Imperatives of care and control

7th Jun 2017

By Rayna M Rusenko

Recent shifts in Malaysian homelessness policy towards the intensification of criminalising measures and exclusionary rhetoric seem indicative of a ‘punitive turn’, as often theorised for advanced capitalist contexts. I argue that local adoption of globally circulating policy trends cannot be understood apart from linkages to the global history of vagrancy legislation. Drawing from data collected through archival research, I examine how global historical processes have shaped homelessness regulation in Kuala Lumpur, inclusive of neoliberal era developments. I find that, while the overall historical arc of relevant codes and institutions reflects broad trends that suggest conformity to the ‘punitive turn’ model, local contingencies starkly contrast those found in Global North countries. These findings suggest that common rhythms, and divergent materialisations, have persisted in the global and historical constellations of homelessness regulation. Thus, punitive trends presently emerging in part through unique social welfare initiatives in Kuala Lumpur are built from a neoliberal reinforcement of previously established, locally situated logics and institutions of care and control.

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