Checkerboard Square: Culture and Resistance in a Homeless Community

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Westview Press, 1993 - Social Science - 200 pages
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During the past decade, homelessness became a widespread phenomenon in the United States for the first time since the Great Depression. The public frequently blamed the poor for their plight. Journalistic and academic accounts, in contrast, often evoked pathos and pity, regarding the homeless primarily as objects of treatment and rehabilitation. David Wagner challenges both of these dominant images, offering an ethnographic portrait of the poor that reveals their struggle not only to survive but also to create communities on the streets and to develop social movements on their own behalf. Definitely not passive victims, the homeless of Checkerboard Square survive within an alternative street culture, with its own norms and social organization, in a world often hidden from the view of researchers, journalists, and social workers.Checkerboard Square reveals the daily struggle of street people to organize their lives in the face of rejection by employers, government, landlords, and even their own families. Looking beyond the well-documented causes of homelessness such as lack of affordable housing or unemployment, Wagner shows how the poor often become homeless through resistance to the discipline of the workplace, authoritarian families, and the bureaucratic social welfare system. He explains why the crisis of homelessness is not only about the lack of services, housing, and jobs but a result of the very structure of the dominant institutions of work, family, and public social welfare.

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Voices from Checkerboard Square
Homelessness and the Culture of Resistance
The Limits of the Work Ethic
Social Welfare
The Social Organization of the Streets
Subcultures and Patterns of Association Among Street People
Checkerboard Square and a Radical Critique
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Page 6 - Man (Bahr 1970); furthermore, the author defined homelessness as "a condition of detachment from society characterized by the absence or attenuation of the affiliative bonds that link settled persons to a network of interconnected social structures.
Page 1 - Pauperism is the consequence of wilful error, of shameful indolence, of vicious habits. It is a misery of human creation, the pernicious work of man, the lamentable consequence of bad principles and morals.
Page 69 - That, too, was a matter of deliberate intent. The workhouse was designed to spur men to contrive ways of supporting themselves by their own industry, to offer themselves to any employer on any terms, rather than suffer the degraded status of pauper.
Page 101 - You will eat, bye and bye, In that glorious land above the sky; Work and pray, live on hay, You'll get pie in the sky when you die.
Page 141 - ... perhaps, the streetcorner world takes its shape and color from the structure and character of the face-to-face relationships of the people who live in it. Unlike other areas in our society, where a large portion of the individual's energies, concerns and time are invested in self-improvement, career and job development, family and community activities, religious and cultural pursuits, or even in broad, impersonal social and political issues, these resources in the streetcorner world are almost...
Page 8 - ... neuralgic pain; that it was not fair to judge poor people that way. She perhaps unconsciously illustrated the difference between the relief station's relation to the poor and the Settlement's relation to its neighbors, the latter wishing to know them through all the varying conditions of life, to stand by when they are in distress, but by no means to drop intercourse with them when normal prosperity has returned, enabling the relation to become more social and free from economic disturbance....
Page 1 - ... million, they are a relatively small minority of the 33 million Americans with incomes below the official poverty line. Disproportionately black and Hispanic, they are still a minority within these minorities. What primarily defines them is not so much their poverty or race as their behavior their chronic lawlessness, drug use, out-of-wedlock births, nonwork, welfare dependency, and school failure. "Underclass" describes a state of mind and a way of life.

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About the author (1993)

David Wagner is associate professor of social work and sociology at the University of Southern Maine. He is the author of two previous books, including Checkerboard Square (Westview, 1993), winner of the 1993 C. Wright Mills Award.

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