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Street Talk: Homeless Discourses and the Politics of Service Provision

  • Arturo BaiocchiEmail author
  • Tyler M. Argüello
Chapter

Abstract

This chapter introduces a basic typology for identifying key narratives of homelessness that permeate contemporary American social culture. What the sociologist Teresa Gowan aptly describes as sin-talk, sick-talk, and system-talk represents common caricatures of homelessness heard by the media, professionals, and the homeless themselves. Drawing from Gowan’s (Hobos, hustlers, and backsliders: Homeless in San Francisco. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2010) ethnographic study of homeless men in San Francisco, we summarize how these narratives reduce the complex realities of individuals without secure housing to singular causes related to criminal behavior, mental health, or affordable housing. Given this, our chapter has a couple of goals. First, we provide an overview of Gowan’s research by discussing how these discourses have evolved over time and reflect the confluence of various political efforts to manage poverty and inequality in the USA. Second, we argue for the importation of Gowan’s typology into social work as a useful heuristic for praxis. Third, as part of our critique, we discuss some limitations to Gowan’s work for applied practice, and therefore we offer an additional discourse, one of social-talk, to help conceptually congeal and extend these “talks” for social work and its practitioners.

Keywords

Homelessness Discourse Causes Ideology Medicalization Competency Cause Narratives Caricatures Folk theories Ideologies Poverty Typology Heuristic Foucault Poststructuralism Postmodernism Normal Knowledge Power Discourse analysis Naturalizing Ethnography Sin-talk Sick-talk System-talk Moral Morality Poverty management Protestant Reformation Martin Luther Vagabonds English Poor Laws Poor relief Rugged individualism Laissez-faire Capitalism Meritocracy Quality of life Criminal justice Punishment Exclusion Public safety Broken windows theory Public space Structural Misdistribution State Free market Marx Marxism Marxist Middle-class Wobblies Tramps Hobos Welfare state Great Depression Deindustrialization Reaganomics National Housing Alliance McKinney-Vento Act Charity Rights-based movement Archipelago Street outreach Housing First Therapeutic Mental health Medicalization of poverty Pathology Client Street agency Clinton HUD Continuum of Care Social workers Diagnose Assess Treat Caseworker Disability Mental illness Addiction Social work Practice Person-in-environment Lived experience Oppression Language Microaggressions Limitations Jane Addams Intervention Hull House 

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.California State University, SacramentoSacramentoUSA

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