Negotiating new realities: ethnographic narratives on the impact of austerity on staff and service users of a homelessness and resettlement service


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis identifies the multiple ways austerity and welfare reform were experienced by staff and service users of a homelessness and resettlement service from 2011 to 2014. The research employs an ethnographic narrative and participatory methodology drawing on a critical feminist research paradigm. It draws on equality theory in research and community development theory in social action to offer a model of participatory equality studies as a way of working for social justice (Bourdieu, 1997; Baker et al., 2004; Ledwith, 2005). Experiences and change in the lives of vulnerable people is examined through a Sustainable Livelihoods Approach (May, Brown, Cooper and Brill, 2009) and co-researcher processes (Maguire, 1987; Baker et al., 2004). The research offers ethnographies of austerity at local level that document individual and organisational experiences, as workers and service-users negotiate significant change, within a broader neo-liberal context (Bourdieu, 1977; Okely, 2012).
Qualitative data were collected at key points over four years. Twenty-eight interviews were conducted; ten with senior management and policy staff, eight with front line services staff, and ten with service-users. Two ex-service users acted as co-researchers for a phase of the research focused on the lived experiences of service users. Team meetings were observed that provided reflective accounts of collective and organisational responses to a rapidly changing context. Two external and one internal public engagement events provided a space for the research findings to be contributed to a wider public debate on austerity. Findings are contextualized in a review of emerging critical literature on the impacts of austerity measures in Britain.
This thesis makes a contribution, as a critical ethnographic study of multiple and complex new realities for staff and services users as they contend with and understand changes in welfare and endeavour to negotiate changing discourses on the role and relationships between local authorities, individuals and charities. It reveals significant contributions and resilience in the day to day lives of service users, but also intense pressures on people as they Ëścome up for review' and the personal impact of negative community, media and officials attitudes to vulnerability by revealing the lived experiences of austerity. Finally, seven key themes are identified that could be offered as a wider contribution to a commentary of austerity from a local level and are suggestive of an emerging common story in the caring services.
Date of Award6 Jul 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Edge Hill University
SupervisorJOHN DIAMOND (Director of Studies) & STUART SPEEDEN (Supervisor)


  • welfare reform
  • ethnographic narratives
  • homelessness and resettlement services
  • England
  • austerity

Cite this