Dissertation / Book Manuscript

Managing Marginality: Homeless Seclusion and Survival


My dissertation Managing Marginality: Homeless Seclusion and Survival is an ethnography of the three signature institutions governing homelessness in the US metropolis: the streets, shelters, and homeless housing programs. Combining ethnographic observations of living alongside those experiencing homelessness in encampments, shelters, and residential programs, and working with bureaucrats, activists, and service providers addressing homelessness the dissertation traces how homelessness is struggled over as a governable social problem and the implications this has for the daily existence among the unhoused. Rather than taking homelessness as the outcome of poverty and inequality, the dissertation elaborates how the state’s treatments of homelessness fuels inequality from below and perpetuates poverty.

This page includes the first round of articles and reports from the dissertation research. The dissertation and book manuscript are forthcoming. 

Works under review are not linked. However, I'm happy to share with those interested in reading these drafts. Feel free to drop me a line at christoph.herring@berkeley.org


“Between Street and Shelter: Homeless Seclusion and the Neutralization of Poverty.” In Press.In J. Flint, R. Powell, and L. Wacquant (eds.) Rethinking Urban Inequality: Class, Ethnicity, and State in the Polarized Metropolis. London: Palgrave.

On any given night, hundreds of thousands of Americans find themselves without a home and residing either outside on the streets or inside in a shelter. Yet, we know very little about why some go in and others stay out. This article examines the dynamic connection between these two primary spaces of homeless seclusion in the US metropolis through a case study of San Francisco: a city known for both its robust shelter system and large number of unsheltered homeless. The paper draws on an enactive ethnography living alongside those on the streets and in shelters, and an ethnography of the bureaucratic field working alongside policymakers, police officers, social workers, and community groups, to illustrate how state classifications and policies sort, propel, and repel sections of the poor into one space or another. The paper builds on and extends Wacquant’s underutilized conception of socio-spatial seclusion (2010) to elaborate how state regulations of physical space (shelter/street) work in consort to (re)produce distinctions in social space (deserving/undeserving) that both fuels inequality from below, while neutralizing poverty through invisibilization and de-politicization.


“Pervasive Penality: How the Criminalization of Homelessness Perpetuates Poverty.” In Press. Social Problems. with Dilara Yarbrough and Lisa Marie Alatorre.

A growing literature is looking beyond incarceration to understand the extent to which the criminal justice system perpetuates poverty and inequality. This paper examines how anti-homeless laws, the most prominent and rapidly growing subset of quality of life laws in US cities today, produces various forms of police interactions that fall short of arrest, yet have wide-ranging impacts on the urban poor. Because such interactions are largely untracked by the state, and in turn under-scrutinized by scholars, our study provides one of the first assessments of the effects of quality-of-life policing on marginalized groups drawing on a citywide survey of those who have recently experienced homelessness along with 43-in-depth interviews. Our analysis elaborates the mechanisms through which consistent punitive interactions, including move-along orders, citations and destruction of property systematically limit homeless people’s access to services, housing, and jobs, while damaging their health, safety, and well-being. Our findings also suggest that anti-homeless laws and enforcement fail to deliver on their promise of reducing urban disorder, instead creating a spatial churn in which homeless people circulate between neighborhoods and police jurisdictions rather than leaving public space. We argue that these laws and their enforcement, which affected the majority of study participants, constitute a larger process of pervasive penality - consistent punitive interactions with state officials that most often do not result in arrest, but nonetheless exact widespread and deep material and psychological harm. This process not only reproduces homelessness, but also deepens racial, gender, and health inequalities among the urban poor. 


“Urban Revanchism Reloaded: Homelessness, Policing, and Gentrification.” R&R at Antipode.

Geographer Neil Smith first conceptualized Urban Revanchism - the vengeful reclaiming of city spaces from the most oppressed by the rising classes of the new economy – in the struggle over Tompkins Square Park and its homeless residents in 1988. Since then the revanchist thesis has been hugely influential in charting studies on the punitive turn in homeless and urban policy more generally. It has also been widely critiqued. On the 30th anniversary of the Tompkins Square Park protests, this paper considers what has changed and what has stayed the same with regards to the criminalization of homelessness over the past three decades, while also addressing the critiques of the revanchist thesis. Drawing on an ethnographic study in San Francisco, the paper demonstrates how urban revanchism persists stronger than ever in regulating homelessness in the US metropolis. However, it expresses itself  in novel ways and is promulgated by causes both new and unrecognized than originally conceptualized.


“Punishing the Poorest: How San Francisco’s Criminalization of Homelessness Perpetuates Poverty.” 2015. with Dilara Yarbrough and the SF Coalition on Homelessness. San Francisco.

This report details the effects of criminalization on the homeless residents of San Francisco. Since 1981, San Francisco has passed more local measures to criminalize sleeping, sitting, or panhandling in public spaces than any other city in the state of California.  The report documents and analyzes the impacts of the rising tide of anti-homeless laws in our era of mass incarceration on those experiencing homelessness in San Francisco. This portrait of the impact of criminalization on homelessness in San Francisco is based on a citywide survey of 351 homeless individuals and 43 in-depth interviews carried out by volunteers at the Coalition on Homelessness and supervised by researchers at the UC Berkeley Center on Human Rights. It also analyzes data on policy, citations, and arrests received from the San Francisco Police Department, the Sheriff ’s Office, the Human Services Agency, and the Recreation and Park Department. The report provides an in-depth analysis of each step in the criminalization of homelessness — from interactions with law enforcement, to the issuance and processing of citations, to incarceration and release. The study makes evident how criminalization not only fails to reduce homelessness in public space, but also perpetuates homelessness, racial and gender inequality, and poverty even once one has exited homelessness.

for articles, videos, media, and policy briefs and additional resources from the report see the SF Homeless Criminalization Study



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