The Circle of Dispossession: Evicting the Urban Poor in Baltimore

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47 Scopus citations


Although tenant evictions are routine in impoverished urban communities throughout the USA, scholars of housing and urban poverty have consistently overlooked this social problem. Drawing predominantly upon participant observation on eviction crews in Baltimore, this study examines the social drama of eviction, focusing upon the orchestration and execution of the court-ordered physical removal of tenants and their property. I find that property managers delegate the ‘dirty work’ of dispossession to a dispossessed population and that laborers on eviction crews tend to differentiate and distance themselves from the people they are evicting, adopting the dominant belief that eviction is rooted in the individual, moral deficiencies of the tenant. These findings reveal that those who are excluded from the American ‘paradigm of propertied citizenship’ – the homeless – are used to enforce, and serve to legitimate, that very paradigm. I argue that evictions entail a circle of dispossession, reproduced both materially and ideologically.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)393-415
Number of pages23
JournalCritical Sociology
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2014


  • Baltimore
  • day labor
  • ethnography
  • eviction
  • homelessness
  • right to the city
  • urban poverty

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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