Course Spotlight: The Anthropology of Homelessness

The Anthropology of Homelessness, ANTH 1301, taught by Irene Glasser, PhD, has been offered yearly through the Anthropology Department since the spring of 2014. This year, the class created a guide that can be used to help individuals in Rhode Island obtain permanent and affordable housing.

In the course, students become familiar with anthropological approaches to the study of homelessness through readings, discussions, and hands-on field placements. The field placements consist of weekly volunteering at organizations such as homeless shelters, day respites, case work organizations, a street newspaper, and community meal sites. Students learn how to  analyze social policy regarding homelessness by asking how the policies will directly affect people experiencing homelessness, what the unintended consequences will be, and how the approach will be sustainable in the long term. Each week, the class considers an ethnographic work on homelessness and one or more research reports. The class discussions allow each student to share their insights into the readings as well as reflect on their own first-hand experiences in the field.

In the spring of 2022, in the immediate post-pandemic era, it was found that the unhoused people that the students were working with in their community volunteer sites were especially desperate for permanent, supportive housing. The community organizations faced new challenges of serving individuals, many of whose needs had been neglected during the pandemic.

In response, the students of ANTH 1301 created a guide that can be used to help individuals in Rhode Island obtain permanent and affordable housing. A first step is often to gather the documents (e.g., birth certificates, identification) that are required in order to apply. The document the students created includes hyperlinks to each service so that a student with a laptop can help the unhoused individual start the housing quest.

View the guide here


  • Dr. Irene Glasser was recently awarded with the Howard R. Swearer Engaged Faculty Award for Teaching at Brown University. An April 8th press release from the Swearer Center for Public Service states:

"Dr. Glasser has been teaching community-engaged courses at Brown since the fall of 2013. A scholar and longtime community advocate, she brings a wealth of knowledge, expertise, and relationships to her two classes, “Anthropology of Addictions and Recovery” and “Anthropology of Homelessness.” The two Community-Based Learning and Research courses create high-impact learning experiences for students, Dr. Glasser reflects, “Many students over the years have told me that leaving campus each week and engaging in a meaningful way with the mentors within these community partner organizations is one of the highlights of their Brown University education.” In his supporting letter, Dr. Daniel Smith, Charles C. Tillinghast, Jr. Professor of International Studies and former Chair of Anthropology, offers, “Irene’s students grapple with the nexus of academic inquiry and practices of public service to a degree that is rare, even at Brown.” On the importance of her teaching to student in Anthropology, he adds, “It is no exaggeration to say that the engaged scholars track in our department would not have been viable without Irene’s contributions."

Read the full press release here 

  • Student work from Dr. Glasser's ANTH 1301 course appeared in the May 2022 issue of Street Sights - a local publication "written for, about, and by people who are homeless or have been homeless." 

Access the articles below: 

Caterina Dong, Peace

- Grace KirkThe Resilient Sammy Walker

Katy PickensA First Step, But Not Enough: The Superman Building Plan