New paper in Transactions: Racialised dissatisfaction and homeless management

Picture by Eleonora Leo Mignoli
Picture by Eleonora Leo Mignoli

It took me a long time but finally is here… my Transactions’ paper on how homeless people negotiate their differences at the margins. The paper shows how the management of the urban poor carries effects on the ways homeless people encounter and negotiate their cultural, societal and ethnic differences. It does so providing a post-human and affect-oriented understanding of the assemblage of difference, which means, in other words, that small urban devices, discourses and atmospheres play a pivotal role in the emergence of positive and negative encounters. The paper introduces the notion of ‘racialised dissatisfaction’ to show how racialised encounters among homeless people can be negatively mediated by services made of precarious material artifacts, normative blueprint to action and negatively charged affective atmospheres. The paper provides also evidence on how less normative and more empowering services are able to trigger positive a-racialised encounters among the homeless people I have encountered. In this regard the theory and ethnography behind this paper can inform the challenges that European cities are facing today: a positive politics of difference passes through the material and affective ways cities will welcome, or not welcome, their most marginalised populations.

I am thankful to many people that made this paper possible. To Ash Amin and Francesca Governa, for their constant support and mentorship, to Transactions for feedback and support, and to many others – including Jonny Darling and Colin McFarlane – for their encouragements. Below you can read the abstract, while the paper can be downloaded on this website, on and on Transactions’ website.

Racialised dissatisfaction: homelessness management and the everyday assemblage of difference

Faced with increased waves of refugees, economic migrants and internal vulnerable groups, the challenge for the contemporary European city is to welcome, assist and manage these populations in ways capable of fostering a positive and productive articulation of difference. The paper tackles this issue by investigating the ways in which difference is perceived, negotiated and performed among Italian and migrant homeless people in Turin, Italy. Through the presentation of detailed ethnographic material, the paper proposes a processual and affective take on the everyday assemblage of race and it questions the role of normative spaces in its making. The notion of racialised dissatisfaction is advanced in this sense, signalling how street-level racism among the homeless poor is deeply connected to the broader machinery of homelessness management and the material and affective components of life on the street. Despite its contextualised ethnographic nature, the paper offers insights that encompass the analysed case and advance our theoretical and empirical understanding of everyday life at the urban margins.

Different living in difference: the micro-politics of diversity among homeless people

I will present at the “International Conference on Living with Difference” 12-13 September 2012, Marriott Hotel, Leeds, UK. The paper is titled “Different living in difference. The micro-politics and micro-engineering of diversity among homeless people”, and it is a development of my work on homeless people. You can download the PPT here.


This work is based upon an ethnographic enquiry in Turin, North-West of Italy, where the author has investigated homelessness as a subjective condition that emerges from the entanglements between the individual and the city. Taking into account both Italian and migrant homeless subjects, this paper investigates the daily encounter between them, while considering that the two heterogeneous groups are already framed as “different” by mainstream societal discourses. In this sense, the two groups share a stigmatized “common land” (Amin, 2012), where their diversity is constantly re-produced, negotiated and challenged. In order to offer a grounded understanding of these latter processes, the paper takes two paths. The first relates to a description of the practices through which different homeless people perform their common land. Presenting original ethnographic material, the paper shows the relational patterns that emerge in the daily lives of these street people, highlighting how conflicts and alliances depend more on contextual dynamics than personal or group differences. This point is then further explored in the second half of the paper, where the urban, contextual machineries that frame homeless people’s lives are excavated. By showing how mainstream discourses on the poor and the migrants translate into public and private services, the paper argues that it is within these micro-engineered frameworks that a normative kind of difference emerges and becomes an issue. In the end, suggesting a grounded and relational take on difference, this paper concludes by proposing sketches of a politics of care able to tackle the production of normative others, in order to foster the positive negotiation of difference that already exists among homeless people.

Amin, A. 2012. Land of Strangers. Cambridge: Polity press.