Tag Archives: Spain

Mortgaged lives: when lives become numbers

By Melissa García-Lamarca and María Kaika, University of Manchester, UK

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Eviction Foreclosure Mortgage Poverty Vector Design. Image Credit: iluistrator via Shutterstock

In early May 2014, the Bank of England issued a warning: the increase in gross mortgage lending combined with a rise in UK housing prices place the country’s financial stability under serious threat. Indeed, the running figure for mortgage debt in the UK is alarming, sitting at over £1 trillion, as mortgage lending only continues to expand.

But the UK is not alone. While data from the European Mortgage Federation from 2014 reported the ratio of outstanding residential loans to disposable income for the UK at 116.4%, this figure was even higher in other advanced European economies: 237.4% in Denmark; 197,3% in the Netherlands; and 135% in Sweden.

At the aftermath of the US subprime mortgage crisis, the risk that escalating mortgage debt poses on the global economy has received increasing attention. However, the risk at the household level – the ‘lived’ dimension of the financialisation of housing – remains largely off the radar of both academic research and policy making (with a few notable exceptions like Desmond 2012).

In our recent paper titled “Mortgaged lives”*: the biopolitics of debt and housing financialisation, we consider mortgages as a tool that engineers an intimate relationship between global financial markets, and the bodies and lives of the workforce. Drawing upon ethnographic research and in-depth interviews with people affected by mortgage debt defaults in Spain, we show how mortgage contracts connect not only a person’s current and future income into global speculative financial strategies, but also tie the practices of everyday life into the very heart of financial markets. In other words, as housing becomes financialised, so does life itself. This process affects not only access to housing, but also the ability to care for oneself and others, perceptions of self-esteem, social status, class, citizenship and belonging in society.

By linking the changes in macro-economic processes that made mortgage credit broadly available to the experience of living a “Mortgaged Life”, our work explains how interest rates, the fluctuation of real estate prices and currency exchange rates became factors determining not only access to housing, but the very conditions and (im)possibilities of life. It shows how people begin to realise that they had never really been homeowners or middle class. Just a proletariat indebted for life to their creditors.

As the impact of mortgage debt defaults cuts across borders, educational, income, status, gender and age groups, there is urgent need to focus beyond the macro-economics of mortgage lending and into their personal, family, health and community impacts. This is of particular importance as products like 100% mortgages are reappearing on the market in the UK, and mortgaged homeownership continues to extend across the world as an increasingly common way to access housing.

For the time being, a continuous rise in housing prices, relative economic stability, low interest rates and relatively low unemployment keep mortgage defaults at bay in the European north. However, the combination of escalating housing prices, rock-bottom interest rates and extensive mortgage lending is a potentially explosive mixture not only financially, but also socially. Our paper seeks to highlight this reality, and to call for deeper attention and action.

*The paper (and blog post) borrows its title from the title of Ada Colau and Adrià Alemany’s (2012) book Mortgaged lives: From the housing bubble to the right to housing.

About the authors: Melissa García-Lamarca is a PhD candidate in Human Geography at the University of Manchester and María Kaika is Professor of Human Geography at the same university.

books_icon Colau A and Alemany A 2012 Mortaged lives: From the housing bubble to the right to housing available online https://libcom.org/files/mortgagedlives.pdf [open access]

60-world2 Council of mortgage lenders 2016 Market commentary May 2016. available online at: http://www.hypo.org/Content/Default.asp?PageID=524

60-world2 Cunliffe J 2014 Speech: Momentum in the housing market: affordability, indebtedness and risks Bank of England Available online at: www.bankofengland.co.uk/publications/Pages/speeches/default.aspx

60-world2 Jamei M 2016 European mortgage federation: the voice of the European Mortgage Industry. Available online at: https://www.cml.org.uk/news/news-and-views/market-commentary-may-2016/

books_icon García-Lamarca, M. and Kaika, M. (2016), ‘Mortgaged lives’: the biopolitics of debt and housing financialisation. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 41: 313–327. doi: 10.1111/tran.12126 [open access]

60-world2 Osborne H 2016 Barclays 100% mortgage: how much does it really help homebuyers? Available online at:  http://www.theguardian.com/money/2016/may/04/barclays-100-per-cent-mortgage-how-much-does-it-really-help-homebuyers

Gibraltar: The Fortune of Location

by Benjamin Sacks

'The Rock' looms large in political and geographical discourse. © 2013 Wikimedia Commons.

‘The Rock’ looms large in political and geographical discourse. © 2013 Wikimedia Commons.

As is the case every few years, Gibraltar recently returned to many newspapers’ front pages as London and Madrid exchanged heated words over the British-controlled territory. Speaking to reporters after meeting with Gibraltar’s Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, Prime Minister David Cameron stated that ‘the UK would always stand up for the British territory and the interests of its people’. Spain’s Foreign Minister, Jose Manuel-Margallo, responded that Gibraltar ‘is, has been and will be a national priority’. But why?

Gibraltar is an oddity amongst the world’s remaining colonial possessions. A tiny peninsula, only part of which is habitable thanks to a 1,398-ft limestone promontory, Gibraltar and its environs have been contested by various European and North African empires for a millennium, each seeking control of ‘The Rock’s’ ideal position at the entrance of the Mediterranean Sea. Today, it remains an occasionally emotional source of tension between two states otherwise intimately allied via NATO, the European Union, and almost countless cultural and economic relationships. Its remarkable physical and topographical geography has long fascinated explorers and politicians alike. Pero López de Ayala, a fourteenth century chronicler and counselor, described it as possessing near-mythical qualities: ‘With uplifted hands he [Ferdinand IV] gave thanks to Providence for the reduction [from the Moors] under his dominion of a Rock and Castle so important, and almost impregnable’. Alexander Von Humboldt described Gibraltar’s prehistoric formation at the rupture between Eurasia and Africa as ‘ante-historical, or far beyond any human tradition’, a point to which, in 1867, then-Royal Geographical Society president Sir Roderick Impey Murchison agreed. H T Norris intertwined Gibraltar and its central position with the vivid, exotic life and travels of fourteenth century Arab explorer Ibn Battūtah, who described the peninsula in lush prose:

I walked round the mountain and saw the marvellous works executed on it by our master (the late Sultan of Morocco) Abu’l-Hassan, and the armament with which he equipped it, together with the additions made thereto by our master (Abū ‘Inān), may God strengthen him, and I should have like to remain as one of its defenders to the end of my days. 

Spain formally ceded Gibraltar to Great Britain in the Treaty of Utrecht (1713) – a peace which recognised the latter’s global ascendancy over the former’s empire. The Rock rapidly became a byword for British imperial power, the supposed stability of ‘Pax Britannica’, and – just as importantly – a slogan for the Empire’s geographical extremes. Scholars, explorers, and entrepreneurs turned to Gibraltar (or, at the very least, its image) to describe similar oceanic passages, strategic outposts and, albeit more recently, territorial-colonial disputes. ‘The best parallel I can give to tidal observation of Barrow Strait’, Sherard Osborn, for instance, argued in 1873, is that of the strait of Gibraltar…where the flood-tide flows into two enclosed seas from the Atlantic Ocean’. H H Johnston, visiting Stanley’s way stations along the Congo River, borrowed the colony’s importance and meaning to describe Franco-Italian competitor Pietro Paolo De Brazza’s attempts to control the Congo region:

Should De Brazza ever reach the Congo in his present expedition, and succeed in establishing himself at Mfwa, it is rumoured that he would like to take Calina Point and make it the Gibraltar of the [Stanley] Pool, and then with this fortified post and the station of Mfwa opposite he would be able to close, if necessary, the mouth of Stanley Pool where it commences to narrow into the rushing lower portion of the Congo.

In 1915, P M Sykes similarly invoked The Rock to describe Kala Márán, a mountain near the village of Pá Kala in Persia.

Gibraltar’s position extended far beyond the Mediterranean and European Atlantic. It proved to be an ideal replenishing site for expeditions in Africa, the Middle East, the Americas and, after the completion of the Suez Canal in 1869, the Indian Ocean. Writing in The Geographical Journal months before the outbreak of the First World War, Rudyard Kipling reduced the Britain-to-India route to four essential steps: ‘London-Gibraltar; Gibraltar – Port Said; Port Said – Aden; Aden – Bombay’. Its pivotal location also greatly aided British and allied efforts during the First and Second world wars, and in a number of Cold War-era conflicts, including Suez, Aden, Malaya, Dhofar, and the Falklands.

The Royal Geographical Society was quick to discuss the Gibraltar issue following Spanish dictator Francisco Franco’s decision in 1969 to close the border with the British colony. That year, John Naylon described how Spain intended to recover Gibraltar via the creation of an economic and social development around the peninsula: the so-called Campo de Gibraltar. Madrid indeed invested in the region’s growth, but Gibraltar steadfastly refused to revert to Spain.

books_icon Gilbard, G J, 1881, A Popular History of Gibraltar, Its Institutions, and Its Neighbourhood on Both Sides of the Straits, and a Guide Book to Their Principal Places and Objects of Interests, London, 52.

books_icon Kipling, R, 1914, ‘Some Aspects of Travel‘, The Geographical Journal43.4: 365-75.

books_icon Johnston, H H, 1883, ‘A Visit to Mr. Stanley’s Stations on the River Congo‘, Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and Monthly Record of Geography, New Monthly Series, 5.10: 569-81.

books_icon Murchison, R I, 1867, ‘Address to the Royal Geographical Society‘, Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London37: cxv-clix.

books_icon Naylon, J, ‘The Campo de Gibraltar Development Plan’, Area

books_icon Norris, H T, 1959, ‘Ibn Battūtah’s Andalusian Journey‘, The Geographical Journal125.2: 185-96.

books_icon Osborn, S, 1873, ‘On the Probable Existence of Unknown Lands within the Arctic Circle‘, Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of London17.3: 172-83.

books_icon Sykes, P M, 1915, ‘A Seventh Journey in Persia‘, The Geographical Journal45.5: 357-67.

60-world2 ‘On This Day: 1982: Spain’s Rock Blockade Ends‘, BBC News. 

60-world2 ‘Gibraltar: Talks on sovereignty discounted by UK and Spain’BBC News, 3 September 2013.

RGS-IBG New Content Alert: Early View Articles (16th June 2012)

The following Early View articles are now available on Wiley Online Library.

Original Articles

Visualising postcode data for urban analysis and planning: the Amsterdam City Monitor
Karin Pfeffer, Marinus C Deurloo and Els M Veldhuizen
Article first published online: 28 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01096.x

Changing countries, changing climates: achieving thermal comfort through adaptation in everyday activities
Sara Fuller and Harriet Bulkeley
Article first published online: 28 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01105.x

Rethinking community and public space from the margins: a study of community libraries in Bangalore’s slums
Ajit K Pyati and Ahmad M Kamal
Article first published online: 25 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01100.x

Practising workplace geographies: embodied labour as method in human geography
Chris McMorran
Article first published online: 25 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01101.x

Original Articles

Muslim geographies, violence and the antinomies of community in eastern Sri Lanka
Shahul Hasbullah and Benedikt Korf
Article first published online: 11 JUN 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2012.00470.x

Characterising urban sprawl on a local scale with accessibility measures
Jungyul Sohn, Songhyun Choi, Rebecca Lewis and Gerrit Knaap
Article first published online: 29 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2012.00468.x

The geodemographics of access and participation in Geography
Alex D Singleton
Article first published online: 29 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2012.00467.x

Original Articles

Towards geographies of ‘alternative’ education: a case study of UK home schooling families
Peter Kraftl
Article first published online: 8 JUN 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00536.x

Boundary Crossings

Geographies of environmental restoration: a human geography critique of restored nature
Laura Smith
Article first published online: 8 JUN 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00537.x

A policymaker’s puzzle, or how to cross the boundary from agent-based model to land-use policymaking?
Nick Green
Article first published online: 25 MAY 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00532.x

‘Lest we forget’

by Michelle Brooks

In 1985 a tapestry of the Picasso masterpiece ‘Guernica’ was donated to the United Nations by Nelson Rockefeller in recognition of the international mandate held by the organisation. The artwork depicts the catastrophic consequences of a distant geo-politik that pitted a superior military air power against an unsuspecting rural, artisinal village.  Hitler had agreed to help Franco with his nationalistic ambitions, the plan sent German and Italian bombs reigning down on the small Basque village of Guernica in northern Spain.  On market day, at 4.40pm on April 26th 1937, three hours of non-stop carpet bombing and high-calibre gun-fire began amidst the sounds of the only defence the villagers could muster – the church bells. The town was reduced to rubble with most of the casualties predictably, women, children and animals (arguably the result of choosing market day to perpetrate this act of violence). The strategy sought to demoralise the Basque people who stood in the way of absolute power for Franco.

The painting  ‘Guernica’ depicting the scene painted by Picasso, who was living in Paris at the time, only returned to Spain in 1981 due to Picasso’s request that only when democracy ruled should the painting be repatriated. The painting has come to represent many things to many people all over the world in the various countries in which it was exhibited, most often an anti-war symbol or a rebuttal to nationalism but sometimes such historical artefacts continue to have resonance in the present day.

On the 5th February 2003, General Colin Powell addressed the United Nations Security Council attempting to convince them of the need to invade Iraq. Later upon leaving, he walked through the hallway of the 2nd floor where politicians would traditionally stand for the cameras and past a tapestry of the iconic anti-war symbol ‘Guernica’ which unusually, on this occasion had been covered with an enormous drape. However, though Picasso’s warning was hidden and silenced, in hindsight the message is deafening, and perhaps timely, this remembrance Sunday.

Read article ‘War and Peace’ by Derek Gregory for T.I.B.G.

Read about the incident at Guernica

Read about the covering of the tapestry ‘Guernica’