People Out of Place: Representations and Experiences Of Female Homelessness In Christchurch, New Zealand (Aotearoa)
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
This anthropological thesis focuses on female homelessness in Christchurch, New Zealand. I am interested in how different groups in society understand female homelessness and how their perceptions compare to the experiences of homeless women. Consequently, my research centres on the narratives of women who have experienced homelessness providing a view from the "inside". It is also concerned with representations of homelessness in the media and by service providers. The different representations raise issues relating to "normalisation" and "abnormalisation", classification and dichotomisation, self-governance and control, and social participation. I take up these issues to explore the social exclusion of homeless women. My research reveals a dominant homelessness discourse as well as one that might be considered a counter-discourse. The first suggests a dehumanising and unsympathetic approach as it situates homeless people as "abnormal" and "deviant" while the second suggests an empathetic and charitable approach as it situates homeless people as "normal" and "human". The media seem to reflect and reinforce the dominant discourse while service providers seem to reflect the counter-discourse. The women's narratives indicate that they reinforce the dominant discourse by internalising social norms. However, they are unable to reproduce them. Disconnection from mainstream society results in their being caught in a cycle they find difficult to break. This research shows that homeless women are predominantly positioned as social failures. They seem to be unable, or do not know how, to reproduce social norms, to govern themselves and to create meaningful and enduring social networks. Essentially, I explore why homeless women often remain on the periphery of society as "outsiders" and why they find it so difficult to transcend their circumstances. As there has been no contemporary research undertaken specifically on homeless women in New Zealand, I hope the current research will provide a building block for further research on what I conclude is a marginalised and socially excluded group of people who are dominantly portrayed as dysfunctional and "out of place".