Date of Award

June 2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Don Mitchell


Citizenship, Democracy, Houselessness, Liberalism, Property

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


As cities in the U.S. continue to experience increases in unsheltered houselessness, houseless encampments are becoming far more common throughout urban landscapes. Along with the increase of encampments there has been new rights-claims by houseless communities, claims for rights to organize communities on public and private properties. As a result, cities are beginning to sanction organized encampments as a strategy for managing the current crisis of houselessness. Based on a combination of qualitative methods, this dissertation analyzes the ways in which property affects the lives of houseless people residing in self-governing encampments in Portland, Oregon. It does so by drawing from ethnographic research with self-governing communities to examine the benefits and limitations of encampments. The experiences from Portland’s encampments are assessed by way of liberal-democratic procedures more generally to better understand the realm of justice available within democracy. What the dissertation seeks to show is that houseless encampment residents cannot have their rights of citizenship fully protected due to how property rights and relations are prioritized in the liberal model of propertied-citizenship. For, the dialectical relationship between property and citizenship, which liberal-democracy is premised upon, leave the houseless in a peculiar bind. And that is, while houseless people hold equal political citizenship to that of the housed, the very means by which property is prioritized through social, economic, legal, and political relations all but assures that houseless people hold only the appearance of citizenship. The dissertation ends by addressing what sense of justice there is for a democracy produced by property as such.


Open Access