Accepted paper:

Easy come, easy go: arbitrary encounters and homeless survival in post-Soviet Russia


Tova Höjdestrand (Lund University)

Paper short abstract:

The paper investigates the frequent but frail encounters between homeless people in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Paper long abstract:

The paper investigates the frequent but frail encounters within an heterogeneous and shifty category of people whose main common factor is that they are excluded from the social contexts that usually render some sort of permanence to human lives: official administrative structures, conventional jobs, neighbourhoods, and, in particular, networks of family and friends. Being, in their own words, "needed by nobody", they instead survive in makeshift social environments, where ambiguous relationships are forged for the time being only to be dissolved once they have served their temporary purpose. Physical survival as well as the experience of human warmth are thus facilitated by arbitrary encounters that are at the same time inescapable and repelling, generous and exploiting, and as ubiquitous as they are fleeting and casual. Displacement as such fuels this shiftiness, but crucial is also a nearly universal stigmatization of "uprooted" social categories that homeless people encompass to the same extent as anyone else. The transience and unpredictability of their social existence is thus largely an effect of mutual distrust and disdain, and the fact that while in reality being "rhizomatic" to say the least, this togetherness of sorts is perpetually juxtaposed to an imagined ideal of "real" human beings as firmly rooted and cultivated in a familiar "social soil".

panel W107
From structure to conjucture: social networks and rhizomatic connnections