Theses Doctoral

At the Edge of the Slope: Views from a Multicultural Geriatric Affordable Housing Facility

O'Hare, Brian Joseph

This dissertation is the culmination of over two years of fieldwork at a residence for indigent elderly and disabled people situated in the neighborhood of Park Slope in the borough of Brooklyn, New York. The research methodology relied heavily on participant observation, as well as a semi-structured formal interview on a select group of informants, to gain a local perspective on the direct and indirect social effects of institutional policies towards indigent elder populations receiving funding from federal and state level agencies. Using theoretical models from medical and psychological anthropology on cultural studies of death, grieving, and mourning, this analysis focuses on entitlement/benefit policies and their social impact on the organizational structure at a geriatric residential complex. Especially salient were the notions of self-identity and the coping strategies used by the elderly poor and the people who are involved in their care to make do with their low social and economic positioning. At this site, in their everyday routines, older adults faced a myriad of challenges imposed by the lack of clarity and consistent change surrounding implementation of these benefits by various outside institutions.
In this diverse setting, social work staff engaged in care-taking practices in the hope of addressing inequalities experienced by the tenant population. Subsequently, social workers became key participants in maintaining the measurements of equality used to determine eligibility for such resources. This was due in part to their gatekeeper status within the privately funded charity-based organization for the diverse sets of residents supported by a mix of private and public entities using federal and state funds. Ultimately, the regulations designed to alleviate inequality created boundaries among tenants and were a source of tension embroiled in larger issues surrounding ethnic, linguistic, and social difference. By exploring the ways in which professional experts with authoritative-knowledge guided and interacted with the elderly-poor at one independent living facility, the research addresses the growing complexity shadowing affordable housing for older adults in the United States as the populace at large continues to diversify. In addressing how these initiatives were enacted and allocated under these conditions, one of the main aims of this research was to reveal how conflicts and struggles emanating from them were managed.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Applied Anthropology
Thesis Advisors
Harrington, Charles C.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 14, 2016