Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

Mapping Ruling Relations Through Homelessness Organizing

Document type Thesis
Author Withers, A. J.
Degree Ph.D., Social Work
Publisher York University; Toronto
Date 2020
Pages 496 pages


Poor peoples organizing can be effective even in periods of neoliberal retrenchment. This dissertation examines ruling relations and the social relations of struggle from the standpoint of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. With political activist ethnography as my central theoretical framework and methodological approach, I conducted field research, interviews and textual analysis of City and organizational documents. Focusing on OCAPs homelessness campaigns, I examine the social relations of struggle in three campaigns in Toronto: a campaign to stop the criminalization of homeless people in a public park by private security, a campaign to increase access to a social assistance benefit for people in emergency housing need, and a campaign to increase the number and improve the conditions of emergency shelter beds. My research demonstrates the active and ongoing research and theorization that anti-poverty activists engage in as well as the practices of delegitimization, excluding critique, testimonial injustice and epistemic violence that ruling relations engage in to counter activist research and theory. Some of this research and theory has regarded both Housing First policy and philosophy and Torontos emergency shelter system which OCAP, homeless people and other advocates have been decrying as unjust and inept for years. This dissertation explicates some of the ways that the City works to delegitimize its challengers and demonstrates the validity of many of the longstanding critiques of the ruling regime. While the City of Toronto has worked to contain homelessness organizing in Toronto, and deployed numerous demobilization tactics to do so, each campaign was fully or partially successful. Full or partial victories were secured by anti-poverty activists through the use (or threat) of direct action tactics.