Roadside Desperation and the Aesthetics of Panhandling

A really good look at how we tend to ‘outlaw’ what makes us uncomfortable. Some things aren’t acceptable to public life due to its possible effects on general society.

Archaeology and Material Culture

In the past decade a host of panhandlers have stationed themselves along American roadsides, off-ramps and street corners appealing to drivers for support.  Panhandling has resided at the fringes of urban consciousness for centuries, and now the desperation of the unemployed, homeless, and impoverished is a commonplace fixture along American roadsides.  Stationed along busy thoroughfares, patrolling the medians, and standing vigil on expressway ramps, roadside panhandling sounds some age-old challenges of poverty even as it adds the new wrinkle of taking aim on the unquestioned sanctity of car culture.

Personal ill fortune is a familiar display in the fashion, bodies, and handmade signs dotting early 21st century streetsides, and some communities aspire to render that desperation publicly invisible.  The presence of impoverishment and panhandlers in public space has long vexed ideologues: Some urban centers have tried to abolish “aggressive” panhandling (spearheaded by a 1987 Seattle ordinance, and now…

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One thought on “Roadside Desperation and the Aesthetics of Panhandling

  1. If the possible effects are in fact, really, a threat to the safety or security of “general society”, then perhaps then local police do have the right and responsibility to intervene. But, simple panhandling probably is not such a threat, is it?

    I would say, that due to past experiences, I tend not to give money to the panhandlers-with-cardboard-signs community, because I don’t with to enable peoples alcohol problems. I have observed most of them simply using the money collected to purchase cheap alcohol. But, hey, it’s a free country, isn’t it?

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