Whiteness as Post-Socialist Property: The Racial Politics of Privatization in Budapest's Eighth District

Authors: Jonathan McCombs*, University of Georgia
Topics: Urban Geography, Ethnicity and Race, East Europe
Keywords: Roma, Geographies of Race, Urban Geography, Post-Socialist Urban Geography, Private Property, Hungary
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 42
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper adapts insights from Cheryl Harris's "Whiteness as Property" to analyze racialized property dispossession from 1989-2003 in Budapest, Hungary's Eighth District. The district is home to a large Roma community, many of whom immigrated to the district in the 1970s under state socialism. With the transition from state-socialism to neo-liberal capitalism, the Hungarian state inaugurated a mass housing privatization scheme with the end goal of using rental markets to allocate housing. I argue that the establishment of housing markets was premised on Roma dispossession from urban areas, particularly the Eighth District. This presentation aims to place Roma housing displacement into conversation with research that focuses on racialized property dispossession as an endemic feature of capitalist accumulation. The argument proceeds in three phases: 1) drawing on recent research in Black geographies, I argue that the social science community in Hungary in conjunction with international experts, had established a "Roma a-spatiality" by designating Romani residents as living in a culture of poverty. As I show in this presentation, the culture of poverty thesis was propagated by sociologists drawing on US based scholarship of Black Americans. 2) I present evidence of redlining in the district, justified by a pervasive narrative that Roma were unfit for property ownership. 3) I detail how the state, the media, and the scientific community contributed to a narrative that Roma squatters were taking over flats in the Eighth District, disrupting the market mechanism. I close by detailing the legal consequences of the anti-squatting campaigns in the late-1990s.

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