I knew that I would encounter homelessness when I came to Berkeley.
expecting it, because just about everybody I knew had something to say about the
rumors they'd heard filter over from the West Coast.
Coming from New York,
however, I figured I'd seen it all, and would be in control over whatever I would
be up against.
Reality quickly hit me, though, as I began to familiarize myself
with Berkeley and its main streets.
I'd never seen anything quite like Telegraph
Avenue and People's Park.
No matter how much poverty one has seen throughout the
course of their lives, it's far more difficult to accept when it occurs in areas of
Understanding the nature of homeless people asking for money and their
interactions with people walking up and down a main street such as Telegraph Avenue
is a difficult task.
This observation process, which took place on Telegraph
Avenue watching the homeless at "work", was difficult because of the wealth of
information one could find in simply watching as one person asked another for
We looked for a number of signals in the interactions, considering people's
ages, how they reacted physically, whether or not they communicated verbally, their
demeanor throughout the interaction, and the importance of eye-contact. We must
also wrestle with the ambiguity of the power structure within the situation,
because it is not nearly as clear as it seems.
In the end, we will try to decipher
the true nature of these confrontations, concluding by comparing the analysis of
these situations to those found in the works of Erving Goffman and Robin Leidner.
The difficulty in defining the parameters of dominance within the interaction
comes in understanding the disparity between the social status of the person being
asked for money and the status of the individual begging for it; the real science
lies in determining how little that difference actually matters.
respective status of each individual should be quite clear.
The person walking
down the street is probably either employed or a student.
homeless person, on the other hand, may have alcohol or drug problems, may be
suffering from schizophrenia, and is clearly not capable of functioning within the
confines of mainstream society.
Clearly, according to unwritten rules of our
community, the employed person has a much higher social standing.
social differences, the actual interaction is controlled by the panhandler.
authority role begins with the initiation of the interaction; by being the one to
cause the confrontation, the second party- the one being asked for change- is
forced to react, if not to respond, in some way.
The initiation process itself
varies quite a bit from panhandler to panhandler and has a tremendous impact in
terms of reinforcing the notion of authority.
For example, there were panhandlers
we observed who were not capable of singling out an individual person and therefore