Anatomies of a Social Movement

Social production of habitat is an international term, most common in Latin America, that refers to the process and product arising from a community collectively determining the conditions of its own living environment. Social production is present when people take the initiative to pose solutions to the shared problems of their material world. Partners in social production can be informal groups or local organizations, and/or other actors external to the community, such as NGOs, donors, private sector enterprises, professional associations, academics or government institutions, or any combination of these. However, at the heart of social production is the people’s agency.

In economic terms, social production involves people at the community level relying on themselves and each other to identify, exploit and increase social capital as a developmental asset. The processes and outcomes of social production manifest despite—or because of—a lack of local finance capital concentration. It takes place with the awareness that monetary capital is concentrated elsewhere, which is increasingly the case in our globalizing world.

Therefore, social production processes find community members and partners contributing labor, time, materials and/or money (e.g., through savings schemes) from within the community to build community assets in the form of housing, infrastructure, services, environmental improvements, or other achievements that redound to the benefit of the local initiators/participants.

Social production of habitat is a process (and product) that identifies, exploits and further develops relationships within the community (social capital). Mobilizing these productive relationships could mean identifying existing collectives of women, men, students, unionized workers, fisherfolk, extended families, coreligionists, professional associations, etc. that could facilitate the process of identifying, exploiting or building social capital used in producing the desired results. The process and outcomes typically bring about social transformation for the better, enabling a greater degree of participation, involving each sector in a community on a more-equitable basis. It finds men, women, youth, children, elderly, handicapped, minorities cooperating in the planning, implementation and maintenance. In a sense, social production is a recipe for sustainable development.

From another perspective, social production means collective action to satisfy human needs and, thus, realize human dignity and fairness as a human right. The human rights dimension of social production emerges with an awareness of actual entitlements that the people in the community can claim for themselves and others, and not just a privilege to be granted to some. Essential to social production of habitat, from a human rights perspective, are the obligations of the State that arise from its ratification of international human rights treaties and compatible local law. Human rights include the entitlement of everyone to enjoy a clean living environment, reside in adequate housing, benefit from an equitable distribution and use of land, access sufficient food and water, live with reasonable access to sources of livelihood, be assured of personal security, be protected from forced eviction, participate in decisions affecting one’s living space, engage in alternative planning as a means to assert the right to remain and obtain formal recognition and have enough reliable information to achieve all of the above. Greater gender equality features as both a means and an end of social production.

When considering the benefits of social production, many other dimensions come into view, not least of these include the psychological dimension of improved motivation and self-worth that result. Additional to this is the cultural dimension that reclaims the rights of the community to demonstrate its artistic and expressive production. The political dimension involves people demanding that the relevant authorities and powers facilitate—or, at least, not hinder—the participatory decision making and popular actions. Naturally, of course, the right to development (the composite of all individual and collective human rights) is intrinsically linked to the social production process, with or without the support and participation of government institutions, programs, policies or budgets.

The guiding tools of civilized statecraft are found in international public law that calls for States to respect, defend, promote and fulfill human rights, including the human right to adequate housing. That implies that States and governments bear a duty to enable social production through policies, programs, institutions, legislation, budgets and a variety of services. States and governments hold the corresponding duty to refrain from actions that impede social production, such as forced eviction, confiscation and repression of housing rights defenders, discrimination, corruption, privatizing public goods and services and other violations. Social production of housing epitomizes people’s agency to improve living conditions, but does not absolve the States and governments of their treaty bound obligations to citizens and residents.

The effects of neoliberal policies and economic globalization include the privatization of social goods, the concentration of capital in fewer hands, the withdrawal of States and governments from public service provision, and ever-deepening poverty. This makes social production an increasingly important set of practical strategies in the struggle for social justice both locally and globally.

Habitat International Coalition (HIC) has developed the Social Production of Habitat Project with its sponsor, InWEnt, as a problem-solving initiative to collect and exchange these strategies on the regional and global levels. The present volume, Anatomies of a Social Movement: Social Production of Habitat in the Middle East/North Africa (Part I), is the product of the latest HIC region to join the global SPH Project. It already has provided many surprises.

The Middle East/North Africa is typically the most isolated of the regions, even in civil society networks. The reasons of this relative estrangement are the subject of needed inquiry in other forums. Suffice it to say that none of the reasons are good ones. They tend to create a self-fulfilling prophecy that says this region has few like-minded partners and even less connection with the world’s social movements. While stereotypes often contain some kernel of truth, the under-reported social movements and the authoritarian States in this cultural unit known as Middle East/North Africa take on a fresh aspect in the pages of this volume.

In May–June 2004, the Housing and Land Rights Network of HIC convened a regional workshop with members and other agents of social production of habitat through its coordination office in Cairo. Those participants—and a subsequently widening circle of others—have come forward with a diversity of experience that defies generalization. The social production experiences of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine/Israel and Syria compiled here involve sanitation, environmental protection, refugee relief and slum upgrading in their fields of service. They confront the State, or cooperate with the State, depending on local circumstances. In any case, these vignettes of applied people’s agency each reveal important lessons about the nature of the State concerned.

Most interesting for our purposes of comparative analysis on a global scale is the common nature of the people. The same needs, claims and struggles that gave flesh and blood to the development of human rights and national liberation over time and in all regions is reflected as a common heritage of humankind. Within a framework of human rights, in particular the human right to adequate housing, we find a common language, no matter if it is spoken in Arabic, Kurdish, Hebrew, Amazigh, English or Portuguese.

Within this very human phenomenon are the following “anatomies” of a larger body that is social movement. Like the more experienced, celebrated and coordinated social movements in Asia and the Americas, the local instances or social movement are accumulating lessons on how to claim the right to “constant improvement of living conditions,” as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights obliges States to ensure. While these lessons are learnt and these tools are developed locally, the present volume represents an initiative by Habitat International Coalition to consolidate them as a form of accumulated social capital. This capital has the potential to bear tremendous returns for those who learn its value, including those current skeptics.

In a region so plagued with continuing colonization, wars of aggression, conservatism and maldistribution of resources, the essential message arising from the present collection of experiences at social production of habitat in the Middle East/North Africa is a resounding note of hope and encouragement. HIC and its Housing and Land Rights Network acknowledge a debt of gratitude to the participants in the Cairo workshop and other contributors, especially to Dr. Fahima El Shahed and Dr. Mona Hasan Soliman for their valued assistance in editing the extensive drafts of the original testimonies. Most of all, our appreciation goes out to all the resourceful people of the Middle East/North Africa who have given us these rays of hope in the enduring human spirit.

Joseph Schechla
Housing and Land Rights Network
Habitat International Coalition

Declaración del Encuentro Internacional por Ciudades Igualitarias

Declaración del Encuentro Internacional por Ciudades Igualitarias

En el marco del U20, organizaciones sociales, movimientos populares, redes de la sociedad civil, integrantes de la academia y autoridades locales comprometidas con la igualdad, los derechos humanos y la sustentabilidad se reunieron en Buenos Aires para proponer un compromiso común por Ciudades Igualitarias.

A un año de los sismos: el proyecto de Reconstrucción Integral y Social del Hábitat en el Istmo de Tehuantepec, Oaxaca

A un año de los sismos: el proyecto de Reconstrucción Integral y Social del Hábitat en el Istmo de Tehuantepec, Oaxaca

El 7 de septiembre de 2017 un sismo con magnitud de 8.2 con epicentro en Chiapas, afectó gravemente comunidades de ese estado, así como de Oaxaca. En el segundo caso, los principales daños ocurrieron en el Istmo de Tehuantepec, Ixtaltepec, Juchitan, Ixtepec y muchas de las comunidades Binnizá (Zapotecas) e Ikoot (Huaves) fueron seriamente afectadas. El 23 de septiembre del mismo año, un nuevo sismo de magnitud 6.3 con epicentro en Ixtepec agravó el problema.