How Did Finance Capital Infiltrate the World of the Urban Poor? Homeownership and Social Fragmentation in a Spanish Neighborhood


  • Preliminary versions of this article were presented at the meetings of the Grup d'Estudis de Reciprocitat, Barcelona (2010) and at the workshop ‘Multiculturalism, Migration and Heritage in Europe’ (University of Massachusetts–University of Barcelona, February 2012). I greatly benefited from the reactions of participants in those events. I am also grateful to the people who read the essay and provided insightful comments: Jaume Franquesa, Marc Morell, Susana Narotzky, Gavin Smith, Jacqueline Urla and the IJURR reviewers. Research funds were provided by the Spanish Department of Science (FPU fellowship and Project SEJ2007-66633).


When working-class localities in developed countries are in question, social fragmentation is often analyzed along ethnic lines. Instead, this article claims that it is more critically fruitful to explore fragmentation in terms of people's relations with the state and different forms of capital. It does this by considering housing in Spain as a key resource that connects state policies both with the forms of reproduction and (dis)organization of the disadvantaged, and with the development of real estate and finance capital. First, it unfolds the historical formation of the Spanish ‘homeownership culture’ and the construction–finance complex. Second, starting from an in-depth ethnography of a peripheral neighborhood in Barcelona, it emphasizes the embeddedness of recent financialization in the livelihood strategies of poor households. Finally, it shows how the process led to a commodification and erosion of those social relations on which it partially depended, thereby exposing problems for class reproduction and fracture lines among the urban poor.