Considering the legitimacy of homeless hostels as sites of discipline and regulation

Ian Mahoney (Department of Sociology, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK)

International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy

ISSN: 0144-333X

Publication date: 8 April 2019



The purpose of this paper is to critique the role of homeless hostels in contemporary society, examining their role and legitimacy as sites of discipline and regulation of behaviors, ideas and aspirations.


The research draws upon in-depth qualitative interviews and supplementary observations undertaken in two homeless hostels in Stoke-on-Trent.


The research finds that even the most benign interventions enacted in homeless hostels are infused with disciplinary and regulatory techniques and suggests that the author needs to consider the legitimacy and efficacy of such approaches when seeking to understand the role of the hostel in assisting residents in (re)developing their autonomy.

Research limitations/implications

While there are legitimate reasons for the deployment of such techniques in some cases, legitimacy can be undermined where expectations go unmet or where developing residents’ and service user’s needs are not necessarily the main object of the interventions.

Practical implications

Hostel providers need to consider the ethicality and legitimacy of the interventions in place when seeking to help service users and residents to (re)develop their autonomy and ensure that efforts are focused in an effective and meaningful way.

Social implications

Homeless people are among the most vulnerable and excluded in society. The paper seeks to draw attention to the disciplinary and regulatory techniques to which they are subject in order to ensure that approaches employed to support homeless individuals have a clear, ethical and legitimate basis.


The research draws upon original data collected as part of a doctoral research project into wider experiences of unemployment.



Ian Mahoney (2019) "Considering the legitimacy of homeless hostels as sites of discipline and regulation", International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Vol. 39 No. 3/4, pp. 250-263

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