Accepted paper:

The enabling constraints of poverty's materiality: notes from a Dominican squatter settlement


Taylor Erin (Canela Consulting)

Paper short abstract:

An 'enabling constraint' is a condition that permits action precisely because it limits options. This paper examines how the built environment of a Santo Domingo squatter settlement can facilitate creativity and change precisely because of its economic and symbolic limitations.

Paper long abstract:

In the Caribbean, the phrase 'creativity within constraint' refers to the remarkable cultural repertoires developed in the region despite extreme limitations, especially the violence of slavery. I take the concept one step further to argue that without constraints, certain forms of creativity would probably never take place. People with little power and few resources are compelled to find new ways to overcome the constraints that bind them, at times generating remarkable innovations out of the material or conceptual resources that are available to. Switching focus from limitations to 'enabling constraints' draws attention to the abilities, capacities and agencies of people in the Caribbean and elsewhere. In Santo Domingo's squatter settlements, the lifelong process of building one's own home on untitled land is a compelling example of a positive trade-off gained by living in a stigmatized neighbourhood. Lack of land title severely constraints residents' practices and aspirations, but it can also act as an enabling constraint. Through building and furnishing a home over many years, residents eventually provide themselves with a measure of security from natural disasters and economic crises, and space for aesthetic expression. Importantly, they also literally construct a community whose architecture and planning permit an embedded sociality that many middle-class Dominicans lament is disappearing from their lives as the country develops. This paper explains the basis of the barrio's material character and sets the stage for a critical examination of the positive and negative impacts that materiality has on life and life chances in poor communities.

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Materiality and poverty