Theses Master's

Crisis Management: Bureaucracy, Austerity, and Managing Homelessness in the Temporal Camp

Brennan, Derek

Housing is a crisis, and in lieu of a resolution, its fallout is managed through time indefinitely. New York City administers homeless services through intensely bureaucratized structures and by a logic of austerity that reserves public assistance only for those who ‘truly need’ it. My thesis argues that this intersection of austerity and bureaucracy produces a permanent class of unhoused people who, in their lived reality of crisis, very much need public assistance, but in the eyes of the bureaucracies that administer this assistance, do not need it enough.

The result is that their crisis continues in perpetuity. I make this argument by drawing from my own ethnographic research in New York’s Lower East Side with people who are unhoused and who are members of this permanent crisis class. For those who I have interviewed, bureaucracy is much more than the particular agencies that provide or deny them services. It is a broad governing structure that manages their lives in shelters and in public space, that suspends them in an alienated time of crisis indefinitely. I use Agamben’s (1998) notion of the camp to elucidate the indistinct temporality my informants occupy when permanently anchored at the bottom of waitlists to receive assistance. Finally, I ground these findings in the context of the real estate state (Stein 2019), which oversees the biopolitical economy of housing, and which produces, manages, and benefits from the ongoing housing crisis.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Urban Planning
Thesis Advisors
Baird-Zars, Bernadette V.
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
August 3, 2022