Session 27

27. Applying Spatial Methods in Homelessness Studies: Methodological and Ethical Challenges

Homeless urban lives are characterized by spatial fluidity amidst fixity. Their spatial patterns are significantly shaped by geographies of inclusion/exclusion – service provision, resource acquisition, policing, expulsion amidst solidary interactions with peers and non-homeless people. Homeless geographies reflect how socially marginalized urbanites navigate the urban environment, i.e., how they deploy their spatial knowledge and practical skills to manoeuvre through various social boundaries and material barriers and hence get by in the city. More generally, daily paths of homeless urbanites or, from an alternative theoretical stance, their bodily uses of public places illuminate how social and material orderings of urban spaces enable or constrain (non-)belonging in the city. By taking into consideration that the spatial dimension of homelessness has become increasingly important in recent homelessness studies, given that homelessness has turned into a global social issue, this session addresses the methodological and ethical challenges implicit in the application of spatial methods in empirical research on urban homelessness. It aims at discussing the limits and possibilities of qualitative, quantitative and mixed approaches that are sensitive to the social and relational dimensions of space. In this session, we invite scholars interested in sharing especially their methodological experiences with empirical research on homeless’ mobilities, on the homeless’ daily paths, on their bodily uses of space, on the activity spaces of homeless people, on the spatial patterns of their (non-)belonging to the city, on the homeless’ geographies of inclusion/exclusion, on their perceptions and experiences of space, or the spatial knowledge of homeless urbanites. On the one hand, we particularly welcome submissions that address the difficulties and advantages of spatial methods such as GPS tracking, mental mapping, walking interviews and spatial ethnography. On the other hand, we encourage reflection on ethical issues related to obtaining and using spatial information regarding locations of homeless’ activities due to their often non-normative and sometimes illegal status.