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Title page for ETD etd-12032010-202846

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Williams, Damian Terry
Author's Email Address damian.williams@cuchicago.edu
URN etd-12032010-202846
Title Down and Out in Music City: The Urban Structuration of Homelessness
Degree PhD
Department Sociology
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Richard Lloyd Committee Chair
Brooke Ackerly Committee Member
Daniel Cornfield Committee Member
Larry Isaac Committee Member
  • structuration
  • skid row
  • urban ethnography
  • poverty
  • homeless shelter industry
  • day labor
  • homelessness
  • moral economy
  • organizational ghetto
Date of Defense 2010-09-10
Availability unrestricted
Within the “entrepreneurial city,” a distinctive organizational and spatial environment has emerged that serves to manage the activities of dispossessed populations, referred to here as an “organizational ghetto.” Previous studies overlook these novel formations and obscure their central role in structuring the otherwise chaotic social relations of unhoused individuals into routine processes that organize the urban environment: the urban structuration of homelessness.

Drawing on archival materials, in-depth interviews and ethnographic observation, this study examines the internal and external mechanisms that (re)produce the social relations which constitute Nashville’s organizational ghetto (the Lafayette district) – comprised of a rescue mission, a drop-in center, a free clinic, and three day labor agencies – with an emphasis on its inner workings.

My central claim is that the organizational milieus caretakers cultivate are the foundational building blocks of a spatial structure that (re)produces internal staff-client relations which extend in time and space to shape and bound routine aspects of homeless men’s survival in the larger urban milieu. Caretakers distribute life-sustaining resources to envelop homeless men in the reciprocal bonds required to construct religious “community” and intercede the redemptive power of God. These moral economies of care are the central mechanisms of the organizational ghetto’s “recurrent self-production.” Caretakers’ religious schemas – which shape the meaning and purpose behind their transmutation of goods and services into conduits of religious authority (moral alchemy) – are the district’s central organizing principles. Day labor agencies co-opt these staff-client relations through their recruitment, deployment, and management of homeless “employees” by way of a job-allocation queue – an auxiliary mechanism that structures the situation of otherwise unemployable men into a routinized employment practice that creates provisional order out of chaos vis-à-vis the transmutation of transience into a “reliably contingent” workforce (fiscal alchemy).

Secondarily, I reveal how these internal mechanisms are reinforced from without by a variegated regime of entrepreneurial governance, including urban authorities’ redevelopment schemes and interdictory strategies of boundary maintenance as well as the local welfare state’s retrenchment strategies and devolution of managerial authority. Links between the district’s daily operations and the broader political culture account for Lafayette’s (re)production, revealing the rolling inertia of relegatory space.

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