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Ask not where heroes come from: class, culture and public housing estates in neoliberal Hong Kong

Yan, Ka Ho (2021) Ask not where heroes come from: class, culture and public housing estates in neoliberal Hong Kong. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004254


This dissertation is an ethnographic investigation of public housing estates in contemporary Hong Kong. While public housing estates and their residents have been negatively represented in official narratives, this dissertation draws on Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of culture and class to analyse the stigmatisation of public housing estates and frames it as an issue of class politics over a difference in values arising between the neoliberal government (the dominant class) and poorer populations (the dominated class). It inquires into the impacts of territorial stigmatisation on making places, forming groups and shaping the culture of the actual settings of public housing estates in the historical context of the neoliberalisation of public housing. As the central enquiry covers the issues of territorial stigma and internal culture on public housing estates, this dissertation integrates a Bourdieusian approach of class with insights from Oscar Lewis’s theory of poverty culture. Based on the ethnographical data collected from 2014 to 2019 in a mega-estate neighbourhood, called ‘Immortal’, this dissertation examines the everyday stigmatised experience in the aspects of internal culture, sense of place belonging and residential aspiration of a group of estate residents who have suffered poverty for generations. It takes an actor-orientated perspective and makes sense of how the residents develop everyday survival strategies, value their deprived neighbours and neighbourhood, and shape their residential aspirations when public concern and social empathy are either limited or absent. Above all, this dissertation challenges the prevailing narrative of public housing from the ‘powers that be’ by producing an alternative narrative from ‘below’, arguing that the constant stigmatisation of poorer communities in public housing estates unavoidably leads to further economic polarisation, social inequality, and, ultimately, housing injustice. It suggests that revitalising public housing development via the destigmatisation of public housing estates is the most constructive way to build a fairer society in neo-liberal Hong Kong.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2021 Ka Ho Yan
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Sets: Departments > Sociology
Supervisor: Savage, Mike and Friedman, Sam

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