Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.


Urban and Public Affairs

Degree Program

Urban and Public Affairs, PhD

Committee Chair

Björkman, Lisa

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Imbroscio, David

Committee Member

Walker, Margath

Committee Member

Buchino, Susan

Author's Keywords

homeless; home; ethnography


This dissertation is an ethnographic study of various meanings of the word ‘home’ and how the word ‘home’ is used by homeless, evicted, and displaced persons, and by the researcher of the study, to negotiate boundaries and relations of power to achieve goals, both moral and material.Scholarly research on home in urban studies and sociology has produced many definitions and meanings of the word ‘home’ and concepts of home, but often neglects to consider the way the word itself is experienced, personally, by individuals and how to make sense of the way these personal experiences relate to official meanings of ‘home’. This dissertation takes the question of this relationship as a point of departure: while the word ‘home’ and concepts of home are certainly bound to official meanings of the word, this ethnography demonstrates how ‘home’ is a personal experience, one that is related to societal and cultural meanings, but also bound to individual experiences. The word ‘home’ and concepts of home are linked to memories, and memories are linked to connections we have with both emotions and physical places. In chapter four, I draw on the tools and techniques of autoethnography to write analytically about memories from my past, memories of “home”, and methodologically to connect that analysis to my own experiences of “home” and how I negotiate the meaning of the word “home.” As a person who identifies with people who also seemed to me to be without a “home,” writing about my own life experiences with ‘home’ can produce new questions and offer new insights about broader social and cultural phenomena. In chapter five, I show how the ‘homeless’ conceptualize the word ‘home’ which, in turn, shows how personal experiences of ‘home’ are bound up with a person’s particular experience of ‘home.’ This chapter also examines the politics surrounding public and private spaces as they relate to the homeless and shows how the ‘street homeless’ negotiate their ways through various obstacles to their livelihood. The research for this chapter was ethnographically conducted within several homeless camps throughout the city of Louisville and two prominent shelters. Much of this research was conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic and after mandated closures. In this chapter, I uncover several themes that show how ‘homeless’ peoples’ understandings of the words ‘home’ and ‘homeless’ often contradict institutionalized meanings and values of these words. Chapter six employs Ribot and Peluso’s (2003) theory of access approach to studying mechanism by means of access to housing to understand the multiple mechanism at play within pandemic politics, mechanisms not limited to property alone. Using the theory of access approach, this chapter examines how other mechanisms of access, such as access to technology, capital, labor and labor opportunities, knowledge, and social identity and relations also affected the ability or inability for low-income renters facing eviction to remain in their residences during the pandemic. The stories presented in this chapter show how people facing eviction navigated their way through pandemic politics to secure their housing needs, or not.