Communication ETDs

Publication Date



At a particular faith-based nonprofit homeless shelter located in metropolitan area in the Southwest region of the United States, here called the Little City, this ethnography of communication used one hundred hours of observation, eighteen interviews and two social artifacts to reveal the complex nature of personhood, norms for, and consequences of communicative interaction between homeless individuals and volunteers. Homeless individuals were depicted by themselves, staff, volunteers and the organization as persons who are 'broken,' 'addicted,' and as 'the new poor.' Once homeless individuals joined the Life in Christ's Power program at the Little City, they were 'depersonalized' as they became students of Christianity, of self and of opportunity. Additionally, homeless individuals also become a person who was either a 'giver' or a 'user' of the program. In contrast to homeless individuals, volunteers were perceived as 'just people' but still 'outsiders' who were 'manipulatable' by homeless individuals. Sometimes perceived as 'a joke' to homeless shelter guests, volunteers were also noted as persons that 'invest' in the homeless shelter. These aspects of personhood corresponded to different norms of communicative interaction. More specifically, homeless individuals abided by socially constructed norms of communicative interaction that instruct homeless individuals to not approach, to not yell at, to not fraternize with, and to not ask a volunteer for things, specifically cigarettes. The outcome of these norms of communicative interaction between homeless individuals and volunteers created two 'regimes' as homeless individuals felt 'left out' by volunteers. Some individuals evaluated situations in which violating the norms for communication were appropriate while still accepting that the consequences of their actions may result in the homeless individual jeopardizing their 'privilege' to stay at the Little City. In light of potential consequences, the different dimensions of personhood for volunteers and homeless individuals influence how norms of communicative interaction affect whether homeless individuals can or cannot ask for help from volunteers within the speech community at the Little City.




Homelessness, Ethnography of Communication, Personhood, Norms of Communication, Volunteerism, Consequences, Asking for Help

Document Type


Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name

Department of Communication and Journalism

First Advisor

Covarrubias, Patricia

First Committee Member (Chair)

Shiver, Janet

Second Committee Member

Oakdale, Suzanne