Running with neoliberalism: The practice and politics of voluntarism, homelessness, and sweat in urban Baltimore

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2014

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Abstract

Shimmering as a spatial and temporal beacon of private capital investment, Baltimore is built testament to a three-decade transformation wrought upon much of United States. Within this time, Baltimore's city government has been refashioned and repurposed, from primarily focusing on managing the welfare of its citizenry, to becoming preoccupied with the entrepreneurial restructuring of the city as a motor of private capital accumulation (Harvey, 2001; Silk & Andrews, 2006). The pervasive spread of such reformation relied largely upon the uncritical adoption of neoliberal techniques of governance (Rose, 2001; Ong, 2006), and resulted in virtually uncontested elimination of many public services and agencies, and the increased responsibilitization of individuals and communities for social welfare. Philanthropic and voluntarist contributions of private citizens and organizations have come to address some, though certainly not all, of the shortfall in social welfare provision: This has been but one response to the palpable crises resultant of the continual shift to urban neoliberalism. Illustratively, Baltimore's sizeable homeless population becomes evermore dependent on the benevolence of private corporate social responsibility-directed capital and voluntarist physical labor. Through an empirically- anchored explication, this paper moves with the bodies of one private and voluntarist initiative: the Baltimore chapter of Back On My Feet. Back On My Feet is a non- profit organization that "promotes the self-sufficiency of homeless population by engaging them in running as a means to build confidence, strength and self-esteem" (2010). Within this study, Baltimore's Back On My Feet population is engaged through ethnographically-based inquiry, in order to excavate how the bodies of volunteers and those recovering from addiction or homelessness are mobilized as meaningful and viable apparatuses of neoliberal governance. Understanding Back On My Feet and its participants as constituent and contextual elements, this interpretive analysis suggests: how within a neoliberal conjuncture this form of movement subjectifies particular bodies in service of dominant power relations; and how this movement also shapes bodies in tangential or lateral movements possessive of the potential for negotiating dominant power relations.

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