Cluster 1: Relation and Agency: Organized Self-help Housing

by ivettearroyo


Self help housing-manos

I will start by agreeing with Awan et al (2011) with their statement that “mainstream architectural practice is not engaged enough with political and social contexts… [there is] no clear consensus as to how create alternatives…”. This statement is valid especially in the context of developing countries where rapid urbanization and the lack of response of governemnts to the housing needs of the urban poor has derived in the proliferation of slums. Why has architectural practice failed in delivering a more equitable and inclusive built environments? One of the reasons might be the dominant architectural paradigm that guides teaching and practice: the definition of architecture in terms of object-building; which leads to paradigms such as housing as a product. Fergusson (2003) argues the failure of the product approach paradigm in the developing world because in practice housing is a process from the perspective of the poor. The main consequence of following the product approach is that housing lacks different low-cost strategies to support the incremental housing process better. Conversely, housing policies fail in incorporating resources mobilized by the poor in spontaneous self-help housing such as the people’s own effort, mutual-help, skills, savings, and access to social networks. The lack of pro-poor housing policy affects negatively the “right to the city” which Harvey (2008) understands as a collective right for having “greater democratic control over the production and utilization of the surplus [of the urban process]”.

My licentiate thesis studies organized self-help housing from three different perspectives: a) the international practice, b) institutional approaches; and c) the organized self-help housing process. ‘Spatial agency’ (Awan & Schneider, 2011) is a concept that will help me to frame my research. First, organized self-help housing (OSHH) is a bottom-up, people-led process for the ‘making’ of the built environment with technical assistance of local institutions. As a process, OSHH implies ‘collective agency’[1] and ‘dweller-control’[2] over the OSHH process. The OSHH process is important for what it does with people in terms of building the capacity of the community which is a key factor for increasing community resilience. Organized self-help housing processes for new housing or slum upgrading with a ‘capability approach’[3] perspective can contribute to enhance the capabilities and ‘collective efficacy’[4] of the poor which are key aspects for improving their living conditions and built environment. Such an approach to social and urban development is important for achieving cities without slums.


Awan, N. & Schneider, T. a. T. J., 2011. Introduction. In: N. Awan & T. a. T. J. Schneider, eds. Spatial Agency: Other Ways of Doing Architecture. London: Routledge, pp. 26-34.

Bandura, A., 1998. Personal and collective efficacy in human adaptation and change. Advances in phsychological science, Volume 1, pp. 51-71.

Ferguson, B. a. N. J., 2003. New approaches to progressive housing in Latin America: A key to habitat programs and policy. Habitat International, 27(2), pp. 309-323.

Harvey, D., 2008. Right to the City. New Left Review, Issue 53, pp. 23-40.

Turner, J. a. F. R., 1972. Freedom to build. First Edition ed. New York: The Macmillan Company.

Turner, J. F., 1976. Housing by People. Towards autonomy in building environments. First ed. London: Marion Byers.


[1] Bandura (1998) argues that “social cognitive theory extends the analysis of mechanisms of human agency to collective agency. People’s shared beliefs in their collective power to produce desired outcomes is a crucial ingredient of collective agency… [which] is not simply the sum of the efficacy beliefs of individual members [but] an emergent group level attribute” (Bandura, 1998).

[2] Dweller-control is one of the most important concepts for self-help housing proposed by John Turner (Turner, 1972) (Turner, 1976).

[3] The capability approach is a normative theory of social justice developed by Amartya Sen (Dong, 2008). The capability approach emphasizes the need of “expanding the capabilities of persons to lead the kind of lives they value – and have reason to value (Sen, 1999).

[4] Collective efficacy refers to people’s belief in their collective power to produce a desired outcome (Bandura, 1998).