Daniel Kerr on oral history We know what the problem is

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Daniel Kerr on oral history We know what the problem is

  • Kerr initiated the Cleveland Homeless Oral History Project (CHOHP). Wanted to not only interview homeless people for his own research, but wanted to start a dialogue on the streets. Homeless talking with and to each other. "From the bottom up"


  • Notes that researchers (e.g. Martha Burt from the Urban Institute) have often "studied" the homeless but have not sought criticism or evaluation from the homeless. And, their efforts have rarely brought about any structural or personal change for the homeless.


  • "It is not enough to critique the closed and ineffectual circle of discussions on present homeless policies or academic debates on homelessness without working towards building a movement of people who can add weight to the critique and leverage social change as a result...the homeless"


  • (CHOHP) based on shared authority in a research project in order to build movement.


  • He asks, "By providing a bullhorn to the oppressed and excluded do we give up our critical authority and give in to bad science?"


  • Helen Longino: all science is influences by background assumptions that shape questions and influence interpretations of data. Rather than foregoing empiricism and peer review, a scientific community is closer to objectivity when it is more inclusive and democratic. And he Kerr concludes: by sharing authority with the homeless, objectivity is not given up, produced is more objective and effective research.


  • Created a video project of interviews he had done, and he showed them in Public Square, garnering the interest of other homeless...was asked to show them in shelters...homeless wanted to see repeatedly certain videos (building a grassroots canon of homeless voices)


  • Process: moved away from asking questions centered on life histories and towards questions about what the interviewees felt were the historical causes of homelessness and what could be done about present homeless situation.(brings interviewee into analyzation process)  Is this an example of Action Research - YES! Researcher engaged in outcome. Must declare personal stance..used in public policy/sociology/library studies 


  • Started broadcasting interviews on radio (homeless and working-class residents called in to respond)


  • Kerr started seeing themes emerging in the conversations. Organized space for collective discussion with homeless to watch videos, brainstorm,  and identify core themes together..interestingly the themes that emerged were not just "homeless issues" but broader structural/political issues that affect a broad number of city residents.


  • (CHOHP) had an indirect impact on the public debate in Cleveland...folks interviewed were involved in protests, refusal to leave building slated for demolition (ground the development process of the city to a halt), the Day Laborers' Organizing Committee was formed which secured a ban prohibiting recruiters from temp agencies from entering homeless shelters (this is perhaps an outcome from the interviews as problems with the temp agencies came up in the interviews - homeless were galvanized to take action..(?) and some other actions... all resulting in the thought that CHOHP was a vehicle that created links between multiple discussions that were already going on/connecting people who were thinking about similar things so that they could talk to one another and further develop an analysis of homelessness.