Life within the Wall and Implications for Those Outside It: Gated Communities in Malaysia and Ghana

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Journal of Asian and African Studies, 2014, 49 (5), pp. 544 - 558
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© The Author(s) 2013. The North American scholarship on gated housing communities posits the desire for security as the main driver for gating, but does this hold true for less wealthy countries? To address this question, this study examines evidence of why people live behind gates in Malaysia and Ghana and investigates the socio-economic implications of gating. It uses a critical institutional framework anchored on Foucault’s interpretation of ‘panopticon’ and Runciman’s theory of relative deprivation, while drawing empirical evidence from surveys and emic experiences. It finds that, while security is an important reason, it is the provision of quality housing services that is reported as the single most important reason for living behind gates. ‘Quality service’ is, however, shorthand for a preference for privileged status. Further, the paper reveals that it is more helpful to see the binary between quality and security as constituting a flexible continuum of motives. Inhabitants of gated housing communities may be primarily motivated by quality service or prestige. Yet, as they set themselves up against the rest of society by enclosing themselves in walls of affluence, they begin to feel a need for greater security. This feeling of insecurity is heightened as people outside the gates feel relatively deprived. Thus, the desire for security becomes illusory and attainment of privilege, pyrrhic, while the harsh socio-economic conditions for a large stratum of the urban population living outside the gates persist and are sometimes worsened.
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