Tales of Deviance and Control: On Space, Rules, and Law in Squatter Settlements


  • This article benefited from discussions with, and comments by, Joep van der Vliet, Edésio Fernandes, Arthur Salomons, Benjamin van Rooij, and Gustaaf Reerink. The research was supported by two travel grants from The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (R41-504, R41-532) and a grant from the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.

Please address correspondence to Jean-Louis Van Gelder, Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement, De Boelelaan 1105, 1081 HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands; e-mail: jlvangelder@nscr.nl.


In Latin American cities, around a third of the urban population lives in tenure situations that can be designated as informal, yet variation in the ways and extent to which these arrangements do not comply with law is extensive. Furthermore, informal dwellers often employ a variety of strategies to legitimize and ultimately legalize their tenure, implying a dynamic rather than a static relationship between illegality and legality. Conceiving of land tenure in dichotomous terms, as simply being either legal or illegal, therefore, fails to reflect this diversity, nor does it capture the evolving nature of the relationship between informal settlements and the state system. Drawing from the development of squatter settlements in Buenos Aires, this article proposes an alternative perspective and shows how settlements alternate strategies of noncompliance with adaptation to the state legal system to gradually increase their legality.