Professor Bernadette Atuahene receives National Science Foundation grant to study squatters in Detroit

Wednesday, June 8, 2016
For her research project on property rights and dignity, Professor Bernadette Atuahene will do on-the-ground research in Detroit, interviewing squatters, homeless people who have chosen not to squat, and homeowners and renters who live near squatters.
For her research project on property rights and dignity, Professor Bernadette Atuahene will do on-the-ground research in Detroit, interviewing squatters, homeless people who have chosen not to squat, and homeowners and renters who live near squatters.

Bernadette Atuahene, a professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law at Illinois Tech and a Faculty Fellow at the American Bar Foundation, has received an $89,500 grant from the National Science Foundation's Division of Social and Economic Sciences for a research project on the relationship between property rights and dignity. Fewer than 8 percent of applicants win this NSF grant. The American Bar Foundation is sponsoring the research.

Professor Atuahene's research will seek to illuminate why some poor and vulnerable populations choose to squat instead of pursing alternative accommodations, and how illegally occupying vacant dwellings can bolster rather than deplete dignity.

Professor Atuahene will do on-the-ground research in Detroit, where she'll interview squatters, homeless people who have chosen not to squat, and homeowners and renters who live near squatters. Detroit provides an ideal context for this research because the city has a squatting phenomenon on a scale seldom seen in America, with an estimated 6,200 to 7,400 people squatting in publicly owned buildings and an unknown number illegally occupying privately owned property.

"All my work deals with stolen land," says Professor Atuahene. "My first book project focused on stealing from above; that is, the colonial and apartheid governments stealing land from the native peoples of South Africa. My current book project in Detroit deals with stealing from below, meaning poor and vulnerable populations squatting in homes that do not belong to them."

In her first book, We Want What's Ours: Learning from South Africa's Land Restitution Program (Oxford University Press 2014), Professor Atuahene introduced the concept of "dignity takings," linking the unconsented taking of property rights and the deprivation of dignity. This project will expand on her earlier research, and Professor Atuahene is planning to write a book, produce a short documentary and organize a symposium based on her research in Detroit.

A member of the Chicago-Kent faculty since 2005 and the American Bar Foundation faculty since 2007, Professor Atuahene's scholarship focuses on the confiscation and restitution of property. After completing law school, Professor Atuahene was a Fulbright Scholar in South Africa, where she clerked at the Constitutional Court of South Africa for Justices Madala and Ngcobo. At Chicago-Kent, she teaches Law, Policy and International Development; Property; and International Business Transactions.

Founded in 1888, Chicago-Kent College of Law is the law school of Illinois Institute of Technology, also known as Illinois Tech, a private, technology-focused, research university offering undergraduate and graduate degrees in engineering, science, architecture, business, design, human sciences, applied technology, and law.

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