Geographies of homelessness mainly address issues of social exclusion, especially in contexts of urban public space. Recent research focuses on spatial regulation and surveillance, and strategies used by homeless people to resist these forms of control and create spaces for themselves in the city. Relatively little attention is paid, however, to the embodied, affective, emotional and relational geographies of homelessness. We address this absence through an exploration of how material spaces and practices shape a sense of belonging for a group of men living in a homeless shelter in Cape Town. Theorising belonging as constituted through the materialities of both self-identity and social connections, we examine the three spaces that are most affective in our participants’ everyday lives: (i) their bodies, (ii) the shelter where they live, and (iii) the shebeen (tavern) where they drink. The discursive and embodied accounts of two participants in particular serve as a case study that illuminates the complex ways in which belonging is shaped in spaces of homeless life. These men’s experiences reveal some of the ambivalences and ambiguities of homelessness that are only rendered visible through a theoretical lens that respects their status as emotional and relational subjects, rather than as objects within structures of exclusion. Drinking in particular emerges from this research as an important factor in understanding the contradictory behaviours and feelings in these men’s daily lives. Damaging their bodies and social relationships, alcohol nonetheless provides a sense of belonging by facilitating both a sense of self and connections with others.
Anon. The body, the shelter, and the shebeen : affective geographies of homelessness in South Africa. Presented at Royal Geographical Society and Institute of British Geographers (RGS-IBG) annual international conference, Edinburgh, 03 July 2012. (2012)