The Rationalized Compassion: Participant Observation in Two Soup Kitchens in New York City


  • Shen Yang


Alienation, Charity, Ethnography, Poverty, Rationality, Urban Studies


Soup kitchens in New York City are providers of compassionate care for people who suffer from poverty or food insecurity. However, they are facing challenges from daily service provision. As the pressures of serving the number of diners beyond their limits, the kitchens have to make sensible compromises between efficiency and normative considerations. Although both kitchens adopt a rational system to make the procedure controllable and predictable, it aggregates particularly the diners’ alienated social identity. This research adopts the methodology of William Foote Whyte’s classic study of Boston’s Italian North End, which he calls “street corner society” (1981). Since then, his work has given a rise of the field of Urban Studies. In a highly heterogeneous urban environment like New York City, sentimentality will be swept away, and compassion will be rationalized. Drawing on the collected research data, the paper hopes to offer a theoretical analysis of human behaviour and a framework for a more accurate picture of normative sensibility.


Please cite this contribution as follows:

Yang, S. (2021). The rationalized compassion: Participant observation in two soup kitchens in New York City, "forsch!" - Studentisches Online-Journal der Universität Oldenburg, 1, 174-181.






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