Homelessness in America: An analysis of the rhetorical relationship between legitimacy and guilt

Jacquelyn Jo Buckrop, Purdue University


The purpose of this study was to analyze the rhetorical relationship between the concepts of legitimacy and guilt within the context of homelessness in America. Seven congressional committee hearings were examined through a Burkean pentadic analysis to discover: how rhetors assigned guilt to the homeless or to "legitimate" powers, what strategies the "guilty" used to deflect, negate, or remove their guilt, how the alleged guilty party attempted to gain legitimacy, and how the "legitimate" rhetors responded to the attempts of the "guilty" to attain their own legitimacy. Answers to these questions were then analyzed to determine how legitimacy and guilt were used as rhetorical stock and what relationship exists between the concepts of legitimacy and guilt. Analysis of the discourse revealed that guilt was assigned to the homeless through the idea of choice and responsibility, namely that they chose to be homeless. The homeless countered this claim by assigning guilt to the Reagan administration by claiming they were victims of Reagan policies. The homeless attempted to deflect their assigned guilt through victimage and transcendence and attempted to gain legitimacy through the same. The relationship between legitimacy and guilt appears to be both oppositional and appositional on a continuum of order. Legitimacy and guilt are exclusive terms within the context of this study.




Stewart, Purdue University.

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