UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Come as you are : negotiating neoliberal governmentality at a homeless shelter for women and children Carroll, Aanika Peterson


Non-profit social services targeting specific ‘vulnerable’ groups have become increasingly prevalent since the late 1970s. These services have flourished with the growth of neoliberal ideas that stress rolling back government services, using private institutions that operate on profit-driven models, and creating citizens who are self-sufficient, enterprising subjects. These organizations are an important element of Foucault’s ‘governmentality,’ the idea that independent institutions across society act in concert to regulate the population. This thesis questions the extent to which the goals of neoliberal governmentality are able to penetrate a non-profit organization that provides homeless shelters for women and children in the San Francisco Bay Area, and demonstrates how the organization acts as both a part of the system of neoliberal governmentality while simultaneously resisting its logic. This qualitative research project, which involved participant observation at the shelter site and 16 interviews with staff and clients of the organization, focuses on the ways in which shelter staff have become skilled at responding to the demands of neoliberal governmentality while using unique strategies to address client’s needs and create a home-like shelter environment. The organization employs service strategies that resist the construction of the neoliberal subject as consistently enterprising and rational. Harm-reduction and trauma-informed strategies acknowledge the personal and structural barriers to overcoming problems such as substance abuse and domestic violence, and stress that disciplinary institutional spaces often contribute to the stress and trauma that clients feel within the social services system. Staff members have used these official strategies, as well as their own personal understandings of how they would like the shelter to operate, to develop individual styles and challenge many of the rules within the shelter. This personal and compassionate approach stresses accommodation and is driven by a desire to make the shelter feel more like home.

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