Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Department or School/College

Department of Sociology

Committee Chair

Kathy Kuipers

Commitee Members

Celia Winkler, Christina Yoshimura


identity, homelessness, poverty, inequality, neoliberal, symbolic interaction, qualitative, ethnography


University of Montana


This research project explores the processes of impression management and identity maintenance through participant observation, informal interviews, and existing documents for an organization that provides services to mothers who are homeless in the Rocky Mountain West. The observations take place in a non-profit organization dedicated to advocating for women in the community and region at three different locations. This project focuses on the complex ways in which mothers who experience severe poverty manage and negotiate their identities when confronted with the often unattainable and contradictory expectations of the cultural ideal of motherhood. These women engage in identity maintenance and emotion work as they apply for assistance from non-profit transitional housing organizations. Those with power in the organizations are seen as threats to the identity of a “good mother” and the women overcompensate for those threats by making downward social comparisons, giving justifications and excuses, scapegoating and redirecting blame. I observe that women express high levels of frustration, sadness, and anger when they confront obstacles to providing shelter for their families. As good mothers, they overcompensate with strong demonstrations of emotion. They also engage in emotion work to control their emotions, particularly when their children are present. Emotion work, remaining calm and reasoned, is a way to overcompensate for threats to their good mother identity, working to eliminate emotional stress for their children. They demonstrate to others and to themselves that they are good mothers.



© Copyright 2015 Laura Obernesser