This book is a superb, beautifully written example of the virtues of well-done ethnographic analysis, illuminating what are, too often, the dimly lit corners of social life. In this case, E. Summerson Carr turns a keen ethnographic eye on the social structures and practices of the Homeless Family Consortium (HFC), an umbrella organiza- tion subsuming smaller agen- cies that offer housing, child care, and addiction treatment services to their constituents in Chicago.
Drawing upon her consid- erable anthropological skills and social work experience, Carr repeatedly reveals in this book that society and culture create the types of people that fit into the categories they construct. Moreover, and more importantly, as she so effec- tively demonstrates, both these categories and the types of people that come to fill them are shaped in and through the crucibles of economics, poli- tics, culture, and organizational imperatives. Thus, social service providers and recipients operate within a set of constraints and opportunities that are not of their own making, and are also marked by haggling and jockeying for position and advantage. The latter processes produce, and are produced by, linguistic categories that script the courses of action available to HFC’s administrators, staff, and clients. The bulk of Carr’s anal- ysis focuses on the consortium’s addiction-treatment program, “Fresh Beginnings” (FB), its interactions with other groups within the consortium, and with the clients (or consumers) that FB serves.