Caring in Crises: Spatializing Infrastructures of Care Through Tenant Protections

Thompson, S. (2023).  Caring in Crises: Spatializing Infrastructures of Care Through Tenant Protections [Dissertation]. University of Washington.

Care is the provision of practical or emotional support and is increasingly recognized as a crucial component of our everyday lives and societies. As pervasive housing crises exist in most global North cities today, developing an understanding of how housing too can provide care or be an ‘infrastructure of care’ in unequal housing systems is increasingly urgent. Yet, there remain gaps in our understanding of housing as care, particularly in the structural entanglement of housing inequalities with settler colonial racial capitalism and cisheteropatriarchy. Accounting for the impacts of these intersecting power structures, this dissertation explores how tenants’ experiences of housing crises are shaped by local state care infrastructures. The dissertation focuses on municipal tenant protections as an impactful form of local state care infrastructure. Engaging data gathered through feminist digital ethnography, including participant observation, autoethnography, semi-structured interviews, and archival methods, the dissertation conducts a relational comparison of Seattle, WA and Vancouver, BC in 1969-1990 and 2019-2023. A relational comparison of two urban empirical sites allows for a developed understanding of the ways that a place is shaped by, and connected to, its relationship to another. The dissertation begins with an examination of the forms and capacities of local state care infrastructure, in order to assess housing as an infrastructure of care. It then considers how care gaps left by local state infrastructure are addressed through the care work of tenants. It argues that local state care infrastructure plays an important role in tenants’ experiences of housing crises, but the care capacity of the infrastructure is limited by the state’s embeddedness in racial capitalism and settler colonialism. The care that is available to tenants through local state infrastructure relies on the care labour of tenants in order to function. The nature of this labour is shaped by cisheteropatriarchal structures that exacerbate the violence tenants’ experience in housing crises. The attention to tenants’ practices and politics of care is then turned to contemporary contexts, where tenants rely on self-care and collective tenant care in order to navigate their survival in housing crises, as a result of the failure of local state housing care infrastructure. To move beyond this cycle, tenants develop housing care imaginaries that illustrate possibilities for housing futures where a range of care needs are met. The dissertation argues that employing a radical care framework, which recognizes necessary care work that enables survival in precarious worlds, helps us to account for a range of housing futures that move beyond the normalization of liberal economic logics which limit what solutions to housing crises are currently understood as possible. The dissertation is structured to offer considerations of urban tenants’ experiences of care and housing in crises through historical, contemporary, and futures contexts.

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