Shelter Blues: Sanity and Selfhood Among the Homeless

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University of Pennsylvania Press, Sep 16, 2011 - Social Science - 320 pages
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Desjarlais shows us not anonymous faces of the homeless but real people.

While it is estimated that 25 percent or more of America's homeless are mentally ill, their lives are largely unknown to us. What must life be like for those who, in addition to living on the street, hear voices, suffer paranoid delusions, or have trouble thinking clearly or talking to others.

Shelter Blues is an innovative portrait of people residing in Boston's Station Street Shelter. It examines the everyday lives of more than 40 homeless men and women, both white and African-American, ranging in age from early 20s to mid-60s. Based on a sixteen-month study, it draws readers into the personal worlds of these individuals and, by addressing the intimacies of homelessness, illness, and abjection, picks up where most scholarship and journalism stops.

Robert Desjarlais works against the grain of media representations of homelessness by showing us not anonymous stereotypes but individuals. He draws on conversations as well as observations, talking with and listening to shelter residents to understand how they relate to their environment, to one another, and to those entrusted with their care. His book considers their lives in terms of a complex range of forces and helps us comprehend the linkages between culture, illness, personhood, and political agency on the margins of contemporary American society.

Shelter Blues is unlike anything else ever written about homelessness. It challenges social scientists and mental health professionals to rethink their approaches to human subjectivity and helps us all to better understand one of the most pressing problems of our time.

 

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Contents

Beauty and the Street
1
Alice Weldmans Concerns
5
Rethinking Experience
10
Struggling Along
17
A Critical Phenomenology
24
Questions of Shelter
27
Five Coefficients
39
A Crazy Place to Put Crazy People
44
Pacing My Mind
137
The Give and Take
140
Stand Away
151
Ragtime
159
Who?Whats Your Name?
168
Were Losing Him Sam
172
Reasonable Reasonableness
176
Tactics Questions Rhetoric
183

The Sea of Tranquility
55
Too Much
58
Beautiful Ruins
63
Framing the Homeless
65
Sensory DisOrientations
68
The Walls
73
Roots to Earth
75
On the Basketball Court
82
Smoking and Eating and Talking
87
Displacement and Obscurity
95
A Physics of Homelessness
102
Hearing Voices
105
Holding It Together
111
Taking Meds
117
The Street
120
Secondness to Firstness
128
Epistemologies of the Real
189
Reactivity
197
The Office of Reason
205
Figure Character Person
209
How to Do Things with Feeling
217
Architectures of Sense
223
Bodies with Organs
228
With Your Head Tilted to the Side
235
Pacing the Labyrinth
237
List of Shelter Residents
251
Acknowledgments
253
Notes
257
Bibliography
285
Index
303
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About the author (2011)

Robert Desjarlais teaches anthropology at Sarah Lawrence College and is the author of Body and Emotion: The Aesthetics of Illness and Healing in the Nepal Himalayas, also published by Penn.

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