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The fallacy of “housing studies”: philosophical problems of knowledge and understanding in housing research

Allen, Christopher (2009) The fallacy of “housing studies”: philosophical problems of knowledge and understanding in housing research. theory and society, 26 (1). pp. 53-79. ISSN 1403-6096

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The idea of “Housing Studies” is parasitic on the notion that it is “theoretically informed” or, at least, undertaken using “research methodologies” that allow “valid generalizations” to be made in one form or another. But what does this mean and what are the epistemological implications of such a position? The implication of this position is that “Housing Studies” constitutes a superior form of “finding out about” and “knowing” housing phenomena. But housing researchers would say that because their entire existence is parasitic on their ability to elevate the importance of their methods and understanding above those of lay actors (i.e. ordinary people) and to carve a career out of their monopoly of this “expertise”. Whatever statements postmodernists make about a “democratization of knowledge”, then, they are wrong because housing researchers have successfully carved out, and defended, their position as producers of knowledge which is superior to that which exists in the heads of people that live in houses. This is why policy makers continue to turn to “housing researchers” when they seek “solutions” to “policy problems”. And that is why “housing researchers” encourage them to do so. In this paper, I seek to challenge the methodological and epistemological authority that “Housing Studies” claims for itself. I argue that the whole idea of “Housing Studies”, as it is understood by “housing researchers”, is untenable in philosophical and epistemological terms. In doing so, I challenge the legitimacy that housing researchers claim for themselves to make the authoritative statements about “housing issues”. This is not only necessary on epistemological grounds. It is also necessary because housing researchers are becoming increasingly adept at using their “knowledge” to justify government policies, such as housing market renewal, that violate the understandings that ordinary working class people have of their housing situation.

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