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.