Sisyphean Struggles

Encounters and Interactions within Two US Public Housing Programs

in The International Journal of Social Quality
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  • 1 Oslo and Akershus University College erika.gubrium@hioa.no
  • 2 University of Massachusetts, Amherst dhakalsabina@gmail.com
  • 3 Independent researcher lsyl@verizon.net
  • 4 University of Massachusetts, Amherst agubrium@schoolph.umass.edu
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Abstract

We operationalize the concepts of rights, discretion, and negotiation in service provision at two public housing sites, exploring their connections to the generation of shame or dignity building for residents. Using data from in-depth interviews with housing residents and caseworkers, we found that resident rights were limited by a decentralized system that actively prevented them from taking control of their lives. Residents frequently experienced caseworker discretion as personally intrusive, yet there was some, if limited, space for negotiation between caseworkers offering personalized care and residents evaluated as worthy of such focus. These interactions offered the potential for enhanced recognition and dignity.

Contributor Notes

Erika Gubrium is Associate Professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences at Oslo and Akershus University College, in Norway. Gubrium uses comparative, qualitative methodologies to study the interactional dynamics between sociocultural norms, policy measure intentions and system ethos. Her work has in recent years focused on measures attached to labor activation within Norway and internationally.

Sabina Dhakal received her Master’s in Public Heath from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Dhakal is an ethnographer and her research interest is in the social determinants of health, particularly among refugees and immigrant population. Currently she is engaged in clinical practice transformation efforts in New York City.

Laura Sylvester, MPPA/MPH, is a public health and public policy researcher and activist based in Amherst, Massachusetts. Her work involves bridging the worlds of academia and policymaking and helping to turn research into policies that create better working and living conditions and improve government efficiency by promoting public/private partnerships.

Aline Gubrium is an Associate Professor in health promotion and policy in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She has extensive experience using innovative and collaborative research methodologies, including narrative, visual, and sensory approaches. Her recent work focuses on using digital storytelling as a narrative intervention to promote health, rights, and justice among marginalized young mothers and their families.

The International Journal of Social Quality

(formerly The European Journal of Social Quality)

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