Houses of Cards? The Rules and Institutions of Housing Illegality in Western Countries

19 April 2021 - 20 April 2021

Rooms SG1 & SG2, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9DT

Sign up to the CRASSH Newsletter for more information and updates on this conference.


Sabina Maslova (University of Cambridge)
Francesco Chiodelli (Università degli studi di Torino)

Keynote Speaker

Alexander Vasudevan (University of Oxford)


Melanie Lombard (University of Sheffield)
Giovanni Picker (University of Glasgow) 
Joanna Kusiak (University of Cambridge)


While traditionally housing illegality has been associated mainly (if not exclusively) with minorities and marginalised groups (e.g. ethnic groups, homeless people), recent research in Western countries (so-called Global North) has shown a greater variety of forms of ‘inhabiting outside the law’ practised by a range of actors (e.g. the construction of unauthorised secondary residencies by middle-income people, outbuildings used illegally for residential accommodation of migrants, squatting of private and public empty buildings) and for different purposes (e.g. speculation, recreation, need). What these different cases have in common is their relationship with public institutions. These diverse manifestations of housing illegality, in fact, do not arise and spread in a context of lack of regulatory action by the state. Instead, these informal practices are inserted in complex relationships with different manifestations of public authority (laws, policies, civil servants’ practices) and, as such, exist in a highly regulated space. Moreover, sometimes also non-public regulatory actors are involved and they contribute to set rules which complement (and sometimes replace) those established by public bodies. Therefore, housing illegality in Western countries is situated in a complex institutional environment, which is the result of the mediated interaction of different layers of public action and a variety of individual and collective practices by non-public actors (such as NGOs, inhabitants of the 'illegal city', mobsters, advocacy groups, depending on the case).

This symposium aims at investigating different kinds of housing illegality in the West (Europe, Americas and Australasia) from the viewpoint of their interaction with the broader institutional framework in which they are situated. The multifaceted connection of informal practices in the field of housing with different layers of both public (e.g. planning and building laws, practice by street-level bureaucrats) and non-public (e.g. informal rules established by criminal organisations, shared social norms in specific informal environment institutions), and the resulting politics of housing informality are under scrutiny in particular. Additional inputs reflecting on the changing nature of housing illegality and meanings of legal housing at times of global pandemic would be considered.


Supported by:

    Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research Logo


Twitter circle logo #HouseOfCards_Conf2021


If you have any specific accessibility needs for this event please get in touch. We will do our best to accommodate any requests. 

Conference assistance: