Rhetorical Response to the Homeless Movement: Adopting Discursive Units in Counter-Frames
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American cities have a combination of policies that both provide emergency services and restrict the movements and activities of homeless people. These policies are the product of active public debates that construct narratives that explain the causes of homelessness and characterize homeless people. I identify both the policy opportunities and limits created by the way interest groups talk about homelessness by weaving together framing theory with analysis of discursive units employed in the public discussions about homelessness published in the St. Petersburg Times, in Pinellas County, Florida. This county is representative of other metropolitan regions that experienced rapid growth, gentrification, and are now seeing skyrocketing rates of foreclosures. I situate this local debate within the nationally circulated publications referring to homelessness to identify underlying assumptions that shape the outcomes in Pinellas County and set the stage for similar discussions across the United States. I examine how these narratives function in collective action frames of homelessness, the resulting opposing views of who should respond, and how the issue of homelessness should be treated given the legal division between public and private property in our capitalistic society. Frames must be considered rhetoric because they are employed to advance persuasive arguments. The various issue and collective action frames used to shape city policies each form an argument about homelessness. Discursive units are the building blocks of these arguments. Hence, I examine the place of the discursive units of thematic values, anecdotal narratives, and characterizations within these frames. I find that the city council responds to the competing interest group frames by selectively adopting different discursive units from each group in order to frame the situation of homelessness in the region as a crisis. While maintaining the use of the same thematic values and anecdotal narratives, the government is able to transcend competing characterizations of the homeless, creating space for their new policies to pass and succeed with the support of constituents from opposed interest groups.
Mathe, Kristin S. (2009). Rhetorical Response to the Homeless Movement: Adopting Discursive Units in Counter-Frames. Master's thesis, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from