë, local public actors are rather tolerant towards these
kinds of squats because officials became aware that Parisian voters like
these cultural places and that they develop interesting projects.
Indeed, sometimes squatters provide local and social services in the
face of the inefficiencies of the public and legal system. Squats reveal
problems in the city, compensate for a lack of local activities and in-
spires the city council. Many squats in Paris (the “Jardin d’Alice”, the
“59 Rivoli”, “La Générale”, “TDV”, the “Petite Rockette”, …) provide
art classes and exhibitions in places where the municipality is unable to.
Sometimes, officials prefer to build strong relationships of trust with
the squatters rather than to repress them. This is the case of a specific
association: MACAQ (Mouvement d’Animation Culturelle et Artistique
de Quartier / Local Cultural and Artistic Association). This association
which was born in the 17th district of Paris and has a very special re-
lation with the left wing of the city council. MACAQ organizes the
carnival of Paris, many cultural events, and bric-a-brac sales. The mu-
nicipality externalizes the management of these social and cultural ac-
tivities. The logic is the same concerning vacant housing. The housing
department director told me that he gives “concessions” to MACAQ
to squat building if they are empty and too expensive to renovate. He
calls them “professional squatters”. Thus, nowadays they squat the 123
rue Tocqueville in the 17th district where they host many associations:
“It’s a good deal for all of us. The municipality doesn’t
have to pay repairs and surveillance. For the squatters, it is
an opportunity to get a building legally for some time. When
we have a building where we don’t have any project we call
them and they squat” (Housing Department director of the
Municipality of Paris).

Furthermore, some squats provide social services. Since 2005, the
artists who squat in the “Petite Rockette” host 14 homeless people with
the help of the NGO “Médecins du Monde”. Thus, social centers chal-
lenge and “serve” the municipality at the same time.

Thus, the City Council adopted two political instruments which
allow it to control and govern the squats in Paris (Aguilera, 2011). The
first is the project and the call for project proposals. When the City
Council wants to retrieve the management of a building for a specific
project, the Housing or the Cultural department launches a call for
project proposals and sometimes squatters are welcomed to participate
in imagining the future of this building. Squatters have to enter the
legal sphere and accept the status of urban planners or experts. They
have to present an application like the squatters of the “Petite Rockette”
did with the help of the NGO “Médecins du Monde”, or the artists of
the “Forge de Belleville” in 2009. This process forces squatters to respect
administrative norms: budgets, security norms, public order. They have
to determine the allocation of the place (artistic place with workshops,
living place with bed rooms, etc). They have to accept the ground rules
of the urban planning.

The second instrument is a juridical contract between squatters and
the owner, the precarious lease, which allows the squatters to stay in
the building for a determined and limited period (18 months gener-
ally) and for a small rent (around 1000 Euros per month). It is an
instrument of normalization of the relationship between squatters and
owners. Thus, it is a first step to reduce the tension between property
rights and housing rights. Moreover, it is a means for the municipality
to control illegal spaces. The squatters and the owners are both winners
in this process and both parties usually accept it. The squatters can
stay and the owner avoids a juridical procedure of eviction which is
quite a burden. From illegal to contractual, squatters change their sta-
tus but they stay in the same location and keep, more or less, the same
activities. On the one hand, squatters have to accept some ground rules
to stay. On the other hand, as squatters are innovators in terms of so-
cial and cultural practices, they urge public actors to innovate. Parisian
representatives, who have adopted these two instruments as vectors of
public policy innovation, were inspired by squatters for the last two
years: they created new festive and cultural places: the “104”, the “100
rue de Charenton”, the “Petit Bain” etc.

However, although this is not the mainstream opinion, some squat-
ters (mainly anarchists) refuse to deal with the municipality and criti-
cize squatters who accept it denouncing it as “institutionalization”.
Some of them told me that the squat loses its identity and its own value
if it is legalized:

“We are legal now. We lost the freedom of illegality…When
we were illegal we were not allowed to do anything so we were
able to do everything! Nowadays we cannot do anything with-
in the [boundaries of the] law” (Pablo, squatter).

In Paris, the extreme-left wing and non-institutionalized squats are
absent. We can find some in the periphery like in Montreuil with some
anarchist groups who refuse to deal with state actors. The consequence
is that the squats are more ephemeral. A larger European compara-
tive work should show that Parisian squats are less politicized than in
Madrid, Barcelona, Berlin, Geneva, and Amsterdam. A last group of
squats are the invisible squats.

3.4. “Invisible squats”

As we have already mentioned, we estimate that there are 2,000 squats
in the Ile-de-France Region. The problem is that most of them are in-
visible: we can observe them when the owner becomes aware of the
situation and wants to evict them. Some interviews let us think that
the Prefecture (deconcentrated local state, the representation in region
of the federal State) would have built up a database but at the moment
we are not able to have access to the files. The only exhaustive database
we can use is the one presented in the first section of this paper. It only
concerns squats in buildings owned by social housing developers. We
observed 661 squats at the regional scale in 2006.

The Housing Developers are frequently victims of squatting for three
reasons and during three particular moments. First, when developers
renovate buildings the flats are empty and vulnerable; second, during
relocation of renters and “turn over”; third, during the construction. 51%
of the squats presented here are small squats of flats. Homeless people
or precarious people enter in a flat when they know that it is empty. In
41% of the cases, some networks of people have a good knowledge of the
situation of relocations and renovations. During interviews, some actors
told us that they can paid-off the doormen and some security officers of
developers to get the addresses of empty flats. They enter a flat, change
the lock, write a fake lease and sell it to precarious and immigrant families
unable to check the veracity of the situation. Besides, the region hosts also
some cases of squats whole or mainly composed of drug addicts. The last
one in the north of Paris hosted hundreds of drug users. It was evicted
in March 2010. The inhabitants of these squats consider the occupation
as the primary goal because they want a roof and nothing else. The aim
of squatting is to live in worthy conditions and to avoid sleeping in the
street. There is not any process of institutionalization and the inhabitants
benefit from staying invisible. They don’t have many resources but have
the skills to open a squat.

In this section, we have analyzed the different configurations of
squatting in Paris, specifically according to two main cleavages: re-
sources of squatters and their goals. The process of institutionalization
takes two mains forms: cooptation as with Jeudi Noir, flexible as with
DAL and artists. For some scholars (Castells, 1983; Piven and Cloward,
1974) as well as for the political radical squatters, the process of in-
stitutionalization means the decline and loss of identity of the urban
movement. However, squatters in Paris usually accept a flexible insti-
tutionalization. They create their own identity which is a combination
of interests. They develop strong rational strategies radicalizing some
positions on the one hand (the main tool of their activism is illegal) and
accepting the rules on the other (the rules of the negotiation). Squatters
have many resources. They are able to mobilize their own resources to
create a “disturbing” situation (McAdam, 1982). They have built many
networks, of which some are informal: squatters move a lot between
different squats and they know each other. Besides, they have estab-
lished formal networks of sociability in order to exchange experiences,
information and to organize events. In Paris, 70% of the squats belong
to the Intersquat Network which is a Parisian initiative, although it is
connected to many European squats in Rome, Barcelona, Berlin, and
Geneva. The members of Intersquat meet once a month to exchange
their experiences. They talk about new techniques for squatting, avoid
eviction, and organizing a legal defense. They also circulate the address-
es of newly vacant buildings. Finally, they organize several European
events and meetings between squatters elsewhere in Europe (held in a
different capital every year). This network gives the squatters some re-
sources they can use to address officials. They know how to speak, how
to organize an official meeting, how to defend themselves legally, they
also know the Parisian territory (their databases of vacant buildings are
more complete than the official ones) and how to mobilize the media
to be visible.


As in every country in Europe, we find very different types of squats
in Paris and its region. We can distinguish different configurations de-
pending on the resources of the squatters and on their goals. The squats
and social centers in Paris are the most visible. But they are only the
small part of the iceberg. Most of the squats are invisible and hidden
and we have to integrate them in the analysis when we are talking about
squats even if their inhabitants are not activists. Indeed, we presented
the squatting group “Jeudi Noir” which uses the media in order to at-
tract attention to the housing problem in France and the DAL which
is able to organize big events to relocate poor families. Many artists
squat in Paris and have quite good relationships with the local officials,
which allow them to stay and participate to the development of the
city. However, we have shown that many squats are invisible. They host
precarious people who need shelter in order to survive. In that last case,
squatting is not a choice and the mobilization to defend themselves is
very difficult.

These different configurations imply different responses from state
actors. In fact, as we have shown, artists and social centers are usually
tolerated by the Paris city council which needs them to build a European
cultural capital. Indeed, officials know that the city can attract tourists
if it is a “creative” and innovative city. The political squats are also often
supported by the left wing city council which considers them as a tool
to critique the national right wing government. However, this side of
public policies does not have to prevent us from observing the “dark
side” of these relationships. Squatters without any resources (media,
social and/or cultural capital) are usually evicted and the municipality
does not intervene to support them. The police and the discipline of
the city still work in Paris in order to control squatting. The police in-
tervene during the daily life to avoid squatting in empty buildings and
when the judge orders an eviction, the police carry it out.


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