Free AccessNobodies and somebodies: Power, bureaucracy, and citizenship in a London rehousing hub

Joshua Burraway


This article draws on ethnographic research to examine the bureaucratic matrix of temporal, material, and legal scales that come together to constitute the rehousing process for a group of rough sleepers seeking passage out of homelessness in contemporary London. Further, it explores the ways in which different bureaucratic technologies mediate the relations between the rehousing hub’s staff, its homeless clients, and local housing authorities, paying particular attention to the way these economies solidify the already asymmetrical power relations that existed between the homeless and those employed to manage them. For the homeless, this process is constituted by a spatiotemporality of confinement and seemingly endless waiting that shunts them into the margins of citizenship, caught between being a nobody and a somebody. Thinking through contemporary debates in political theory, this article approaches the rehousing process (or failure thereof) not as a linear pathway but as a constellation of disciplinary and bureaucratic procedures within which exceptional structures of sovereignty and neoliberal governmentality intersect. Applying these ideas anthropologically, I demonstrate how this intersectionality works to continually shape and reshape the existential realities, possibilities, and aspirations of the hub’s homeless clients.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/707953