2021. Punishment, Support, and/or Discipline? Taking Stock of Debates About Homeless Governance in Neoliberal Cities (Forthcoming)

An interdisciplinary debate emerged in the 1990s about the nature of homeless governance in neoliberal cities. Contributions to this discussion have interrogated the form, function, and legitimacy of contemporary homeless management. Urban scholars have differentiated three techniques of homeless governance: punishment, support, and discipline. A subset of scholarship has defined punitive governance as an illegitimate act of repression that promotes urban revitalization by excluding the homeless from urban political economies, supportive governance as a legitimate act of voluntary or coercive care that helps the homeless survive a traumatic life experience, and disciplinary governance as an illegitimate act of production that fortifies urban political economies by including rather than excluding homeless individuals into bourgeois institutions. An emerging body of research demonstrates frontline workers coordinate techniques of governance to pursue the aims of institutional elites. This article outlines the main points of contention in this debate, examines significant empirical findings that scholars have reported, and identifies salient knowledge gaps to be addressed in future research.

Housing First is a hegemonic model of homeless services that advocates immediate placement in permanent supportive housing without preconditions such as sobriety, treatment, or employment.  Federal authorities in the United States have adopted Housing First as a governmentality to make social investments through homeless policy. Although research has examined logics that federal authorities used to make this social investment, sociologists have devoted little attention to techniques that frontline workers use to yield returns on social investment in neoliberal cities. This knowledge gap hinders sociologists from theorizing contemporary urban poverty governance. I make three contributions that address this shortcoming. First, I present a unique qualitative analysis that examines techniques that Housing First providers in a U.S. Rust Belt county use to select a lease configuration for their clients. Second, I expand the definition of economisation to incorporate logics that Housing First providers use to estimate transaction costs they will confront while mediating rental market exchanges with a particular lease configuration. Third, I demonstrate, unlike federal policymakers who economise homeless populations as public expenditures to make social investments, service providers economise homeless individuals as transaction costs to yield returns on Housing First in urban communities.

Community care is the “hospital without walls” model of mental healthcare that deinstitutionalized mental patients in the late-20th century. Neoliberal reforms have challenged the implementation of community care by restricting access to permanent housing. Extreme poverty has rendered eviction commonplace for community care recipients. The mark of an eviction limits lease attainment. In response, community care providers practice proxy deflection—redemption, externalization, and paternalism—to resist eviction stigma during the leasing process. This observation extends stigma research by examining resistance rather than imposition of stigma by social service providers, contextualizing resistance with the perspective of stigmatizers, and identifying resources proxy resistance offers service recipients. 

This article calls for a renewed investigation of the world-system position inequality link. We begin by outlining two general types of causal mechanisms through which a country's position in the world-system should impact the distribution of income within it. The first type impacts inequality indirectly by conditioning the developmental process, and call for conceptual and empirical models of inequality that account for the link between world-system position and economic development. The second type impacts inequality directly through processes that are more or less unobservable because they change over time or belie cross-nationally comparative indicators, and can thereby be captured by direct measurements of world-system position itself that stand in for varying or unobservable causal processes. We then analyze five measures of world-system position to identify which, if any, provides the most useful association with income inequality. Our findings suggest that the classic measure of Snyder and Kick (1979) provides the strongest association. We conclude by suggesting fruitful directions for future research.