How It Works Recovering Citizens in Post-Welfare Philadelphia
by Robert P. Fairbanks
University of Chicago Press, 2009
Cloth: 978-0-226-23408-3 | Paper: 978-0-226-23409-0 | Electronic: 978-0-226-23411-3
ABOUT THIS BOOKAUTHOR BIOGRAPHYREVIEWSTABLE OF CONTENTS

ABOUT THIS BOOK

Of the some sixty thousand vacant properties in Philadelphia, half of them are abandoned row houses. Taken as a whole, these derelict homes symbolize the city’s plight in the wake of industrial decline. But a closer look reveals a remarkable new phenomenon—street-level entrepreneurs repurposing hundreds of these empty houses as facilities for recovering addicts and alcoholics. How It Works is a compelling study of this recovery house movement and its place in the new urban order wrought by welfare reform.

To find out what life is like in these recovery houses, Robert P. Fairbanks II goes inside one particular home in the Kensington neighborhood. Operating without a license and unregulated by any government office, the recovery house provides food, shelter, company, and a bracing self-help philosophy to addicts in an area saturated with drugs and devastated by poverty. From this starkly vivid close-up, Fairbanks widens his lens to reveal the intricate relationships the recovery houses have forged with public welfare, the formal drug treatment sector, criminal justice institutions, and the local government.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY

Robert P. Fairbanks II is assistant professor in the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago.

REVIEWS

“In this powerful and provocative book, Robert Fairbanks delivers an incisive, street-level analysis of the brutal biopolitics of neoliberal poverty management. This remarkable journey through the recovery house movement leads us through the fraught regulatory spaces where devolutionary neglect meets do-it-yourself governmentality, where survival meets self-help, and where urban informality meets institutional reinvention. How It Works sets a new standard for marrying ethnographic depth, social relevance, and robust, creative theorizing.”

— Jamie Peck, University of British Columbia

“This ethnography of subsistence and street-level entrepreneurship in the informal economy of addiction recovery reveals the unintended effects of the post-welfare state’s parasitical management of the ravages of spatially contained poverty. Fairbanks takes us to the crux of the unintended depoliticizing effects of the entanglement of neoliberal statecraft with self-craft. He artfully documents the unplanned interface between a safety net shot full of holes and workfare, carceral repression, regulatory incompetence, low-wage labor, inner-city decay, incipient gentrification, and the struggle for individual worthiness and sober survival in one of America’s poorest deindustrialized big cities.”--Philippe Bourgois, coauthor of Righteous Dopefiend and author of In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio
— Philippe Bourgois

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Acknowledgments

- Robert P. Fairbanks
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226234113.003.0001
[Philadelphia, recovery houses, welfare reforms, poverty, social problems, political problems]
This book is a study of the recovery house movement and its place in the new urban order wrought by welfare reform. To find out what life is like in these recovery houses, it goes inside one particular home in the Kensington neighborhood. The politics of poverty in the Kensington recovery house movement is broad and complex. The book considers how self-help in the Philadelphia recovery house movement may be operating as a technique for solving social and political problems such as addiction, poverty, devolution, and retrenchment. The movement may therefore enact the inner logic of welfare policy mechanisms designed to provide, simultaneously, the means for individual autonomy, minimal security, and risk management in the post-welfare age. The book uses the recovery house, as well as the concept of recovery, to analyze how impoverished alcoholics and addicts are governed in post-industrial Philadelphia. It explores the extent to which recovery houses enable the state to achieve multiple regulatory objectives at a single site. (pages 1 - 26)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Robert P. Fairbanks
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226234113.003.0002
[recovery houses, AHAD, row houses, property owners, poverty]
Fieldwork was conducted in a Kensington recovery house program referred to as AHAD—an abbreviated reference to the pseudonym “Always Have a Dream”—to explore the internal operations of recovery houses. This chapter explores the making of AHAD by tracking the initial months of operation in Malik's fledgling recovery house. Malik was the self-described owner-director of AHAD. The chapter grounds the utopian visions of recovery entrepreneurs by joining him and his men just as they moved into a previously abandoned row house. It also explores the original partnership and founding members of AHAD, as well as the incessant struggles and forced illegalities associated with recovery house operation. The chapter introduces the players who make the recovery house system work, from the absentee property owner, to the director-manager, the assistant manager, the chore monitor, and the “house watcher.” (pages 27 - 64)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Robert P. Fairbanks
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226234113.003.0003
[recovery houses, Philadelphia, welfare reforms, social services, entrepreneurs, poverty]
This chapter begins with a brief policy history of welfare reform legislation in Pennsylvania, the perhaps unintended wellspring of the recovery house movement. This is followed by an exploration of the informal categories of recovery houses that have developed—however inadvertently—from the Pennsylvania Welfare Reform Act of 1982. In the aftermath of welfare reform, street-level entrepreneurs have achieved economic sustainability through the advent of informal administrative techniques in welfare provision. The chapter sketches how welfare entrepreneurialism has produced an informal social service delivery system that operates simultaneously as a predatory and an informal rental market. It explores how welfare reform in Pennsylvania, in conjunction with the broader policy climate of the 1980s, created an inadvertent wellspring for street-level operators such as Malik. These historical conditions would ultimately produce an elaborate framework of informal welfare administration in Philadelphia's most notorious areas of spatially concentrated poverty. (pages 65 - 98)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Robert P. Fairbanks
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226234113.003.0004
[recovery houses, entrepreneurs, welfare reforms, poverty, urban governance]
The visions of recovery house entrepreneurs and the history of welfare reform policy in Pennsylvania suggest how recovery houses have rescaled the landscapes of poverty management and urban governance in areas of spatially concentrated poverty. This chapter explores how recovery house operators envisage and construct “programmatic space” as a mechanism of governmentality, and also reveals the operator's capacity to constitute the addict—first as pathological subject and then as modern citizen. To explain the various technologies pertinent to this project, it analyzes the regimented daily schedule and the informal yet rigorous “program” that sets the recovery house apart from the flophouse. The chapter also explores some of the more free-floating practices in the recovery house experiences—such as the telling of war stories, intake rituals, the confrontation of “old behaviors,” daily participation in domestic labor, and informal case management. (pages 99 - 146)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Robert P. Fairbanks
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226234113.003.0005
[poverty, recovery houses, Kensington, relapse, recidivism, health failures]
The vagaries of spatially concentrated poverty and the predatory nature of informal rental markets in the Kensington neighborhood recovery house acted like gravity in the recovery house industry, grinding down utopian visions of a life in recovery. This chapter illustrates how the transformative promises of recovery are undermined and reshaped by the vicissitudes of spatially concentrated poverty. By exploring the persistent failures of the recovery house, it reveals how the depredations of subsistence and the impoverishment of recovering technologies force operators to transmute risk, vulnerability, and further suffering onto recovering subjects. Through the lived experiences of the men and women inhabiting recovery houses, the chapter analyzes how the actual recovery house regimen is characterized by relentless backsliding. It delves into relapse, recidivism, health failures, and the constant return to hustling activities and contingent day labor jobs. (pages 147 - 188)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Robert P. Fairbanks
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226234113.003.0006
[recovery houses, Philadelphia, government, managed persistence]
This chapter sketches an elaborate ecology of managed persistence to explain the proliferation of unregulated, illegal recovery houses in Philadelphia, and explains how illegal forms of housing settlement are selectively tolerated because of the benefits that governments enjoy from their survival. To illustrate how managed persistence works in Philadelphia, it reveals how the recovery house movement has taken shape at the vortex of several factors such as a degraded post-industrial landscape, modest pump-priming dollars from a declining welfare state, the absence of recovery house licensure, and the role of the houses in providing affordable housing options. The chapter then complicates and builds on the notion of managed persistence through ethnographic analysis of recovery house practices, as well as key informant interviews with Licenses and Inspections (L&I) inspectors and public welfare officials. Certainly, the interviews and fieldwork presented in the chapter reveal a series of missteps, lapses, and loopholes—all of which rest implicitly on the original sin of a regulatory void that enables operator mobility and recovery house persistence. (pages 189 - 230)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Robert P. Fairbanks
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226234113.003.0007
[recovery houses, Philadelphia, formal state systems, criminal justice, policy transfer, poverty management]
This chapter analyzes how recovery houses have become integrated with formal state systems in post-industrial Philadelphia. It explores the relationship between recovery houses, Philadelphia's Coordinating Office of Drug and Alcohol Programs, and the formal treatment sector. The chapter then explores the criminal justice system's encroachment into recovery house networks through the Forensic Intensive Recovery (FIR) program and the Treatment Court system. Ultimately, it exposes the sophisticated networks of policy transfer operating between informal recovery houses and legitimate state systems. Taken together, the chapter sketches a new form of poverty management system, whereby citizenship is not so much widely experienced through direct encounters with the state as it is through an informal, elaborate network of surveillance and emancipation in the recovery house. (pages 231 - 260)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Robert P. Fairbanks
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226234113.003.0008
[recovery houses, Kensington, poverty management, political movement, Philadelphia]
Contrary to the claims of many policy scholars, the Kensington recovery house movement hardly shows an absence of civil society, good citizenship, and morality in poor neighborhoods. In conclusion, this book reveals that the contemporary state not only acquiesces to but effectively fosters, constitutes, and deepens its reliance on the Kensington recovery house as a highly localized and informal poverty management system. The book mobilizes three primary claims concerning the variegated functions of Kensington recovery houses. First, it illustrates how the recovery house operates as an elaborate street-level self-help mechanism of governmentality as operators and clients alike work toward the salvation and transformation of impoverished subjects. The second claim concerning the variegated functions of Kensington recovery houses reveals the recovery house movement as a decidedly political movement, driven by a particular vision of emancipation and by the deliberate efforts of informal operators to reappropriate segments of Philadelphia's welfare apparatus. Third, the book claims that the recovery house movement is at once an informal collective poverty survival mechanism, a mode of predatory subsistence, and a new mechanism of urban enclosure. It concludes with a thought exercise that asks whether, in the classic Philadelphia style of charming incompetence and chronic low self-esteem, the city is more “global” than even its beleaguered politicians are aware of. (pages 261 - 270)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

Notes

Bibliography

Index