Type: Public event

Integrating social work and ethnography with hypermarginalized populations

Date & time

Oct 10, 2014, 12:00-1:30 pm EDT


Free and open to the public. Lunch will be served; please RSVP to [email protected].

About the event:

Homeless people who struggle with compromised mental and physical health as well as drug use while cycling in and out of correctional facilities are at the center of numerous overlapping issues connected to extreme poverty.  Conducting research with this population is essential to our understanding of severe deprivation, but doing so can present challenges with study retention and the ethical imperative to intervene.  In this paper, we discuss our experiences using a hybrid methodological approach that integrates clinical social work and ethnography in a study that provided intensive case management to HIV-positive, destitute adults in Oakland, California.  We elaborate on how having a social worker as the primary point of study contact served to protect participants from harm related to and separate from the research, as well as provided them with a source of advocacy and support.  During times of crisis, the social worker could intervene by drawing upon clinical skills and institutional access, which provided critical assistance to participants and also facilitated their study retention.  Finally, we reflect on how a close collaboration between social science ethnographers and a social welfare professional focused our inquiry on the case management process itself in ways that have broader meaning for research on the very poor and very sick, including the development of meaningful programmatic and policy recommendations.


From the speaker's bio:

Megan Comfort, PhD is a Senior Research Sociologist in the Division of Behavioral Health and Criminal Justice at RTI International, and an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.  Her research focuses on what she calls the “repercussive effects” of incarceration: how being incarcerated oneself or having an incarcerated loved one affects one’s physical health, social relations, emotional wellbeing, and civic involvement.  Her book, Doing Time Together: Love and Family in the Shadow of the Prison (University of Chicago Press, 2008), is based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted at San Quentin State Prison with women visiting their incarcerated loved ones, and analyzes how women are “secondarily prisonized” through their relationships with men behind bars.  Additionally, her research has been published in Criminal Justice and Behavior, Ethnography, Women’s Health Issues, Journal of Sex Research, Annual Review of Law and Social Science, and AIDS & Behavior, among other journals, and with translations appearing in journals in Argentina, Brazil, France, and Portugal.



Sandra K. Danziger, Professor of Social Work, School of Social Work; Research Professor, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy


Reuben Miller, Assistant Professor of Social Work, School of Social Work

Megan Tompkins-Stange, Lecturer of Public Policy, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy


This event is co-sponsored by the School of Social Work Learning Community on Poverty and Inequality.