Ethnographic Project: Homelessness
May 29, 2011 § Leave a comment
When driving through an intersection on Route 15-501 in Durham, it is not uncommon to see a handful of peddlers sitting on the medians of the road, holding half a cardboard pizza box with a message scribbled on it asking for any sort of help. Generally grizzled and in their late 30’s to mid 80’s, these men and women hopefully reach out for help to the community against the social norms. These people have nothing. However, despite their desperation, this group of homeless people, and presumably the homeless all across the state of North Carolina, are often ridiculed, chastised, and alienated as they differ from the expected norm. As the lights turn red at the intersections and cars pull up, the turn away of heads and the locking of doors are common events while the cars approach the median with a man holding a sign asking for money, food, or anything that can help. These men and women are not even acknowledged. Dehumanized, they are often treated as worthless or annoyances. This is a subculture irrationalized and mistreated due to its difference in culture.
For my project, I will be analyzing the social responses and interactions to the homeless in Durham and the social “caste” system that is fed by the difference of wealth and status between these two cultures. In order to analyze this social alienation, I will be observing the interactions between the drivers of the vehicles on Route 15-501 and the homeless men and women on the medians of the intersections. I will be not only looking at facial expressions, physical body language, and verbal exchange between the two subjects, but I also plan on personally interacting with the subjects. By asking possible questions about past history, family life, and life on the intersection, I hope to gain a better understanding into the life of this subculture. I will also be interviewing drivers that have interacted with some of the homeless people and ask them their own unadulterated opinions of this separate subculture. By analyzing both cultures, it will be easier to obtain an unbiased, whole view of the topic and therefore be a more appropriate research method. Furthermore, I would like to discuss the statics of the homeless population in North Carolina and the legal methodology that is currently in legislation. In order to accomplish this, I plan on talking with state advisors and peddling permit issuers about the subject and each of their opinions on what needs to be done.
Ultimately though, I would like to direct this research in order to see a broader view of the homeless, not only in understanding their culture, but realizing their depraved situation and recognizing that they are humans as well. My goals of this paper are to break down the alienation of homeless people and expose the fact that each person’s situation is different, and therefore must be treated differently. While I do not plan to solve the problem of homelessness, or poverty in general, I would like to open a better understanding to this subculture.