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Grounding accumulation by dispossession in everyday life: The unjust geographies of urban regeneration under the Private Finance Initiative

Stuart Hodkinson (School of Geography, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK.)
Chris Essen (School of Health, University of Central Lancashire, Preston, UK.)

International Journal of Law in the Built Environment

ISSN: 1756-1450

Article publication date: 13 April 2015




This paper aims to ground Harvey’s (2003) top-down theory of “accumulation by dispossession” in the everyday lives of people and places with specific focus on the role of law. It does this by drawing upon the lived experiences of residents on a public housing estate in England (UK) undergoing regeneration and gentrification through the Private Finance Initiative (PFI).


Members of the residents association on the Myatts Field North estate, London, were engaged as action research partners, working with the researchers to collect empirical data through surveys of their neighbours, organising community events and being formally interviewed themselves. Their experiential knowledge was supplemented with an extensive review of all associated policy, planning, legal and contractual documentation, some of which was disclosed in response to requests made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.


Three specific forms of place-based dispossession were identified: the loss of consumer rights, the forcible acquisition of homes and the erasure of place identity through the estate’s rebranding. Layard’s (2010) concept of the “law of place” was shown to be broadly applicable in capturing how legal frameworks assist in enacting accumulation by dispossession in people’s lives. Equally important is the ideological power of law as a discursive practice that ultimately undermines resistance to apparent injustices.


This paper develops Harvey’s concept of accumulation by dispossession in conversation with legal geography scholarship. It shows – via the Myatts Field North estate case study – how PFI, as a mechanism of accumulation by dispossession in the abstract, enacts dispossession in the concrete, assisted by the place-making and ideological power of law.



The authors would like to thank members of the Myatts Field North Residents Association, and other local residents, for their time, assistance and support in the research project underpinning this paper. We would also like to thank the Economic and Social Research Council (RES-061-25-0536) for funding the research that underpins the article. The research project was solely designed by Hodkinson and funded under the ESRC’s First Grants scheme following rigorous blind peer review of the application and an institutional ethics review at the University of Leeds. The ESRC funded the academic and researcher time on the project plus travel, subsistence and other costs to conduct the research and disseminate the results but had no involvement in the research process itself.


Hodkinson, S. and Essen, C. (2015), "Grounding accumulation by dispossession in everyday life: The unjust geographies of urban regeneration under the Private Finance Initiative", International Journal of Law in the Built Environment, Vol. 7 No. 1, pp. 72-91.



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