Neoliberal privatisation? Remapping the public and the private in Sydney's masterplanned residential estates

Pauline McGuirk*, Robyn Dowling

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

96 Citations (Scopus)


The analysis of neoliberalism has become a key point of departure in critical urban studies and political geography. Its application in theorising new forms of residential environments is no exception. Common interest developments, gated communities and, in the Australian case, masterplanned residential estates (MPREs) are cast as vehicles of neoliberalist privatisation, extending private property rights and embedding market logics and neoliberal modes of privatised governance. This paper is a critical theoretical and empirical engagement with the interpretation of these residential developments as iconic expressions of urban neoliberalisation. We bring poststructuralist thinking on neoliberalism as an assemblage of diverse practices and projects together with poststructuralist conceptions of the public and private as contextual and enacted political constructions, to provide an alternative analytic-an analytic of assemblage-for investigating putative pathways of neoliberal privatisation. We suggest the purchase of this extended framework through an exploration of MPRE development by Sydney's largest MPRE developer. In this framework, MPREs become contingent productions in which multiple and overdetermined projects, practices and paradigms of governance are at work including, amongst others, social sustainability and interventionism. Rather than producing neoliberal privatisation, we explore how MPRE developments involve the complex constitution of new forms of public and private that exceed coding as neoliberal. We conclude that the framework engaged with here can enable productive advances for urban theorising. Its emphasis on practice, enactment, multiplicity and assemblage can resist a tendency to reify urban neoliberalism and nurture the development of new conceptions and discourses of urban governance less bound to the neoliberal imaginary.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)174-185
Number of pages12
JournalPolitical Geography
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2009


  • Masterplanned residential estates
  • Poststructural theory
  • Public/private
  • Urban neoliberalism


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