Between self-regulation and formal government: the challenges of self-build housing and facilities, BESEFOGO


This proposal deals with the topic of self-build housing and local facilities in Brazil and the Netherlands. Self-build is defined in this research as the practice in which people produce their own house and (collective) neighbourhood facilities. This can be with or without the hiring of outside expertise (architect, constructor, labourers etc.) or official funding outlets (bank loans, mortgages etc.). Formal institutions and governance systems face increasing difficulties in both countries to satisfy the need for good quality, affordable housing, which is an important condition for socially sustainable urban development. Brazil has a long history of low quality informal self-build housing areas that currently face the challenge to improve regarding tenure security, safety and access to basic needs like sanitation, energy, water and public transport. On first sight conditions in the Netherlands are completely different. However, also here we see growing attention, and even stimulating policies, to enhance self-building of housing and facilities to create more affordable, consumer-tailored housing options for low-income people.
Although contexts and drivers around this topic are different between the two settings, a quintessential comparative aspect ? and one that this research project is centred around ? addresses the highly sensitive contemporary dilemma on modernisation and subsequent government regulation on the one hand versus the capacities and potentials of social self-regulation on the other. In both settings, navigating through this intricate dilemma requires a repositioning of the supply and demand side orientations of the existing governance arrangements in this domain. By focusing the research on the dynamics of this dilemma in the transient micro-context of urban neighbourhoods, we aim to unravel the potentials and the margins of self-building initiatives in order to detect the robust variables that might enhance durable strategies for more socially sustainable forms of urban development.

The main research question is: ?How is the capacity for self-regulation in practices of self-build housing and facilities related to formal governance and regulation domains and how can this relationship be optimized to create more socially sustainable forms of urbanization??. This question is studied more in detail ? and with the use of different methodologies ? by addressing sub-research questions regarding the mapping of self-build practices, the experience of self-build practices by residents and their socially sustainable effects in terms of provision of affordable housing and enhanced networks in each locale. In all these questions the relationship between the practices of self-regulation and the formal governance practices and regulations play a sensitizing role.
Although conditions, settings and practices are different between Brazil and the Netherlands, the local relationships between formal and informal (self-regulatory) governance arrangements are of utmost importance in both situations. A characteristic of formal governance systems in both settings is that they are mostly based on the belief that social systems are simple and controllable by a set of rules. This kind of thinking, that forms the basis for modernist planning interventions, is often pursuing measures of ?control? over spaces. Taking self-organization and its potential for more socially sustainable urban development seriously, we need to better understand its dynamics in the context of these more formal governance systems. Both have their (isolated) logic: the control that formal governance systems (ideally) pursue is necessary to protect (existing and future) property owners by realizing juridical certainties, to safeguard public goods and to allocate public funds in an optimal way. Self-organizing activities are an example of a continuously developing ?landscape of opportunities? filled with sets of initiatives, changing demands, and emerging practices of (potential) owners and users of spaces (Savini et al., 2014, 3-4). As such, self-organisation often challenges existing formal rules and logics. However, at some time, many of these self-organized activities themselves are someway dependant on more formal governance arrangements to create basic legal certainty or financial support. It is no surprise therefore that the topic of self-build housing and facilities is full of tensions in both locales. To conceptualize how these new practices can be advanced we have to analyse forms of cohabitation between demands for control and self-organization in processes of urban transformation.

In both cases we will study innovative programs that might offer exemplary insights for mainstream practice. The research project will be set up as a truly interactive affair. Communication and dissemination play an important role. In an early stage a Policy Advisory Board is formed. Different international scientific workshops will be organized. With the help of residents and students a public exhibition on self-build housing halfway the project will be a highlight. Regarding the expected outcomes, this research will allow an important experience of exchange between Brazil and the Netherlands, from individual strategies to collective achievements. There are transnational lessons to be learned about the way in which social sustainability gets built into the various self-build models; and the multiple opportunities and barriers faced by each (in terms of policy, social or environmental contexts and economic capacity). By studying the long-term process of building and/or living in self-build housing developments, we can better understand the inter-relationships between the material, political, social and economic in the development of self-build as sustainable form. We aim to collect new and precise information about demand led arrangements of self-building and facilities and about demand-led relationships between the end-users and the suppliers of services (housing associations, architects, construction offices, financing agencies, etc.). By conducting the research in close cooperation with these parties we aim to inform and strengthen networks of cohabitation between self-regulatory and formal governance.



  • Beoogd: Proefschrift


Project number


Main applicant

Prof. dr. W.G.M. Salet

Affiliated with

Universiteit van Amsterdam, Faculteit der Maatschappij- en Gedragswetenschappen, Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR)

Team members

D. Bosschuyt MSc, J.J. de Voogd MA


01/10/2015 to 01/10/2019