This dissertation is about territorial stigmatisation and public housing in Sydney, Australia. It draws on 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork, much of which was spent working with a resident action group who were contesting the redevelopment of the Waterloo estate, in the city’s inner-south. While public housing in Australia has always been a marginal form of tenure and has been further marginalised and stigmatised in the era of neoliberalisation, the stigmatisation of Waterloo is especially intense. The Waterloo estate is the largest in the country and is located in a gentrifying neighbourhood. The stigma of public housing is also conjugated with the stigma of the Aboriginal community: throughout the 20th century, the neighbourhood of Redfern-Waterloo was home to a large and politically active community of Aboriginal people from across NSW and Australia, particularly during the self-determination movement of the 1960s and 70s.
Through interviews and ethnography with tenants and community workers, interviews with public servants and other housing professionals, and discourse analysis of a range of media and policy texts over the 10 years to 2019, I unpack (i) how the territorial stigmatisation of public housing is produced; (ii) how it was deployed and articulated through the redevelopment of the Waterloo estate; and (iii) how tenants contested and resisted the redevelopment, and the stigmatisation that undergirded it, through what I call territorial struggles. I fuse concepts of territory from political geography with the prevailing urban sociological/geographical approach to territorial stigmatisation to argue for the centrality of territory to understanding the production and contestation of territorial stigmatisation. Territory is both the space controlled from above through politico-institutional practices and representations and space that is appropriated physically and symbolically from below through everyday and organised means. Thus, as I explicate through my case study, territorial stigma is not thrust upon its subjects without some form of resistance: inhabitants of stigmatised territories like Redfern-Waterloo engage in territorial struggles over both symbolic classification and physical control.