Pruitt, A. S., Cohen, S., & McKinsey, E.
Society for Community Research and Action Biennial Conference, Chicago, IL, - June 26-29, 2019
Publication year: 2019

Dominant cultural narratives can influence policy decisions as well as attitudes and beliefs about social issues, such as homelessness (Iyegar & Kinder, 2010). As “overlearned stories communicated through mass media or other large social and cultural institutions and social networks,” dominant cultural narratives have much power in defining what holds true for a culture and communities (Rappaport, 2000, p. 4). One way that community psychologists can promote a more equitable society is by intervening in the types of messages and narratives people in communities receive. In order to produce healthier and more accurate narratives, researchers must first understand existing narratives (Bond, 2016; Rappaport, 2000). This presentation will discuss findings from a study that examined dominant cultural narratives related to homelessness on O‘ahu between 2012 and 2017. During this time, O‘ahu experienced a precipitous climb in numbers of persons experiencing homelessness, and local media coverage on homelessness mirrored this increase (Pruitt, forthcoming). While research suggests that U.S. national-level media coverage has promoted sympathetic narratives regarding “the homeless” and has focused on structural–level causes and solutions (Buck et al., 2004; Lee et al., 2010), local- level media tends to produce more individual- deficit narratives and narratives on disorder and destruction (Forte, 2002; Pascale, 2005). Using thematic narrative analysis of a random sample of 648 articles of local media coverage, this study found that while homelessness often was portrayed as a structural problem requiring structural- level solutions, the majority of narratives associated “the homeless” with criminality and portrayed them as threats to economy, tourism, and public safety/health. Importantly, very few narratives contained perspectives of people who were experiencing homelessness. This presentation will discuss these conflicting narratives and will suggest implications for further research and macro- level interventions.