Announcing Two-Part "Right to Housing" Series

Thursday, September 10, 2020
Housing is a Human Right protest
Credit: John Urquiza/Sin Turista

A home is fundamental to the human condition. And yet many people—over time and across the world today—struggle to find, or keep, this most basic necessity. What does it mean to assert a right to safe, sustainable, affordable housing? And what are the political, ethical, and existential issues raised by its lack or unattainability?

This two-part event (Sept. 24 and Oct. 1) will be moderated by Brian Goldstone, a journalist and anthropologist currently writing a book on gentrification, housing insecurity, and the rise of the working homeless, and Anne Allison, Duke anthropologist who has worked on precarity, lonely death, and homeless dead in Japan.

This series is cosponsored by the Department of Cultural Anthropology, the Duke Human Rights Center@FHI, and the Pauli Murray Project.

Session One (September 24th): Home/Homelessness in Precarious Times

The first session will take up the issue of home and homelessness in global/anthropological perspective by questioning the very parameters of what constitutes “home” in the face of housing precarity. Looking at limit cases of struggles and challenges to find, and maintain, secure dwelling places, discussion will revolve around the everydayness, idealized abstraction, and politics of life incurred in home-making. Amidst encroaching uncertainty worldwide, will the ability to have a home become a luxury relegated to a privileged few or a human right demanded by/for all? The session will be led by three researchers/activists of housing in different contexts—Julia  Christensen (geographer, indigenous Canadian north), Stephanie Grohmann (anthropologist, squatting in urban England), and Fiona Ross (anthropologist, townships in South Africa).

Session Two (October 1): The Fight for Housing

Among the most striking political developments in recent years is the emergence of a powerful grassroots tenant rights movement. Denouncing the profiteering, predatory speculation, and engineered segregation that has deprived an unprecedented number of people—the majority of them working-class black and brown Americans—of a roof over their heads, tenants and their allies are organizing for structural transformation: a dismantling of the "real estate state" and the guarantee of a safe, permanently affordable home for everyone living in the United States. The movement has introduced a radical language for talking about housing, one premised on human shelter not as an investment to be exploited for profit but as a basic right, no less vital than education or access to food and medicine. This session will explore the present and future directions of the insistence on a right to housing—a demand that's only grown more urgent with the insecurity wrought by COVID-19. The session will feature: Samuel Stein (Community Service Society of New York), Tara Raghuveer (KC Tenants/People’s Action)Tracy Rosenthal (LA Tenants Union), and Hannah Black (artist and writer).

Attendees are invited to one, or both sessions, and are urged to read the writing of the participants ahead of time.


Steph Grohmann, “Introduction,” The Ethics of Space: Homelessness and Squatting in Urban England.

Fiona Ross, “Raw Life & Respectability: Poverty & Everyday Life in a Postapartheid Community,” Current Anthropology vol. 56, supp. 11, August 2015.

Anne Allison, “Not Waiting to Die Badly: Facing the Precarity of Dying Alone in Japan,” in Ethnographies of Waiting: Doubt, Hope and Uncertainty, eds. Manpreet Janeja & Andreas Bandak, 2018.

Brian Goldstone, “The New American Homeless”

Samuel Stein, “Capital City: Gentrification and the Real Estate State”

Hannah Black, “Tenant Unions for the Future”

Tracy Rosenthal, “101 Notes on the LA Tenants Union”

Tara Raghuveer, “From Commodification to Public Good: Changing Our Housing Narratives”