Hobos Hustlers And Backsliders By Teresa Gowan

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A Theoretical Analysis on
Hobos Hustlers and Backsliders
An Ethnography by Teresa Gowan
Tamara Anderson ANTH320

Hobos Hustlers and Backsliders was a project conducted on the study of Euro-American constructions of poverty and homelessness. Several notable homeless subcultures in San Francisco were analyzed, with particular focus given to the adult male homeless population. Gowan’s dissertation opens up arguments around the concepts of a self-reproducing culture of poverty, and the counter-argument that irregular practices among the poor represent common-sense adaptations to difficult circumstances (Gowan xx).
Gowan uses three primary constructions of homelessness in her ethnography: homelessness as a moral offense or sin-talk, as pathology or sick-talk, and as the product of systemic injustice or system-talk (Gowan xxi). Perhaps the oldest moral construct in North American society is sin-talk. Sin-talk poverty management calls for strategies of exclusion and punishment (Gowan xxi). Thusfar, it has been a successful (although somewhat inhumane) form of social control (Gowan 202). The homeless population, including beggars, hobos, and other impoverished people, has been considered morally weak and/or criminals by American society since colonial times (Gowan 31). While exploiting vulnerable individuals and going against “the rules” is common among the San Francisco homeless, it is not all-inclusive of the population (Gowan 83). Self-renewal and reformation has only reinforced hostile behavior through systemic hostility and judgment (Gowan 222).
System-talk calls for broader regulation, reform, or transformation of society (Gowan xxi). Stigmatizing those who do not prosper (Gowan 290), system-talk often denies the possibility of sick-talk. The shame induced by society onto the homeless is often deflected back onto the cruelties of the system (Gowan 95). System-talk seemingly legitimizes both the policing and class cleansing of the homeless in private and

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