The Legacies of Vagrancy Law in Contemporary Homelessness Regulation: A Global Historical and Ethnographic Examination of Tokyo, Japan and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Global and Sociocultural Studies
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This dissertation illustrates how contemporary policy responses to homelessness in Tokyo, Japan and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia have tapped into historically-entrenched policy ideas and institutions and been shaped by varied experiences with transnational policy networks from the time of each city's mid-19th century integration into the world economy. Using archival and ethnographic methods, I trace links between past and present policies and practices related to homelessness management while underscoring the locally-distinct yet globally-connected nature of policy variations and impacts, including street-level experiences. I take a distinctly broad view of homelessness regulation to consider the criminal justice, welfare, and urban development policies that authorize street-level interventions by government and non-government actors. By focusing on Asian cities of varied developmental statuses, this research contributes to knowledge of—and reckoning with—the legacies of imperial and colonial politico-legal cultures in neoliberal governance beyond Euro-American contexts.
This dissertation reveals the locally-situated ways in which homelessness has been (re)constructed across time and space as a problem of social and spatial disorder, ostensibly threatening spiritual and material modernity, defined differently across (post)colonial and (post)imperial contexts. This policy re/construction upholds what I identify as the legacy of vagrancy law: a delegitimization of homelessness across multiple policy fields, rendering it grounds for criminalization, eviction, public assistance disqualification, and political disenfranchisement. In highlighting street-level effects, the dissertation underscores how policy innovations across time, including welfarist approaches, incorporate terms constraining rights and socio-spatial mobility justified under legal frameworks classifying homelessness as an illegitimate and, hence, unprotected state of existence. I argue that truly democratic, humane solutions would require full legalization and public recognition of homelessness as not an aberration but an unexceptional variation in modern distributions of wealth and power.
Previously Published In
Chapter Two has been published as: Rusenko, R.M. (2018) Imperatives of Care and Control in Homelessness Regulation in Kuala Lumpur. Urban Studies 55(10): 2123–2141.
Chapter Three has been published as: Rusenko, R. (2020) Homelessness Regulation and Neoliberalism’s Imperial Past: The Janus Face of Anti-Homeless Urbanism and Tokyo’s Modern Socio-Spatial Development. Antipode 52(6).
Rusenko, Rayna Marlene, "The Legacies of Vagrancy Law in Contemporary Homelessness Regulation: A Global Historical and Ethnographic Examination of Tokyo, Japan and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia" (2020). FIU Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 4474.
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