An ethnographic study of the day-to-day lives and identities of people who are homeless in Brisbane

Cameron Parsell (2010). An ethnographic study of the day-to-day lives and identities of people who are homeless in Brisbane PhD Thesis, School of Social Work and Human Services, The University of Queensland.

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Author Cameron Parsell
Thesis Title An ethnographic study of the day-to-day lives and identities of people who are homeless in Brisbane
School, Centre or Institute School of Social Work and Human Services
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2010-04
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Total pages 288
Total colour pages 6
Total black and white pages 282
Subjects 16 Studies in Human Society
Abstract/Summary Abstract People who are homeless are portrayed to be a distinct type of ‘homeless person’. Within scholarly research literature, their state of homelessness has been presented as informative of who they are. On both an individual and collective level, people without homes are ascribed with identities on the basis of their homelessness. Their voices and perspectives rarely contribute to broader knowledge about who they are as people. As such, the imposed ‘homeless identity’ has the consequence of positioning them as ‘other’ than the ‘normal’ people with homes. Using an ethnographic approach, this study aims to understand the day-to-day lives and identities of people who are homeless. Approximately one hundred people who slept and interacted within inner suburban Brisbane’s public places participated in this research. To learn about how they lived and who they saw themselves as individuals, I observed them, socialised with them, engaged them in informal conversations and formal interviews. This approach to fieldwork, conducted over a six month period, provided me with the opportunity to witness diverse aspects of daily lives. Further, the ethnographic engagement enabled a consideration of the ways people enacted and displayed different aspects of their identities across different social and physical places. For the individuals who participated in this study, there was a stark distinction between how they lived, on the one hand, and the type of people they identified themselves as, on the other. They were comfortable describing their lives in ways that deviated from what they saw as the ‘mainstream’, but at the same time, they aligned themselves with this ‘mainstream’. Research participants expressed a strong view that their experiences of homelessness did not offer any purchase in explaining who they were, and how they thought about the world. The public places in which they lived were perceived as problematic. Public places were dangerous and the site of unwanted interactions. Although living in public places meant that interactions and friendships with other people who were homeless was a reality, these interactions did not constitute a ‘homeless collective’. More fundamentally, however, living in public places meant having no legitimate places, and having limited capacity to control day-to-day lives. The participants in this research articulated stereotypical notions of what home meant to them – home was a physical structure, a house. Similarly, home was a solution to their lives as homeless. Their constructions of home can also be seen as symbolic of their aspirations to find their ‘place’, and engage in the ‘mainstream’ society they feel disconnected from. While public places were associated with limited control over daily lives, the people in this research also exercised agency in enacting different aspects of their identities. Mediated by the social and physical constraints within their environment, they displayed an awareness of social expectations and emphasised elements of the self to achieve specific ends. Identities matter. An understanding of the identities of people experiencing homelessness, from their perspectives, can contribute toward the development of homelessness practice and policy responses. A distinction is made between solving problems people may have and solving homelessness. In terms of the latter, the thesis concludes that the provision of ‘normal’ housing and the availability of support, as distinct from mandatory engagement with case management, is the most appropriate response to the needs of the people who participated in this research.
Keyword homelessness
homeless people
public places
Additional Notes There are six pages with maps. The maps should be printed in colour: page numbers 12, 14, 15, 16, 18 and 19 (numbers appearing on page, not PDF)

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Created: Thu, 22 Apr 2010, 16:01:24 EST by Mr Cameron Parsell on behalf of Library - Information Access Service