Young Women, Homelessness and Social Justice

Monday, 11 July 2016: 09:15
Location: Hörsaal BIG 2 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Juliet WATSON, RMIT University, Australia
Homelessness in advanced liberal democracies such as Australia is conventionally explained through dominant hegemonic concepts that fail to adequately represent the array of possible homeless experiences. It is crucial that these concepts are contested so that alternative experiences are recognised and subsequently reflected in social policy and resource distribution. Traditionally, homelessness research and policy have rendered young women invisible with the white adult male providing the basis for a non-gendered homeless subject. Therefore, it is vital to reflect on the importance of gender in relation to homelessness. Homelessness is not a gender-neutral phenomenon, yet, while (certain) men’s experiences are privileged, the experiences, social processes and practices of women in all their diversity are missing.

In this paper, we focus on the role that social exclusion and the accompanying stigma plays in furthering the disadvantage for young homeless women and the barriers it creates in their struggle to overcome their marginalised circumstances. We do this, firstly, by analysing the interconnectivity between subjectivity and neoliberalism, and how expectations of smooth transitions to adulthood and postfeminist views of young women impact on experiences of homelessness. And secondly, we conceptualise this problematic dynamic through the work of feminist and political philosopher Iris Marion Young. In particular, we examine Young’s critique of the reification of distributive justice as the dominant paradigm in social justice as well as her critique of impartiality and normalization in the construction of a social reality. We propose that a more socially just approach to homelessness needs to contest the associated stigma and look for solutions in plural notions of social justice that include issues of empowerment, self-respect and self-determination.