Home: Possession and Eviction

  ”Sweeping the Floor: Poverty and Profiteering in American Cities” explains forced evictions It is the key link in transforming poverty for some into excess profits for others. Between 2009 and 2011, at least 1 in 8 renters in Milwaukee experienced a forced eviction.
  In 2012, New York courts issued nearly 80 eviction orders a day for non-payment of rent. Evicted tenants have a hard time finding good housing because of this record. They have to live in communities with worse conditions. Poverty, violence, drugs then come together. In order to ensure that rent is paid on time and that they will not be evicted, they have to save money. In this way, eviction is not only a result of poverty, but also a cause of its worsening. Poverty can be a source of profit, not because the poor are exploited, but because they continue to breach the bottom line of their living conditions. Evictions are an important driver of constantly breaking the bottom line.
  Sweeping the Floor: Poverty and Profiteering in American Cities is a very serious academic work. In addition to the field investigation, large-scale questionnaire survey, and extensive file retrieval that lasted for more than a year, the author hired a proofreader to check all his field notes one by one. However, it is very different from academic writing in the usual sense; there are no theoretical assumptions, no framework, or even concepts. Common content in scholarly work, such as literature reviews and data presentations, is also hidden in the footnotes. The whole book is like an in-depth documentary, moving from one scene to another. The author Matthew Desmond’s straightforward and detailed description is like a close-up shot, directly presenting to us the expressions, tone, feelings and thoughts of each character. Many specific scenes are superimposed together to gradually reveal the historical, institutional, structural characteristics and consequences of the phenomenon of forced eviction.
  What impresses me the most is Matthew’s ability to “see things from what he sees”. We often ignore the things in front of us, and often see things that don’t exist at all. We turn a blind eye to the things in front of us because we feel that they do not fit our theoretical perspective (e.g., class, gender, self-awareness) and thus appear trivial and “meaningless”. At the same time, we use our own framework to interpret the world and create “meaning”, as if we have seen something that seems to be absent. When we can’t see the meaning of the trivial things in front of us to the interviewee and the real feelings of the interviewee, we have to pour in our own thoughts and pull in things that are not in front of us. In fact, intuitive feeling is the blood of life practice, and the observer’s imagination is nothing but the raindrops outside the window.
  When I spoke to Matthew for this recommendation preface, he quoted Susan Sontag as saying that if you see a painting in a museum and say, “It’s neoclassical,” it’s a A superficial and boring “view”. Standing in front of a picture, why must such a definition be made? Why not go into the painting itself with your own intuition?
  I asked Matthew how he developed that strong, direct empathy with the interviewee. He emphasizes that this is not a question of research methods, but of the way you exist as a person. Paying great attention to the things around him is his usual way of life. “Look at the color of the clothes your friend is wearing. It’s blue. But what kind of blue is that? It may be different from the usual blue.” Only by looking into the details can we see life clearly texture. He was inspired by several novelists whom he called “observing geniuses.” They see things that everyone can see that ordinary people can’t see.
  I think Matthew also has the ability to see himself in unfamiliar interviewees. Because they see themselves in the interviewee, the interviewee is a very specific and real person, not a “role” defined by theory. The investigator sees himself in the interviewee, and the interviewee sees himself in the interviewer, and each other can relax. Investigators don’t need to keep thinking about those prepared questions all the time, and they don’t need to worry about the possible cold scene between questions and answers. If there is nothing to say for a while, observe how the other person talks to himself and how he is dozing off on the sofa. Respondents also paid little attention to Matthew sitting next to him and burying his head in his notes.
  This ability of Matthew is inseparable from his own life experience. He came from a poor family, and his parents had been expelled. Of course, this does not mean that researchers can only study groups with similar life experiences to themselves. The purpose of anthropological fieldwork is to allow us to see ourselves in each other through prolonged intimate interactions. To achieve this state, it depends on devotion, persistence, imagination, and ultimately, care and love for life. Being able to chat casually with street vendors, and easily joke with construction workers, is a pretty important ability. If you don’t develop this ability, the more you learn about methods and theories, the further you may be from the world.

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