First Advisor

Susan Poulsen

Term of Graduation

Spring 1997

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in Speech Communication


Speech Communication




Crisis shelters, Interviews, Interviewing, Women's shelters



Physical Description

1 online resource (ii,192 pages)


Even though the number of homeless women has increased among a population viewed as typically male (Merves 1992), there is still little research focused on women. This study investigated the communicative practices in and through which gendered identity was constructed, negotiated and performed at a point of rupture when the norms for judging a "good woman:"--that is woman as wife, as mother, and as homemaker appear to have been violated. The negotiation of access into an urban shelter for homeless and/or battered women provided a rich site for the study. The research was grounded in the assumptions of symbolic interaction which views the self as socially constructed. Guided by the ethnography of communication, the research engaged a critical feminist practice to understand underlying social and cultural practices by which gender power relations are constituted, reproduced and contested (Weedon, 1987). This study addressed the following questions: 1) What will an examination of the negotiation of access to a shelter as a process of inclusion or exclusion reveal about the distribution of power and underlying processes of social control?, and 2) How is gendered identity symbolically developed, negotiated and performed by shelter staff, volunteers, and program participants? 2 Data were collected through participant observation and interviews with staff and clients to account for the differing perspectives that are influenced by location within the social system (Johnson, 1990). A fine grained analysis of the screen and intake as speech events brought to light the extent to which the shelter rules, the crystallization of the shelter's normative system, were implicated in and governed the process. Framing the screen as a "conversation" obscured the asymmetrical distribution of power within the speech event. An intake worker's competency was evaluated by her ability to select clients who could succeed in the program. The criteria of appropriateness reflected the values of the "good woman" and the "deserving poor'' and served the interests of the shelter staff to maintain social control. The research provides a point of intervention in which more inclusive procedures can be developed in keeping with feminist principles of empowerment and equality.


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