University of Tasmania

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Ordinary things : an archaeology of public housing

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posted on 2023-05-27, 11:10 authored by Flanagan, KM
This thesis identifies and describes a major discursive discontinuity in public housing policy in Tasmania, Australia. It contributes to literature on the formation, practice and consequences of public housing policy in Australia. The consensus in this literature is that, in the 1970s, emerging neoliberal modes of practice shaped a series of policy reforms which have produced significant problems with the sustainability, effectiveness and reputation of public housing. My findings challenge this analysis. From the mid-1940s, state housing authorities built large housing estates so as to enable home ownership by working class families. More recently, policy-makers have pursued reforms reducing public housing to a remnant of semi-crisis provision for people with complex needs while simultaneously fostering capacity, supply and innovation through community housing. These reforms are associated with growing, generalised hostility towards public housing. In this thesis, I ask how this hostility has been able to emerge and evolve. I have addressed this question by applying Foucauldian 'archaeology' to the archive of the Tasmanian Housing Department. This approach reconceptualises historical 'facts' as raw material organised according to systems of discursive 'rules' into formations that produce knowledge. I found that the difference between past and present knowledge about public housing in Tasmania is the manifestation of a significant discontinuity, tentatively dated to the late 1970s and early 1980s and constituted by six significant shifts in discursive practice. The resulting re-ordering of discursive material has produced the knowledge that public housing is a form of welfare directed at dysfunctional subjects. I argue that this discontinuity was produced, not by 'neoliberalism', but by a more fundamental reconfiguration in the order of discourse, one which replaced a system of discursive organisation in which subjects are constituted according to their material surroundings with one in which everything is ordered in relation to the individual. My findings problematise the relationship between current policy and neoliberalism by demonstrating the complexity of the discursive field perpetuating it. I have contributed both an original account of localised policy change with resonance for the wider Australian housing system and a worked example of how archaeology can explicate the discursive scaffolding of what we know about the world we live in.


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