Homeless Voices: Stigma, Space, and Social Media argues that the best sources for how to address issues of homelessness are people experiencing homelessness themselves, particularly as they express their experiences through personal blogs and memoirs. Mary L. Schuster discusses how space and land have been historically denied to marginalized communities who still feel the effects to this day, along with examining the conditions and limitations of common spaces often assigned to those experiencing homelessness, culminating in an analysis of how the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has impacted homelessness. Schuster focuses on two vulnerable groups that often experience homelessness: victims of domestic violence and unaccompanied youth, particularly those who struggle with gender identity and unstable housing. This book includes a variety of case studies, examining public meetings and court decisions, public policy symposiums, and personal interviews, and ultimately finds that intersectionality—specifically age, race, gender identity, and ethnicity—plays a large part in understanding and experiencing homelessness. By shifting our attention to the diverse voices who experience homelessness themselves, Schuster claims, we can finally begin to remedy this crisis. Scholars of media studies, sociology, and urban development will find this book particularly useful.
Mary Schuster is professor emerita with the writing studies department and affiliated faculty with the law school at the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities.
Introduction: Understanding Homelessness
Chapter One: The “Wall of Forgotten Natives”: Contested Land and Space
Chapter Two: “Not in My Neighborhood” or Even in My City: Legal Restrictions in Private and Public Spaces
Chapter Three: This Space Called Home: Women and Youth Facing Homelessness
Chapter Four: Displacement and Containment: The Encampment, the Shelter, the Fire, and the Virus
Chapter Five: Final Reflections
Appendix A: Online Blogs and Video Interview Citations
Appendix B: Fair Use and Privacy Concerns Regarding Social Media; Personal Positioning
About the Author
Meticulously grounded in qualitative, historical, and transdisciplinary case studies, this book offers a wide-ranging, yet contextually nuanced account of the rhetoric enabling the stigmatization and marginalization of homeless people. By centering the anti-essentializing stories of people experiencing homelessness, as conveyed on their own terms in blogs and memoirs, this book amplifies their tactics for resisting stigmatization and reclaiming rhetorical agency. Through its synthesis and contribution of useful knowledge to ameliorate the problem of homelessness, this book constitutes a compelling illumination of rhetorical-spatial segregation and an exemplary model of rhetorical listening and scholarly advocacy.
In this clear-eyed, rigorous book, Mary Schuster describes how our systems have failed the unhoused, often by way of the moments of light and uplift that are inscribed in the voices of those with lived experience. This book's careful listening is essential for humanizing and challenging a broken system, while offering hope for real change.
This book is an excellent piece of rhetorical scholarship and a powerful example of the ways in which rhetorical scholarship can support advocacy in regard to social and political issues. Schuster expands our scholarly understanding of homelessness by offering a distinctly rhetorical perspective that is based on rigorous research and successfully captures the voices of those individuals who have first-hand experience of being homeless.
Mary L. Schuster’s new book is a stellar example of what scholarship in rhetorical studies can and should be—ambitious, illuminating, and accessible. Schuster deftly uses rhetorical theory to examine the discursive construction and material experience of homelessness, not merely to shed light on a contemporary social problem but, more importantly, to move us collectively closer to solving this serious and completely avoidable crisis. Through a careful and compelling analysis, Schuster demonstrates how the metaphors and tropes deployed so often to dehumanize and stigmatize the unhoused can become a powerful tool of resistance. This is genuinely transdisciplinary research that is theoretically savvy and committed to advocacy.
As Mary Schuster notes, “No universal or singular reason for homelessness exists, just as no comprehensive solution emerges despite our efforts to address the issue.” With her commitment to rhetorical listening and nonidentification, however, Schuster cleaves monolithic rhetorical tropes of homelessness, holding up the fragments and examining their facets—including perspectives of Native people, LGBTQ+ youth, and victims of domestic violence. She shows that rhetorical theory and rhetorical action allow groups affected by homelessness to challenge the public discourse’s tendency to essentialize them—to place them in convenient boxes built on long-standing social imaginaries.