Homeless Bodies: The Gendered Embodiment of Survival

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 09:15
Location: Hörsaal 22 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Juliet WATSON, RMIT University, Australia
In the study of homelessness, the physical and material aspects of the body have largely been an absent presence. However, the body is now emerging as a key sociological theme in homelessness research due to greater recognition that homeless bodies inhabit and access space differently from bodies that are securely homed. Social power in the homeless sphere is produced and represented through the physical control of space. Within the context of homelessness, it is (certain) male bodies that carry the recognition of physical strength and power that cannot be matched by female bodies. Physicality, therefore, contributes to the masculine domination of homeless spaces as well as reducing the social status, and increasing the vulnerability, of women within this sphere. Consequently, homelessness circumscribes women’s use of, space primarily due to the presence of physical and sexual violence. This environment determines the parameters of what is possible and creates the options for material and emotional survival. The privation and marginalisation of homelessness mean that the body may be the only resource that is available to manage these conditions. In the homeless landscape it is (certain) male bodies that attain power and status due to their physical strength and authority, and this can prompt women to form and maintain bodily alliances with men because the male body can represent physical protection and a sense of belonging in an environment that is hostile to the female body. This qualitative research is based on interviews with homeless women aged 18-25 living in Melbourne, Australia, and highlights the active relations between bodies and the social world and demonstrates how bodies are sites of experience through which people respond to their socio-cultural context.