We recently introduced the Book Review Forum as a new publication format. Book Review Forums and the books they review are important to the mission of the journal and to the academic and housing policy debate more broadly. Our new Book Review Forums provide more space for reviewers’ and authors’ reflections on the most important books in the field.
In our first forum brings together different perspectives on Diverging Space for Deviants, by Akira Drake Rodriguez. The book is described by the publisher as follows:
Diverging Space for Deviants establishes alternative functions for public housing developments that would necessitate their existence in any city. In addition to providing affordable housing for low-income residents — a necessity as wealth inequality in cities increases — public housing developments function as a necessary political space in the city, one of the last remaining frontiers for citizens to engage in inclusive political activity and make claims on the changing face of the state.
In the first part of the forum, Mara Sidney, from Rutgers University, focuses on the book’s exploration of the “constitutive links between policy and activism, and the political power of ideas about public housing residents”. Synthesising Rodriguez’s accounts of working-class Black people, particularly women, in Atlanta, Georgia, Sidney highlights the communities’ efforts to resist the imposed portrayals of them as ‘deserving’ or ‘undeserving’. Sidney concludes “policy theory suggests that when policies rest upon a politics of deservedness, devolving into increasing distinctions between deviance and deservedness, they are likely to be fragile.”
Second, Alistair Sisson and Pratichi Chatterjee, from the Universities of Wollongong and Sydney, respectively, draw comparisons with the experience of Aboriginal community-controlled housing in Australia. As Sisson and Chatterjee describe, the origins of the Aboriginal Housing Company in Aboriginal activist movements for civil and land rights and self determination in the 1970s, proved to be “highly unstable and quickly receded. In subsequent decades, the Block, as it became known, became a site of government disinvestment, police repression, moral panic and, eventually, displacement – a story with sad resonance with Rodriguez’s Atlanta.”
Third, Paul Watt, from Birkbeck University of London, reflects on the similarities and differences with the European attitudes to public housing explicitly, but also class distinctions and social mobility. Watt compares Western Europe’s tradition “whereby public housing was regarded as a tenure of destination in its own right, even as potentially as good as home ownership” with the Atlanta Rodriguez describes where “public tenancy was envisaged as a transitional tenure – a mere stepping stone onto the home-ownership ‘ladder’”. Given the (at times explicit) equivalence of ‘Middle-class’ with ‘White’, Watt concludes that “Rodriguez demonstrates how, race, class and gender intersect in relation to public housing provision, and what political opportunity structures were opened up, as well as closed off.”
Finally, the book’s author, Akira Drake Rodriguez from University of Pennsylvania, responds to all the above reflections. Among other additional insights into her research and writing, the piece responds to Watt’s commentary on class connotations of public housing, stating: “I was intentional in the shifting terms of tenant class position over time – from submerged middle class, to working class, to working poor. This was meant to reflect the shifting characteristics of both the population and the programs means-testing over time.”