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Inequality, Poverty, and Neoliberal Governance

Inequality, Poverty, and Neoliberal Governance: Activist Ethnography in the Homeless Sheltering Industry

Vincent Lyon-Callo
editor: Rae Bridgman
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 2
Pages: 192
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/j.ctt2ttxbk
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  • Book Info
    Inequality, Poverty, and Neoliberal Governance
    Book Description:

    "This is a terrific book. Lyon-Callo's descriptions shatter stereotypes about homeless people and focus instead on the dysfunction of the system that allegedly serves them." - Susan Greenbaum, University of South Florida

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-0330-1
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. 5-6)
  3. Acknowledgements (pp. 7-8)
  4. INTRODUCTION Poverty and Homelessness (pp. 9-24)

    One warm October evening in 1996, I was in the driveway of a homeless shelter in Northampton, Massachusetts, shooting baskets with Domingo, a 17-year-old Puerto Rican man, who was preparing to try out for his high-school team. His girlfriend and a few other shelter residents were hanging out and commenting on our abilities. Our relatively tranquil evening was interrupted when another homeless man burst through the back door. John came waving a letter in his hand. “Can you believe this shit? Everyone got their letters today saying their checks are going to stop in January.”

    The letters John held were...

  5. CHAPTER 1 The Political-Economic Context (pp. 25-48)

    There has been a large increase in the number of people living on the streets or in homeless shelters throughout the United States since the late 1970s. On the most basic level, homelessness can be seen as a matter of income and availability of “affordable housing.” In this chapter, I articulate a theoretical framework for examining the recent increase in homelessness by posing two classic Marxist questions: What are the political-economic conditions causing homelessness and who benefits from these conditions?

    To some traditional Marxists wedded to economic determinism, the answers to these questions might appear self-evident. An argument could be...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Medicalizing Homelessness (pp. 49-72)

    On a June night in 1996, Maria came downstairs and asked if she could speak with me. The conversation began with Maria, a woman with a long history of activism against racism and exploitation in the community, attributing her staying out the night before to a growing state of depression that she was now willing to admit. Maria had been in the shelter for several months by this time and had, consequently, learned to approach staff by indicating cooperation with designated self-help treatment plans.

    Maria said, “I’m going to try to get a counselor on Monday. I’m starting to feel...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Shelter Statistics and the Silencing of Systemic Concerns (pp. 73-82)

    In addition to routine case management and surveillance, additional everyday shelter practices contribute to reproducing dominant conceptions of “the homeless.” One such practice is statistical record keeping. As post-structuralist studies have shown, statistics are embedded with power and subject effects (Hacking 1986 ,1991; Urla 1993; Rabinow 1989). Statistics help create understandings about “types” of people by measuring attributes of particular categories of peoples and putting people into populations to be managed, governed, and normalized (Hacking 1991). Because they are popularly perceived as objective representations of social phenomena, statistics are often given widespread credence as non-subjective and empirical data. Examining both...

  8. CHAPTER 4 The Non-Compliant Homeless: Ariel’s Story (pp. 83-108)

    I first met Ariel, a white woman in her early 50s, when she came to the Grove Street Inn in May 1993. She had been living at a local rooming house for the previous three years but was no longer able to secure enough house-cleaning jobs to pay her rent. In this chapter, I explore her interactions with the shelter staff to demonstrate in more detail resistance by a person who did not comply with the medicalization of her homelessness. To understand the significance of Ariel’s story, it is important to consider how the strategies undertaken were constrained both by...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Defining the Role of the Sheltering Industry (pp. 109-126)

    The previous chapters focused on how helping practices within shelters serve to produce homeless subjects. But what about the people working at the shelter? I’ve worked in homeless shelters for over nine years. In my experience, the people working in shelters are often very committed to ending homelessness and are mostly quite caring and dedicated. They want to help homeless people and sincerely believe that, given available options, they are doing so.

    However, as I explore in this chapter, their helping efforts often take a particular form of governmental intervention designed to reform poor people. Shelter staff are part of...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Helping Homeless Youth (pp. 127-134)

    Northampton, like many communities, saw an increasing number of homeless people in their late teens and early twenties throughout the 1990s. During the summer of 1995 the presence of several homeless young adults spending their days in a downtown city park received much local attention. Small crowds of homeless youth hanging out with housed teenagers playing hackeysack, skateboarding, sometimes drinking alcohol, having drum circles, and sometimes smoking and selling marijuana were soon portrayed as a major social problem in the press and in planning meetings involving local politicians and social-service providers. Attention from the police, local merchants, local political leaders,...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Managing Homelessness (pp. 135-152)

    The previous chapters detailed how sheltering industry practices based on HUD’s “continuum of care” produce shelter staff who function to govern homeless people. This chapter explores another way in which people working in shelters respond in ways that fail to decrease homelessness. While they are committed to ending homelessness, the role of many shelter staff members is limited to managing homelessness. When staff are hired and trained to treat disorders of the self they can hardly be expected to offer a collective or political response to homelessness. Although not all staff comply with that description, those who engage in different...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Reflections on an Engaged Ethnography (pp. 153-174)

    The years of ethnographic work described in the preceding chapters uncovered a number of dynamics within the homeless sheltering industry. The recent growth of homelessness coincides with broad-based socio-economic changes, particularly the rising dominance of neoliberal conceptualizations and practices. As a result, the number of people living in poverty and the degree of economic inequality in the United States have steadily increased since the early 1970s. Corporate management has been awarded huge pay increases while enacting policies contributing to corporate downsizing, increased poverty, and homelessness nationally and globally. Additionally, a decline in government and private-sector support led to a shortage...

  13. References (pp. 175-182)
  14. Index (pp. 183-192)