Citizens Without Shelter: Homelessness, Democracy, and Political
Exclusion. By Leonard C. Feldman. Ithaca and London: Cornell
University Press, 2004. 224p. $35.00.
American attitudes toward the homeless tend to shift back and forth
between compassion and compassion fatigue, between supporting policies
to provide resources to the homeless and supporting punitive policies
to exclude them from public spaces. This ambivalence is often explained
by invoking “economic functionality” and/or “a
cultural logic” (p. 5), but neither of these approaches is
adequate. Rather, Leonard Feldman argues, we should see the problem of
homelessness as a “problem of sovereign state power” (p.
18). Citizenship, and political life generally, are defined in
opposition to “bare life,” or “mere physical
existence”: Citizenship as full membership is constituted as the
exclusion of bare life” (p. 18). Feldman continues,
“Home-dwelling citizen and homeless bare life are political
statuses, not social statuses or elements of personal identity”
(p. 20), and so an adequate response to homelessness must also be
political. He calls for a move toward a “pluralized
citizenship” (p. 21), in which we deconstruct “the rigid
oppositions between … bare life and citizenship.”
Acknowledging a plurality of ways of dwelling, we can then recognize
“that those displaced from ‘house’ and
‘home’ must dwell … and that public policy should be
oriented toward enabling dwelling, not criminalizing it or reducing it
to the stripped down client relationship of the shelter” (p.
147). More specifically, rather than repressing the habitats and
networks that the homeless have themselves created, we should recognize
these communities, including, in particular, “politicized
homeless encampments” (p. 107) as participants in the political
processes through which we formulate policy.