Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Communication Studies

Document Type



This dissertation tracks the historical shift from containment strategies for managing homeless populations in Skid Row to current strategies of using police and the penal system to periodically sweep the street of these unwanted bodies. This shift hinges on the construction of homelessness as a crisis requiring immediate and ongoing intervention. First, the state produces and reproduces homelessness as a state of crisis by withdrawing or denying support and public services and disallowing alternative, subsistence modes of survival. Then, it issues the performative utterance of the area as unclean or unsanitary. Developers and city officials mobilize the police to erase a visible presence of homeless bodies from the area. The “crisis” of homelessness, variously constructed as an issue of urban aesthetics, public health, and crime, enables public policy to be made on the fly. These policies have uniformly favored economic development at the expense of the needs of homeless persons and communities. The performative state needs the homeless to legitimate state intervention on behalf of developers. In this dissertation, I demonstrate how the racialized rhetorics of thanatology and revitalization have been used to construct homelessness as a crisis for the city in a manner that positions the homeless as threats to the life of the city. According to this rhetoric, it is cities that have economic vitality worth protecting and homeless people who act as an unwanted and degenerate economic species threatening their financial fitness, health, and well-being. I argue that the performative state produces homelessness as a material state of crisis and rhetorically constructs homelessness as a crisis legitimating intervention on the part of the state. The dissertation is organized according to the various ways in which homelessness has been constructed as a crisis warranting intervention: urban aesthetics, homelessness and practices of poverty as an eyesore (Chapter 2), public safety and crime prevention à la the broken windows theory (Chapter 3), and the economic vitality of the international city (Chapter 4). This dissertation seeks to explore the stakes across various constructions of the existence of the homeless population and their practices of poverty.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Hall, Rachel



Included in

Communication Commons