Date of Award

12-2009

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Sociology

First Advisor

Charles Jaret - Chair

Second Advisor

Wendy Simonds

Third Advisor

Robert Adelman

Abstract

This study examines framing strategies employed by the social movement responding to homelessness in Atlanta, Georgia over the course of the 20th century. Drawing on archival records, media accounts and interviews with religious, business and government leaders, this longitudinal case study documents the varied casts of individuals and groups responding to the visible poor on the streets of the city. At the forefront of this project were religious groups serving variously as agents of social control or prophets calling for justice. Social movement framing theory, supplemented by resource mobilization and political opportunity theories, are applied to analyze movement processes. Framing theory provides an explanation for the coordination of collective action in social movements. However, the processes by which movements develop, contest and subsequently transform frames have received little scholarly attention and remain central questions for framing theory. This study addresses these questions. Analytically, I consider the movement in two waves: 1) an early movement dating from 1900 to 1970 and, 2) a modern movement covering the years from 1975 to 2005. In each period movement leaders adopted diagnostic, prognostic and motivational frames to organize and direct their actions. In the first wave, the Salvation Army and Union Mission drew on frames of sin and redemption to develop specialized, separate institutions and programs for the visible poor. The second wave of the movement developed its framing by incorporating elements from the civil rights movement, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker traditions. Religious leaders developed a church based, volunteer run shelter system providing free emergency night shelter to homeless persons. Freezing deaths on the streets of the city in 1981 led to rapid diffusion of church-based sheltering and adoption of a crisis/disaster frame. Central to these developments was a core group of religious leaders bringing a variety of personal experiences and visions to sheltering. The experience of sheltering and the confrontations with downtown business and political leaders fostered the development of frames with greater complexity and highlighted internal contradictions in the movement. New frames explaining homelessness variously emphasized either structural (injustice) or individual (disability) factors leading to framing conflicts within the movement.

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