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Homeless: the story of a wandering Self. Inhabitable mirrors for possible reflections

This work concerns the autobiographical reasoning of people without fixed residence. Such complex and heterogeneous population, usually connoted by the word “without”, has a special collocation in the social space: its margins. My research is therefore an exploration of social margins, an attempt to recognize what their “inhabitants” really lack and to find features, skills and psychological resources that homeless people do have. Moderately participant observation and semi-structured interviews have been my methodological tools. I carried out my research by participation in mobile social volunteering teams and in an Aid Center for irregular homeless migrants. The great majority of the encounters I had with homeless people occurred as informal dialogues, in the course of my moderately participant observing activity. For my interviews, I decided to use a story-telling approach: I asked my subjects to think about their life as if it were a book, and I suggested that, in this way, their story could be articulated into different “Chapters”, that I asked my subjects to narrate me. Finally, I used a simple tool to sketch out their personal values and beliefs. I chose an autobiographical method because I reckon that it provides a rich approach to the subject’s point of view on his Past, Present and Future Self, identifying the turning points (which are often falling points) of his life, as he perceives them. Moreover, following the subject throughout his narration is a means for understanding his thinking dynamics and his sense-giving processes. Indeed, the wandering mind can be described as a constant danger of losing sense: sense of one’s body, sense of time, sense of space, and ability to interact with the others. Hence, the wandering self always risks losing himself. Previous social and psychological research often assumed that homeless people have in fact already lost a coherent and meaningful sense of self: this is, basically, what they are “without”. On the contrary, I argue that a wandering mind is not a mere lack, but rather an endless movement towards a valued and meaningful self, which is an uncertain and fragile idea, when one lives on the margins. In my view, the three wide landmarks of human identity, i. e. personal identity, cultural identity and social status, are present and ceaseless put at stake in a homeless life, and they are therefore the objects of a continuous negotiation, of a quest for balance. Such inner negotiation develops in various living rituals, psychological strategies and beliefs on one’s self: I think that all of these behavioral and reasoning techniques can be seen as an extreme effort of reflection. Indeed, the homeless subject is often a person who misses the other’s gaze on himself (and this feeling of not being viewed, of not being touched by the primary object, often comes from childhood), and so he strives to find a mirror for his image in the world outside. This is probably the “home” a wandering mind searches for. Listening to a homeless person’s life story is, in this sense, offering him an inhabitable mirror. This is why the autobiographical reasoning of a homeless person can never be separated from his externality: his body, his appearance, his way of moving, his gestures, distance he keeps with his interlocutor, the tone and rhythm of his voice - in other words all that concerns proxemics - is radically implicated in his expression, communication and reflective effort. In an investigation on the margins, sensory perception is a fundamental level of listening. Effectively, proxemics codes represent a cross-cultural archetypical language for human beings, and the observation of homeless people’s use or breach of this grammar is essential for attempting a deep reading of their stories. This kind of reading compels the researcher to really relate to the homeless person, developing a (difficult) relationship that takes place on the margin between excessive technical distance and dangerous emotive closeness. Horning in on this fragile margin is probably a vital starting point for developing methods of social assistance based on dialogue, active listening and re-valorization of personal resources.

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7 INTRODUCTION Studying great social exclusion puts the psycho-social researcher into a complicated situation, for many reasons. First of all, excluded individuals do not represent a compact population: they are a heterogeneous human aggregate more than an actual social group, and so, it is difficult to account for them (for their number, features and needs). Moreover, homeless people develop many survival strategies that make very hard to establish a real dialogue with them: avoidance, residual mythomania(Emmanuelli 2009) and traumatic wandering seduction(Mathieu 2011) are relational patterns that seriously impair a significant contact with people living out in the street. Finally, studying great exclusion entails exploring an unsettling, anguishing social and psychological margin, looking into a twisting mirror by which the basic values of our society(usefulness as a measure for lifes worth, individualism, ownership, mass consumption, velocity and productivity) are distorted. Nevertheless, as a plethora of researches conducted especially in the last decade proves, (Castel 1994; DePastino 2003; Douville et al. 2012; Emmanuelli 2002, 2005, 2006, 2009; Johnson 2008; Lavanco and Santiniello 2009; Mathieu 2011; Moore 2007) such margin needs investigation. Indeed, as Emmanuelli rigorously contends, great exclusion entails a great psychic sufferance and a state of emergency: people inhabiting such social and psychological margin have lost any sense of inhabiting not only space, but also and most of all their own body, their temporal dimension and any possible interpersonal bond. Following Emmanuellis reasoning, and grounding my theoretical approach to great exclusion especially on recent French clinical research on homelessness, in the present study I try to explore another territory that homeless people have stopped inhabiting: their personal story. Indeed, this inquiry is a psycho-social exploration of the wandering minds narrative processes. I coined the term wandering mind from the French errance psychique(Mathieu 2011), and I define it as the mental configuration that a person living in great exclusion is likely to develop. Starting from the assumption of a strong correlation Una femmina spulciava la criniera di un maschio. Era una savana, anzi una palude nella savana. Una palude in cui potevi cadere E non uscirne mai più. Ambrogio, street poet, Infinite porte

Laurea liv.II (specialistica)

Facoltà: Scienze Cognitive

Autore: Gaia Barbieri Contatta »

Composta da 243 pagine.


Questa tesi ha raggiunto 57 click dal 30/05/2014.


Consultata integralmente 2 volte.

Disponibile in PDF, la consultazione è esclusivamente in formato digitale.