CrimeTalk

An educational resource at the heart of criminological teaching, debate, and research

Student research projects, papers, diaries

Research Diary: Anti-panhandling: Criminalizing poverty and governing generosity?

User Rating: 5 / 5

Star ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar Active
 

Welcome to my research diary. First, a brief introduction of me and my project: I am a PhD Candidate in Canada at the University of Alberta, and my degree is in Sociology but most of the work I do is in the area of critical criminology and socio-legal studies. My primary interests are in urban marginality, families, social justice and social theory. Phenomenology and ethics currently dominate my theoretical interests.

My dissertation looks at panhandling (or begging) and its regulation. In particular, my research critically examines two anti-panhandling efforts in the city of Edmonton. The first is an anti-aggressive-panhandling bylaw and the second is an “alternative giving campaign” that encourages donors to give money to charities instead of giving direct aid to panhandlers. Both initiatives aim to move panhandlers off the streets and into social services or courts. However, the alternative giving campaign also aims to govern the generosity of the general public.

These initiatives, and much of the previous work in this area, assume that panhandlers do not already use social services and are universally feared by passersby. Little is known about why some people in Edmonton panhandle or give to panhandlers. Previous research suggests that these laws serve as mechanisms (a) to force panhandlers into cheap wage labour (e.g., Gordon, 2006, 2010), (b) to reconstitute public spaces into private spaces of consumption be removing the poor (e.g., Berti & Sommers, 2010; Collins & Blomley, 2003; Mosher, 2002), and/or (c) to settle wealthier citizens’ anxieties about the impoverished “other” (e.g., Dean & Gale, 1999; Erskine & McIntosh, 1999; Moon, 2002; Schneiderman, 2002).

To date, however, a lot of this work focuses on the language of anti-panhandling laws and suggests that these laws unfold uncontested on the ground. While I am completing some documentary analysis to see how these programs developed and how they construct their subjects, my research builds on previous work by collecting detailed stories from panhandlers and donors and using these stories to examine how panhandlers and donors experience various street encounters, how they make sense of panhandling, what effect these anti-panhandling efforts have had on them, and what they think of the city’s programs. Through interviews with panhandlers and donors this research aims to (i) collect the voices of panhandlers and donors, (ii) document how current social policy and legal responses affect the lives of panhandlers and donors, (iii) assess if the assumptions of current anti-panhandling efforts are valid, and (iv) give scholarship on panhandling real-life grounding. In the spirit of critical criminology, my primary objective is not to develop better law-and-order responses, but to suggest responses to panhandling that more directly coincide with the lived realities of donors and panhandlers.

For now, I have tried to situate my work in relation to cultural criminology. (I imagine there will be more in future posts on the difficulties of tying one’s work to theoretical positions or the difficulties of identifying oneself as a cultural criminologist). I share with this loosely assembled body of literature a concern for lived experience within the larger late modern context. I also share with cultural criminology the impulse to draw broadly on work in various disciplines (criminology, sociology, anthropology, cultural studies, etc.). This interdisciplinary focus is particularly relevant to my interest in how Edmonton’s alternative giving program attempts to govern generosity. That is, the topic of generosity leads me into literatures on the gift and into areas less commonly discussed in criminology.

Feel free to ask any questions or make any comments about the research. I am happy to provide more details. I am currently preparing to teach a course and spending time in the field trying to collect interviews for this project and another, so forgive me if it takes me awhile to respond. In the meantime, if you are interested, a few more details about my research can be found here: http://panhandlingstudy.blogspot.com

As I have not completed a research diary before, I am open to suggestions about future posts. What interests you about this project? I am happy to let the comments direct the flow of this discussion.

Take care,

Joshua Freistadt

PhD Candidate & Izaak Killam Scholar
University of Alberta, Department of Sociology.

 Here are citations for the works I discuss above. They make excellent reading for anyone with a deeper interest in the topic.

Berti, Mario & Jeff Sommers. (2010). “The Streets Belong to People That Pay For Them”: The Spatial Regulation of Street Poverty in Vancouver, British Columbia. In Diane Crocker & Val Marie Johnson (eds). Poverty, Regulation & Social Justice: Readings on the Criminalization of Poverty. Halifax: Fernwood. Pgs: 60-74.

Collins, Damian & Nicholas Blomley. (2003). Private Needs and Public Space: Politics, Poverty, and Anti-Panhandling By-Laws in Canadian Cities. In Law Commission of Canada (ed.), New Perspectives on the Public-Private Divide. Vancouver: UBC Press. Pgs: 40-67.

Dean, Hartley & Keir Gale. 1999. Begging and the contradictions of citizenship. In Hartley Dean (ed.), Begging Questions: Street-level Economic Activity and Social Policy Failure. Bristol: The Policy Press. Pgs: 12-26.

Erskine, Angus & Ian McIntosh. (1999). Why begging offends: Historical perspectives and continuities. In Hartley Dean (ed.), Begging Questions: Street-level Economic Activity and Social Policy Failure. Bristol: The Policy Press. Pgs: 27-42.

Gordon, Todd. (2010). Understanding the Role of Law-and-Order Policies in Canadian Cities. In Diane Crocker & Val Marie Johnson (eds). Poverty, Regulation & Social Justice: Readings on the Criminalization of Poverty. Halifax: Fernwood. Pgs: 33-42.

Gordon, Todd. (2006). Cops, Crime and Capitalism: The Law-And-Order Agenda in Canada. Halifax: Fernwood Publishing.

Moon, Richard. (2002). Keeping the Streets Safe from Free Expression. In Disorderly People: Law and the Politics of Exclusion in Ontario. Joe Hermer & Janet Mosher (eds). Halifax: Fernwood. Pgs: 65-78.

Mosher, Janet. (2002). The Shrinkage of the Public and Private Spaces of the Poor. In Disorderly People: Law and the Politics of Exclusion in Ontario. Joe Hermer & Janet Mosher (eds). Halifax: Fernwood. Pgs: 37-53.

Schneiderman, David. (2002). The Constitutional Disorder of the State Streets Act: A Federalism Analysis. In Disorderly People: Law and the Politics of Exclusion in Ontario. Joe Hermer & Janet Mosher (eds). Halifax: Fernwood. Pgs: 79-90.

Text Size