Tecmerin. Journal of Audiovisual Essays

Issue 12 – 2023 (2)

Dispossession through mortgage debt in three acts

Laura Caballero Rabanal (University of Massachusetts Amherst)

How to cite this article: Caballero, L. (2023). Dispossession through mortgage debt in three acts. Tecmerin. Journal of Audiovisual Essays, 12, 2023(2). ISSN: 2659-4269

The 2008 financial crisis had the real estate sector as its breeding ground, and more specifically, the rules of the market that govern the access to the essential right of housing. According to a report published by the Observatori DESC (2020), 684,385 evictions were executed between 2008 and 2019 in the Spanish State, which equals a total amount of 1,710,963 evicted people. These figures include different causes of eviction (foreclosure, non-payment of rent, lease expiration, tenancy at sufferance or without lease agreement). In the last years, evictions due to non-payment of rent have exceeded the number of foreclosures.

In his study on the contradictions of capitalism, geographer David Harvey (2003) pointed out that this socioeconomic system uses a specific strategy to ensure its survival after the cyclical overaccumulation crises caused by the system itself. Such crises derive from surpluses, both based on capital (goods, money, or forms of production), and (unemployed) workforce. Such tactic, named by this author spatio-temporal fix, lies in deferring the outbreak of crises by the occupation of space, that is to say, absorbing such surpluses through geographical expansion projects.

On a more personal level, displacement and eviction processes produce diverse emotions in the people who endure them. These reactions allow us to draw, in broad terms, certain similarities that are common to such processes. Moreover, this affectivity adds a political dimension to the experience of the subjectivities who undergo dispossession, linking them to other bodies and rooting theirs in the territory (Ahmed, 2004).

Affective reactions such as shame, fear, guilt, or rage pervade the audiovisual works chosen for the video-essay that accompanies this text: Cerca de tu casa (‘At your Doorstep’, 2016), directed by Eduard Cortés, and En los márgenes (‘On the Fringe’, 2022), directed by Juan Diego Botto. Both feature films have Spanish working-class, women, and mothers as their protagonists, which sheds light on the kind of profile that faces this type of processes. In En los márgenes, there are also scenes from neighbor assembly meetings with migrant participants, whose vulnerability is increased, apart from questions such as race, gender, or class, by their transnational trajectory and the bureaucratic obstacles they encounter to access housing in the destination country.

In their feminist analysis of financial debt as a mechanism for social control, Argentinian scholars and activists Verónica Gago and Luci Cavallero (2021) provide us with the ultimate key to connect individual experiences with the structural, systemic, and thus, political dimension that sustains the indebtedness of popular classes as the only way to access basic rights.

Without overlooking the need to apply a situated perspective, and even though the research conducted by these authors focuses on Argentina and its specificities, I believe that their arguments and findings are extremely valuable for the Spanish context. Gago and Cavallero propose “to take debt out of the closet” as a response to the feelings of guilt and shame provoked by the debt in those bodies with multilayered and overlapped intersections, over which the debt exercises its power. To do so, it is necessary to make visible the fact that it is a social concern that does not belong in the private sphere only, but that it needs to be made public to denounce power and control hierarchies that operate through the financialization of everyday life.

In the case of the Spanish State, the Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (‘Platform for People Affected by Mortgages’, or PAH) has been playing an invaluable role of social pillar since the outset of the financial crisis, as depicted in both movies: they offer legal advice to the participants of their meetings, and they practice civil disobedience to stop eviction executions that have been taking place almost on a daily basis, especially in big cities.

By building a dialogue between social problem films and quotes based on rigorous research and activist-situated knowledge, this video-essay intends to reflect on the power of collective action from its multiple aspects (scholar, creative, and activist spheres) in order to find alternative ways to analyze and give response to this urgent social reality.


  • Ahmed, S. (2004). Cultural Politics of Emotion. Edinburgh University Press.
  • Botto, J. D. (Director). (2022). En los márgenes [Película]. Morena Films.
  • Cortés, E. (Director). (2016). Cerca de tu casa [Película]. Bausan Films.
  • Gago, V. y Cavallero, L. (2021) Una lectura feminista de la deuda. ¡Vivas, libres y desendeudadas nos queremos! Tinta Limón Ediciones.
  • Harvey, D. (2003). The New Imperialism. Oxford University Press.
  • Observatori DESC. (2020). L’evolució dels desnonaments 2008-2019: de l’emergència a la consolidación d’una crisi habitacional. https://observatoridesc.org/sites/default/files/publication/files/informe-desnonaments-3.pdf 
  • Palomera, J. (2014). How did finance capital infiltrate the world of the urban poor? Homeownership and social fragmentation in a Spanish neighborhood. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 38(1), 218-235. https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-2427.12055

Tecmerin. Journal of Audiovisual Essays
ISSN: 2659-4269
© Tecmerin Research Group
Universidad Carlos III de Madrid