Identities under threat : a study of experiences of adult homelessness.
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This study aims to explore the lives and narrative counts of five homeless people in contemporary South Africa: a post-apartheid context characterized by a rapidly emerging globalized consumer culture and an internal tension in the government commitment to social welfare and while simultaneously following less benevolent neoliberal economic models. The primary concern of the study is the ways in which these marginalized individuals talk about themselves, the stories of their lives and represent themselves through narratives. Their lives, identities and stories are constructed from marginal and socially neglected spaces. The study grapples with what makes us human and the human consequences of global capitalism and consumerism. The study explores the connections homelessness and 'home'; and between homelessness and economic agency. Here homeless identities are constructed outside of the socially valued place of the home and defined by their jobless status and by their lack of economic agency. This means that homeless people have to constantly negotiate their socially 'threatened' and 'threatening' identities from the margins of society. The narratives of the participants reveal gendered and economic factors that precipitate the choice of a street existence as well as structural factors that keep homeless people 'the other'. The narratives further reveal contested meanings of home as connoting security and as a space for identity construction but also as the site for risk, exploitation, violence, and abuse, especially against women. The study suggests that homeless people can be thought of as displaced people in search for 'home' and for positive social identities.