With No Direction Home: Homeless Youth on the Road and in the Streets By Marni Finkelstein
In this critical review of Marni Finkelstein’s ethnography “With No Direction Home: Homeless Youth on the Road and in the Streets” I will analyze and evaluate some of the strategies and methods used by this author. One primary issue I will discuss is the sample population. Finkelstein may have set the population limitations to strictly for this ethnography. Her limited observation location and time is also a major issue. She chose to study a transient population that, very likely, primarily comes out at night. Yet, she limited herself to one primary location and she only went there in the daytime. I will discuss the lack of follow up to the individual interviews as well. While she discovered some fascinating information about this subculture, she did not find what she stated she initially set out to find. Finkelstein’s goal was to study “gutterpunks” (Finkelstein, 2005), but what she actually studied were the substance abusing homeless youth of Tompkins Square Park. In her original hypothesis she wanted to learn about “alternative youth subcultures, especially those revolving around music” (Finkelstein, 2005). She does not seem to have accomplished this goal. There was little talk about music in the ethnography, on her part or the part of the kids. Was it because she found that there was no relation to music or because she did not specifically try to find youth involved with the music. It seems like she basically settled for just plain old homeless drug addict and alcoholic kids, which would be great if her goal was not more specific to finding “gutterpunks.” The ethnography is also based on an extremely small sample size. According to Finkelstein’s own numbers, she only interviewed 50 youth over the period of the two summers. That seems like an extremely low number of participants for which to base an entire ethnography. I would think that over a period of two summers- let’s call that 6 months- a researcher would have the opportunity to encounter hundreds of potential candidates to provide informational interviews. Part of the trouble may have been that she limited her participants ages to being between 15-20 years old. I believe that this restriction left out a great deal of potentially vital informants and information. It may have substantially limited her population size. For example, the 25 year old, named Scratch, who had been on the streets for 10+ years, would have been a cornucopia of information. But, all she did was use him to refer her to other kids in her required age group. The street culture in Tompkins Square Park did not have age limitations. I’m not sure that Finkelstein should have either. It’s important to note that all of the kids involved were heavily dependent on drugs and alcohol. Also important to note, is that she was paying her participants. This combination may have created unintended consequences. It’s possible that the kids were willing to tell vivid and imaginative stories to Finkelstein in hopes of being interviewed again and, thereby, being paid again. Many of the youth were willing to admit to prostitution in order to earn money for drugs or alcohol. Is it possible that they would prostitute lies about their own lives for the same end? Is it possible that they never really left New York? Did they just move into shelters in the winter? It’s impossible to know for sure. These kids are caught up in the culture of lies and delusion surrounding drugs; that is to say, who says they aren’t just verbally fantasizing with Finkelstein and passing it off as the truth. The location limitation was also unfavorable for this kind of ethnography. If one is going to write ethnography about a transient population, they should become somewhat transient themselves. Traveling with the youth would necessarily be required in order to get a full picture of their...
Bibliography: Finkelstein, F. (2005). With no direction home: homeless youth on the road and in the streets.
Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.
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