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Sarah DeWard

Lecturer, College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters, and Behavioral Sciences, U-M Dearborn

Sarah DeWard’s research examines the strategies homeless women utilize to survive living in shelter.  Relying on field observation and 20 qualitative interviews with shelter residents, DeWard examined how the bureaucracy and institutionalization within a homeless shelter fits various tenets of Goffman’s (1961) “total institution,” particularly regarding systematic deterioration of personhood and loss of autonomy. Women’s experiences as shelter residents were explored via a typology of survival strategies: submission, adaptation, and resistance.

In addition, DeWard explored the rhetorical strategies used by sheltered homeless women to navigate their personal identity in the midst of experiencing a deeply stigmatized social identity. This analysis examined the identity talk strategies used by sheltered women to disavow stigmatized social identities and to restore cognitive congruence. Using the identity talk framework of Snow and Anderson (1987), three categories of identity talk are explored: distancing, embracement, and fictive storytelling. Findings suggest that sheltered homeless women actively utilize these identity talk strategies to purposefully disavow stigmatized identities. This research contributes to existing literature on gendered poverty by analyzing the nuanced ways in which institutionalization affects and complicates women’s efforts to survive homelessness.

MS, Clemson University; BA, Western Michigan University.