In 2015, a large influx of people forcibly displaced into Europe culminated in what has often been referred to by the media, government officials, and policymakers as the refugee crisis. This trope typically describes the tension between, on the one hand, a general willingness of many European countries to resettle refugees, and fiscal constraints allegedly beyond the control of governments, on the other. In the bounds of this apolitical and ahistorical storyline, refugees are blamed for increased homelessness and affordable housing shortages, despite deepening neoliberal practices that predate their arrival. With the goal of decentering this trope, we explore the lived experiences of refugees in their quest for stable housing in two major host cities: Berlin and Paris. In contrast to the refugee crisis narrative, we present a twofold argument. First, we suggest that authoritarian neoliberalism in Berlin and Paris have played a central—yet variegated—role in creating nondemocratic conditions that have led to rental housing insecurity for vulnerable populations, including refugees. Second, we suggest that the refugee crisis trope itself may be understood as an integral feature of authoritarian neoliberalism, as it actively erases the history, politics, and social context that have led to the construction of shelter insecurity.
Placing Refugees in Authoritarian Neoliberalism: Reflections from Berlin and Paris
Ali Bhagat is a doctoral candidate at Queen’s University. He is currently finishing his dissertation, titled “Forced Migration in Racial Capitalism: Urban Refugee Survival in Paris and Nairobi” and holds the IDRC doctoral research award. Most recently, he was awarded the Robert and Jessie Cox award at the International Studies Association (ISA) for best graduate student paper of critical inquiry in international relations. He has also recently published articles in the journals Geoforum and Sexualities concerning his wider research interests in forced displacement, refugees, and racial capitalism.
Susanne Soederberg is a professor in the Department of Global Development Studies at Queen’s University, Canada. She has published several books, including the award-winning Debtfare States and the Poverty Industry: Money, Discipline, and the Surplus Population (2014). She is completing a book manuscript, currently titled “Debtfare and Displacements: Geographies of Housing Insecurity in Financial Capitalism.” The book explores the racial, gendered, and class dimensions of rental housing insecurity across several urban spaces in Europe, including Berlin, Dublin, and Vienna.
Ali Bhagat, Susanne Soederberg; Placing Refugees in Authoritarian Neoliberalism: Reflections from Berlin and Paris. South Atlantic Quarterly 1 April 2019; 118 (2): 421–438. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00382876-7381230
Download citation file: