Date of Award

December 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Aneesh Aneesh

Committee Members

Cary Costello, Timothy O'Brien, Anne Bonds


Gender, Poverty, Race, Social Inequalities, Social Welfare, Urban Sociology


This dissertation is an ethnographic study of food insecurity in Milwaukee and how people receiving benefit assistance understand themselves, others and how they thought others understand them. This frame was duplicated for social workers and poverty organizations in the Milwaukee area. Using a series of theoretical viewpoints, the study utilizes racial theories, as well as, symbolic violence and annihilation to discuss how various aspects of recipients, social workers and poverty organizations interact within the theoretical margins. Taking place over one and a half years and including 350 observation hours at a local food pantry, the study found that respondents feel a range of emotions from anxiety to pride when discussing their perseverance with benefit receipt. Consequently, research uncovered how local food organizations, with connections to the Milwaukee Chapter of the Black Panther Party, hide their more radical roots in order to protect food donations from white donors, in essence protecting white fragility. In the end, 44 people were interviewed, 26 benefit respondents, 15 social and case workers and 3 poverty organization representatives necessitated building rapport with all of the participants during this time.