Teresa Gowan - April 21, 2011

April 21, 2011 | 4:00pm-6:00pm | BBC 004
Teresa Gowan,  Associate Professor
University of Minnesota

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Hobos, Hustlers, and Backsliders: Homeless in San Francisco

A powerful ethnographic account of life on the streets in San Francisco.

In Hobos, Hustlers, and Backsliders, Teresa Gowan vividly depicts the lives of homeless men in San Francisco and analyzes the influence of the homelessness industry on the streets, in the shelters, and on public policy. Gowan shows some of the diverse ways that men on the street in San Francisco struggle for survival, autonomy, and self-respect. Living for weeks at a time among homeless men—working side-by-side with them as they collected cans, bottles, and scrap metal; helping them set up camp; watching and listening as they panhandled and hawked newspapers; and accompanying them into soup kitchens, jails, welfare offices, and shelters— Gowan immersed herself in their routines, their personal stories, and their perspectives on life on the streets. She observes a wide range of survival techniques, from the illicit to the industrious, from drug dealing to dumpster diving. She also discovered that prevailing discussions about homelessness and its causes powerfully affect how homeless people see themselves and their ability to change their situation. Drawing on five years of fieldwork, this powerful ethnography of men living on the streets of the most liberal city in America, Hobos, Hustlers, and Backsliders, makes clear that the way we talk about issues of extreme poverty has real consequences for how we address this problem—and for the homeless themselves.


About the Author

Teresa Gowan is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Minnesota. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of California, Berkeley. Her areas of research include urban sociology, ethnography, poverty and inequality, deviance and social control. Hobos, Hustlers, and Backsliders is her first book. Her articles have appeared in Ethnography, Qualitative Sociology, Contemporary Sociology, and Critical Sociology.