UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Securing the neo-liberal city : risk markets, gentrification and low-wage work in Vancouver Bennett, Darcie


Private security guards have become an increasingly visible presence in urban centres across North America -- Vancouver is no exception. This research explores the growth of the private security industry and the working lives of frontline guards within the context of neo-liberal economic and governance policies at the national, provincial and municipal levels, inner-city revitalization projects, and the emergence of a two-tiered post-industrial labour market. Private security firms are conceptualized first and foremost as selling security as a commodity. The demand for security services, or ‘risk markets’, have developed in Vancouver due in large part to the contracting out of formerly public services, dissatisfaction with public policing services among groups and individuals with resources to purchase alternatives and mounting social tensions resulting from inner-city gentrification and growing poverty and homelessness. Low wages, lax labour standards and limited regulation make private security services both affordable for clients and profitable for security entrepreneurs. Based on interviews with frontline security guards and representatives from management at private security firms, this research finds that guards occupy a contradictory social location as both low-wage workers and as agents of social control contracted to police some of the poorest and most marginalized members of society. This study asserts that while the presence of private guards can address some of the real and perceived security concerns in Vancouver’s increasingly economically and socially polarized inner-city, there are contradictions inherent in the city’s current approach to both urban development and policing. These contradictions include the reality that urban gentrification and government policies aimed at attracting investors, tourists and upper-income consumers to Vancouver inevitably contribute to the social problems that make the inner-city undesirable, that the security industry has a vested interest in generating demand for their product, and that low-wage guards have little stake in the order they have been contracted to uphold.

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