City Streets, Dirty People and the Politics of Cleaning

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 10:45 AM
Room: 424
Oral Presentation
Tom HALL , School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom
This paper reports from empirical research on the work of urban patrol, in particular the physical work of street cleaning and the social (although similarly physical, messy and material) work of ‘outreach’ and street care. We consider a team of council employees in the city of Cardiff in the UK whose job it is to make repeated tours through the centre of the city, day and night, looking to establish contact with and minister to ‘vulnerable’ adults who may otherwise struggle on their own to access mainstream (social and healthcare) services; the street homeless make up a significant proportion of this target group, but take their place alongside assorted others, including sex workers, all of whom outreach workers aim to assist and enrol as clients. We also consider the daily patrols of teams of street cleaners, again employed by the local council to patrol the city streets – picking up litter, emptying the bins and sweeping surfaces clean.

                The paper develops two lines of analysis. The first examines the ways in which street cleaners and outreach workers  – the latter ‘moral’ street sweepers, of a sort – employ and engage the senses in pursuit of their tasks and are drawn, alike, to the same dirty, grimy, cluttered, smelly and unsightly places as they do. The paper’s second contribution, building on the first, considers the ways in which the expected outcomes required of street cleaners and street carers (outreach workers) are often equated with the appearance and look, and ‘feel’, of the places and people in, on and with whom they work. This linking of care and upkeep to appearance – as the desired outcome of work that tends to and mends place and people – signals a politics of repair, enacted with ‘deviant’ groups in frequently dirtied city places.