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The institutional dynamics of homelessness: The United States of America and Japan compared

Augusto De Venanzi (Indiana‐Purdue University, Fort Wayne, Indiana, USA)

International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy

ISSN: 0144-333X

Article publication date: 25 April 2008




Previous research has made it clear that homelessness is a social condition that finds its origins in structural causes such as poverty, lack of affordable housing, chronic unemployment, and reductions in welfare support. However, in the author's view, the exclusive focus upon these structural variables fails to provide a comprehensive account of the social forces that contribute to and shape the homeless experience. The paper's aim is to contend that homelessness can also be viewed as the result of continued subordinate institutional experiences.


The present paper examines in depth some of the inner practices of various normative institutions, namely morality, family, and the prison and uncover the ways in which they operate in producing acute states of social and moral disempowerment, and how they affect the faculties of subordinate members to competently fend for themselves in the wider society. It relies on a set of concepts coined by authors such as E. Goffman, M. Douglas, P. Boss, and M. Foucault in looking at the incapacitating nature of the aforementioned institutions. The study compares homelessness in two national contexts – that of the USA and Japan – in aiming to demonstrate that different institutional contexts tend to produce different patterns of homelessness. The research employs both secondary quantitative and secondary qualitative data. The quantitative data are used to establish the association of homelessness and subordinate institutional experience, the quantitative to illustrate the human experience of being homeless and to present cases that illustrate the “continuity chains” formed by those experiences.


The paper finds that different institutional settings will produce different patterns of homelessness. Originality/value – The institutional approach to homelessness advocated opens new avenues of concern and research in both the comprehensive understanding and the acting upon this vital problematic.



De Venanzi, A. (2008), "The institutional dynamics of homelessness: The United States of America and Japan compared", International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Vol. 28 No. 3/4, pp. 129-145.



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