Dual Abandonment: Rurality, Homelessness and Public Culture Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • Wehman-Brown, Grover
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Communication
  • This dissertation examines the specifically rural contours of inadequate housing in one community in the mountains of California. It does so within the context of an overwhelmingly urban conception of homelessness in the popular imaginary as well as political and theoretical frameworks. While urban homelessness dominates public discourse about the problem and its most visible forms stand in for the entire system of living without adequate housing in the United States, rural homelessness is a different experience in a variety of ways. This work identifies how rural inadequate housing is informed by specifically rural phenomena, such as rural housing stock, reduced physical visibility but increased social visibility, and far physical distances between amenities. There are discrepancies between how people survive being inadequately housed in the region and how housed people talked about homelessness. I argue that the discursive strategies used to talk about homelessness are products of social imaginaries. Housed residents rely on these imaginaries to distance themselves from collective responsibility to rectify housing insecurity and to deflect reckoning with their own position within tiers of economic insecurity that are widespread in the region. Small towns in the United States are often considered inherently safe places where everybody knows everybody else. Hierarchies of belonging and exclusionary practices in the area chafe against the ideal that small towns are the natural sites of take-care-of-your-neighbor democratic practice. I name this phenomenon, the idea that rural areas are ideal spaces for town-hall style democracy, rural exceptionalism. I argue that rural exceptionalism obstructs small-town communities from reckoning with the economic disinvestment that influences difficult problems such as inadequate housing; it orients critique of local problems inward instead of outward, resting on the belief that ideal democratic practice should be able to deal with problems such as an unhoused person in the community. This inward-focus detracts from the way wider-scale debates about the distribution of resources are enacted through dominant forms of public cultural practice. I argue that these dominant forms, particularly the administrative form most often used to manage and deliberate about homelessness, are urban-biased. Rural inadequate housing is the experience of dual abandonment- first, abandonment outside of the system of housing, then a regional abandonment from the administrative form said to manage and deliver aid. I analyze the way life is lived in dual abandonment, showing how disposability is productive of certain disposable practices of care, what Desmond (2012) calls disposable ties. Within the realm of disposability, violence and risk are differentially experienced, in this case based on gender. The systems of homelessness and the prison industrial complex are used to manage misogyny’s excess, and as such, differential disposabilities should be considered when making claims about precarity and disposability.
Date of publication
Resource type
Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Gökarıksel, Banu
  • Packer, Jeremy
  • Lundberg, Christian
  • Dempsey, Sarah
  • Sharma, Sarah
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2016

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