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

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

by Vincent Lyon-Callo

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Why did the rate of homelessness remain at significant levels while the US economy was supposedly booming and hundreds of millions of dollars were spent in the homeless sheltering industry? Drawing upon five years of ethnographic fieldwork in a homeless shelter in Northampton, Massachusetts, Lyon-Callo argues that homelessness must be understood within the context of increasing neoliberal policies, practices, and discourses. As advocates, activists, policy makers, and homeless people focused attention on market-based and individualized practices of reform and governance, collective efforts that challenged an economy dependent on low wage jobs, declining housing affordability, and the dismantling of the social safety net were marginalized and ignored. Homelessness continued, despite, and partly due to, the limitations of the neoliberal approach.

Combining the rich detail of an ethnographic study with the systemic examination of political economic studies, this book offers a view of homelessness and inequality that is rarely explored elsewhere. Chapters include discussion of the medicalization of homelessness, the difficulty of finding paid employment given broader political economic conditions, how shelter staff are trained to manage homeless people, how statistics are used to produce ideas of homeless people as deviants, and how funding concerns affect possibilities for resistance. Key to the study is an activist approach that raises the possibilities and problems associated with a publicly engaged anthropology.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781442635845
Publisher: University of Toronto Press, Higher Education Division
Publication date: 10/01/2004
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 192
File size: 573 KB

About the Author

Vincent Lyon-Callo is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at Western Michigan University. He also worked in homeless shelters in Connecticut and Massachusetts throughout most of the 1990s. His work on poverty, neoliberal policies, and the possibilities of an activist ethnography has been published in a wide range of academic journals and volumes.

Table of Contents


Introduction: Poverty and Homelessness

  1. The Political-Economic Context
  2. Medicalizing Homelessness
  3. Shelter Statistics and the Silencing of Systemic Concerns
  4. The Non-Compliant Homeless: Ariel's Story
  5. Defining the Role of the Sheltering Industry
  6. Helping Homeless Youth
  7. Managing Homelessness
  8. Reflections on an Engaged Ethnography



What People are Saying About This

Susan Greenbaum

In short, 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. His arguments are clear and convincing; he made me think in different ways about issues I thought I already understood.

Judith Goode

With a masterful blend of theory, sophisticated ethnographic analysis and personal commitment, Lyon-Callo achieves his ambitious goal. Moving way beyond the usual focus on the homeless, he conveys a clear, convincing, and grounded understanding of the complex processes which produce policies, professional expertise, and popular 'common sense,' and [which] ultimately constrain the subjectivities of guests and staff in a homeless shelter.

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