To the Edge of the Urban Landscape: Homelessness and the Politics of Care

Room F
Monday, 31 August 2015
15.15 – 17.00
ethics, homelessness

In political theory homelessness is left relatively unexplored. However, it is a problem that millions of people in the developed world have to deal with on a daily basis. In this paper I will argue that the pluralizing and the liberal approach to homelessness are deeply problematic from a moral point of view. I will defend a qualified version of the care approach instead.

The pluralizing approach argues that the homeless increasingly are excluded from the public sphere as a result of homogenous conceptions of it. Hence the call for the “right” of the homeless “to the city,” that is, the right to dwell and exist in public (Mitchell, 2003; Feldman, 2004; Arnold, 2004). The liberal approach argues for the importance of recognizing agency by accommodating the spatial preconditions to exercise freedom (Waldron, 1991).

However, homelessness is neither an internally valued group identity, not an authentic plan of life that calls for liberal “respect”. It is a tragic condition that is the result of structural as well as individual causes. For that reason I will defend a version of the care approach (cf; Noddings, 2002), an approach that focuses on the particular needs of the homeless and that allows for certain types of coercion. Practices of care and reintegration, however, run the risk of a degrading construal of the homeless as “helpless victims.” This worry needs to be addressed.

Bart van Leeuwen
Radboud University Nijmegen
The Netherlands
b.vanleeuwen [at]

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