How Institutions Deprive: Ethnography, Social Work, and Interventionist Ethics Among the Hypermarginalized
Hypermarginalized populations, such as homeless drug users with acute health problems, are subject to multiple intersecting adversities that result in social exclusion and chronic suffering. Despite this population's high need for health and social services, institutions provide services that are fragmented and often punitive, contributing to further marginality. In this article, we present a hybrid methodological approach that combines clinical social work and ethnography in a study of intensive case management for HIV-positive indigent adults in Oakland, California. We investigate two primary research questions. First, we consider the challenges this population faces in navigating institutions to meet their basic needs, and we demonstrate how organizational irrationality has severe consequences for this population. Second, we grapple with the question of how to ethically engage hypermarginalized participants in research by presenting a clinically informed intervention that is responsive to individual vulnerabilities and also enhances our understanding of institutional failure.