The BioPolitics of Homelessness
Kevin S. Jobe
SUNY at Stony Brook
Dissertation Proposal Outline, in progress
One of the central problems of the public health industry at least since the 1960s has been to address what the
National Center for Health Statistics has called “the burden of death and illness experienced by low-income groups as compared with the nation as a whole”
. This focus on improving the overall health of ‘populations-at-risk’, however, has produced what some practitioners in the field have dubbed the “inequality paradox” (Frohlich 2008) – namely, the paradoxical outcome that “the objective of improving population health may not necessarily be compatible with the objective of reducing health disparities” (ibid). In fact, as some authors note, population-based approaches to improving health in some cases actually exacerbate existing health disparities. As I shall try to demonstrate, nowhere is this paradox more evident than in the problematization and governance of homelessness in the United States during the last century. I will attempt to demonstrate this by showing how the biopolitical governance of homelessness during the last century, in conjunction with the disciplinary regulation of homeless bodies, entails the production and regulation of a population which is seen as a biological threat to the society as a whole. In addition, I wish to discuss how, under recent neoliberal forms of economic governance, homeless populations are being regulated by becoming crucial sites of biomedical research and investment.
My dissertation will be centered around three sections. The first section will address the various forms of disciplinary
regulation that have contributed to the physical, spatial and conceptual constitution of homeless bodies. This first analysis would include an analysis of anti-homeless legislation, shelter and other homeless institutional practices, media and public perception, and housing insecurity. (Citizens Without Shelter: Homelessness, Democracy and Political Exclusion. Leonard Feldman. Cornell Univ. Press, 2004; Homelessness, Citizenship, and Identity: the Uncanniness of Late Modernity. Kathleen Arnold. SUNY Press, 2004) The second section will address the various forms of biopolitical regulation that have contributed to the formation of homeless bodies as populations. This second analysis will include an analysis of population-based approaches of intervention in the public health industry, in psychiatry, and in public housing. (Frohlich et al 2008; Phelan et al 1999; Wilsse 2010) Here, I will argue that the regulation of homeless populations through these mechanisms of biopower constitute homeless populations as a biological threat to society at large, and that this begins to explain why population-based approaches to improving the health of homeless groups exacerbates rather than corrects health disparities between homeless groups and the rest of society. The third and final section will address the way in which new forms of biopolitical governance can be seen in neoliberal approaches to biomedical research and investment in homeless populations
. Here, I will argue that biomedical and neuropsychiatric research and investment in homeless populations constitutes a new form of biopolitical governance – a neoliberal biopolitics of homelessness. This neoliberal biopolitics of homelessness, I argue, further shows the way in which the biological threat posed by homeless populations is itself seen as potential source of biomedical research and investment, thereby reinforcing and re-inscribing the “burden of death and illness” experienced by homeless populations.
Quoted from the Encyclopedia of Homelessness, Vol. 1. David Lensen (ed.) London: SAGE. 2004, p. 115
Jackson, Lisa A and Spach, David H. 1996. Emergence of Bartonella quintana Infection Among Homeless Persons. Emerging Infectious Diseases. Vol. 2, No. 2—April-June 1996; Raoult, Didier et al. Infections in the homeless The Lancet. Infectious Diseases. Vol 1 September 2001; Bonilla, Denise L. et al. Bartonella quintana in Body Lice and Head Lice from Homeless Persons, San Francisco, California, USA. Emerging Infectious Diseases CME. 2009;15(6), 2009 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
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