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The way of rights and the right of way: panhandling and rights in public space

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(Thesis) M.A.
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Author: Berti, Mario
There is a tradition within geography of calls for inclusivity gained by the “cry-and-demand” by marginalized people to claim rights in and to public space. However, the utility of rights as a tool for gaining social justice bears closer inspection. Using as an example debates around the Safe Streets Act in British Columbia, I interview panhandlers to test the convergence between their lived-experiences and the dominant rights-discourse used in debates around the law. This reveals a gap between the reality of being marginalized on the street, and dominant rights-based narratives. Furthermore, panhandlers question whether they can assert even the limited forms of rights available to them. I suggest that the problem is deeply inherent in rights themselves: specifically, in a strong liberal-ontology present in rights-discourse, which views individuals as isolated monads and limits discussion of alternative strategies for social justice while masking the everyday realities of oppression.
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