Homeless Bodies, Homeless Minds: Myth and the American Metropolis Open Access

Webb, Philip (2008)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/cn69m490n?locale=en


In Homeless Bodies, Homeless Minds: Myth and the American Metropolis, I
outline how the American discourse on homelessness arose from Victorian social and
political anxieties about the impacts of immigration and urbanization on the middle class,
Protestant family. This project focuses on how these anxieties were negotiated by social
ministries, activists, and service providers, as well as those commenting on their work--
journalists, sociologists, and finally policymakers. I look at the stories told by these
religious activists and ministries--those ways in which they described and diagnosed
social problems before they developed institutions to redress these problems--to
understand how their modes of portraying urban life shaped subsequent social science
and policy. I analyze how religious language and images codified ways to represent these
urban problems, and through this process I explore how contemporary American social
science, social work, and policy emerge from Victorian cultural and religious attitudes
about the family, the city, and social life.

In this project, I examine several intersecting literatures--social ministry,
journalism, sociology, and policy--to trace three distinct configurations of the homeless
subject. Initially, before isolated individuals were constituted as homeless subjects, the
fin-de-siècle city teeming with immigrant populations was described as embodying the
homelessness that was juxtaposed to the family ideal of the Christian home. Then, the
New Deal era `disaffiliated man' became the other of the nuclear family. And, finally, the
fracturing of a racial and gender consensus about the disaffiliated man led to the Reagan
era effort to establish the homeless subject as a person without a fixed shelter failed in an
attempt to decouple family ideology from the homeless subject. By emphasizing the
continuing role of myth in shaping the homeless subject, I explain the inability of
empirical and policy changes--like the 1980s rise of the homeless family--to fully
reconcile with the discourse.

Table of Contents

Chapter One: Introduction 1
Chapter Two: Metropolitan Displacements 20
Chapter Three: The Rise of the Homeless Man 122
Chapter Four: Homelessness and Family Values 207
Chapter Five: Conclusion 285
Bibliography 296

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