“I’ll find you, man. ’Cuz we still have the same spots.” The Places of the Homeless in the Public Space

Hejnal Ondřej

Abstract

The aim of this article is to interpret the construction of “homeless
places” within the public space. Drawing from the concepts of practice and
of narration of places, from my long-term ethnographic fieldwork in a Czech
mid-sized city, from semi-structured interviews with institutional actors,
and from the analysis of media messages and other materials, I describe
the representations of “homeless places” by institutional actors (politicians,
municipal policemen, etc.). Further, I reinterpret the key aspects of these
representations from the perspective of ethnographic data and present
a categorization schema, through which the homeless differentiate and practice
places in the public space. The main issues structuring the representations
produced by institutional actors and by media messages consist of “coercive
begging”, public alcohol drinking and aggression (associated with criminality).
However, the conditions leading to these practices are greatly under-represented.
Alcohol consumption represents an important part of solidarity mechanisms,
establishing the boundaries of a particular homeless group and allowing
for its survival. Aggression, as a marginal practice, may be viewed partly as
serving the function of defending these solidarity mechanisms, and partly as
a result of the frequent “cabin fevers” and of specific “meeting rituals”. The
so-called “coercive begging” is also a rather marginal practice, performed by
a few “active begging specialists”. In the final section of the article, I describe
examples of “homeless places” based on 11 categories (dimensions of contrast),
with a special focus on the communal activities creating these places, on the
interplay between the practices of the homeless and of the physical attributes
of places, and on the maintenance of these places in everyday narratives and
interactions. In this respect, a specific part of public space can designate
two very different places, depending on the actors who create them (i.e. the
institutional actors and the media versus the homeless).

Keywords

homelessness; public space; construction of place; practices; narratives

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Vydání: 15, 2013, 3