First Advisor

Lisa Bates

Date of Publication

Winter 3-16-2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Urban Studies


Urban Studies and Planning




Policy sciences, Homelessness -- Government policy, Rhetoric -- Political aspects -- United States, Homeless persons -- California -- San Francisco, Public spaces -- California -- San Francisco, Homeless persons -- Oregon -- Portland, Public spaces -- Oregon -- Portland



Physical Description

1 online resource (xi, 180 pages)


Many researchers argue the increasing reliance on sit/lie ordinances to regulate homeless people's use of public space is one in a suite of neoliberal policies that shape the geographies of public space in cities to serve the needs of global capital. However, these policies are developed at the local, not global, level as specific actors make claims in the public sphere that communicatively shape policy formation. Through comparative case study, this research asks, how do different actors, situated in specific local and global contexts, influence the adoption of sit/lie ordinances?

I examine two cases of policymaking in Portland and San Francisco. I use discourse analytic strategies and thematic coding of newspapers, archival documents, and key informant interviews to look at policy-making processes as they occur in their political, social, and economic contexts. I focus especially on the role of language in policy-making, policy-making arenas, and actions of grassroots actors, drawing from three interdisciplinary literatures to develop an explanatory theory of policy-making.

I find the four interrelated explanatory factors in policy-making were: the actors (neoliberal and right-to-the-city); the tactics they use; the policy talk they use; and the policy arenas. First, political processes provide windows of opportunity and determine arenas for political activities. The different policy arenas (citizen election, committee, council led, litigation, etc.) influence the audience that the actors care about, and thus the policy talk. Additionally, elected officials have a determining effect on which arenas they use, which in turns structures the opportunities for policy talk.

Second, the arena influences the depth to which resisters can discuss the issues with the wider public and decision-makers. This may explain why the right-to-the-city frame may not have been used as much as the academic literature might suggest. Resisters find it much harder to use this framing with the general public or elected officials because it takes too much time to explain to those unfamiliar. Instead, they rely more on concepts that may be more familiar like the dependent poor and unequal impact of the law on minority groups.

Third, I find local actors have different positions in the global economy, however on the local level their different avenues and strategies of involvement are due to local conditions rather than global ones. The location in the global political economy seems to be less important than local political decision making contexts and the actions of individuals who are locally powerful due to their economic status and political connections. This suggests room for resisters to use local politics to resist these ordinances, without having to take on the entire global economy.

Finally, actors use different narratives to influence decision makers and each other, responding and shifting to competing frames over time. The change over time is important, as it shows how policy debates change based on influences from different actors. My findings suggest the framing of the original necessity for the policy can influence the policy trajectory, but actors can and do respond and successfully shift policy talks over time. The dissertation concludes with additional implications for grassroots practice based on these theoretical findings.


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