Managing urban imagery: Homelessness and aesthetic regulation

J. Petty

University Of Melbourne

Mobile services targeting homeless people are becoming increasingly common, both in Melbourne’s urban landscape and in the broader service delivery field. These social enterprises offer a range of services including haircuts, laundry services, access to showers and buses to sleep in. Operating on the premise of mobile delivery, these services go to clients instead of making clients coming to them.  Those behind the services have been publicly lauded for their charitable work and social vision: the founders of Orange Sky Laundry won the 2016 Young Australian of the Year award. However, this emerging space of social enterprise in the broader economy of welfare delivery prompts various questions. Specifically, what is motivating the emergence of this new space of welfare delivery, what is the role of the state and what responsibilities does it have for the homeless, and where do the objectives and desires of people experiencing homelessness fit in these new arrangements?  This paper offers a speculative critique of these services, situating them within broader practices of urban image maintenance, incapacitation of transient bodies and the aesthetic regulation of visible poverty. Engaging with critical theories of the state, nomadism and representation, this paper traces out emerging arrangements of decentralising state power and the aesthetic disciplining of problematic, yet importantly non-criminal, bodies.  This paper uses Melbourne as a case study and situates its analysis amid the current and ongoing contests between the city’s homeless population and Melbourne City Council over public space, housing provision and the stigmatisation of homelessness in local media.


James Petty recently completed his doctoral candidature in Criminology at the University of Melbourne. His thesis examined the imagination of homelessness as criminal in Melbourne and the ‘substantive criminalisation’ of homeless and transient bodies that this initiates. His research interests include poverty and homelessness, the management of urban and public spaces, hostile architecture and spatial regulation and critical and cultural criminology. He was recently published an article on hostile architecture in the International Journal of Crime, Justice and Social Democracy.


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