Homelessness in discourse, narrative and interaction
In England there are currently 78,000 families living in temporary housing and 9,000 rough sleepers. The growing homelessness problem has been recognised by charities and organisations, with a recent appeal by The Guardian and The Observer raising over £1.25 million to help those who are homeless. For her PhD study, Ceri will research how homeless people construct personal identities through their interactions and the narratives they tell. Ceri intends to combine the frameworks of interactional sociolinguistics and the small stories approach to narrative to explore how identities are forged by homeless people who use a day centre in Cambridge where she volunteers.Interactional sociolinguistics maintains that a finite set of identities is afforded to speakers in given contexts, limited by their sociolinguistic resources and social power relative to those around them. Thus, the discursive practices of those who interact with homeless people and are in positions of greater power, such as day centre employees, will influence the identities that the homeless people construct. Therefore, analysing interactions not only between homeless people, but also between homeless people and day centre staff, is vital for examining how identities are situated within wider institutional discourses. Ceri will combine this approach with narrative analysis. As the stories we tell help us to make sense of our social world, narratives are a way of constructing our identities. Despite extensive research into narrative and identity in fields such as illness, there has been limited work on identity, interaction and narrative in homelessness. While identities can be portrayed through other semiotic means, such as material possessions, the range of identities constructible via these means is restricted for those who are homeless. When poverty limits identity-building resources, narratives about the self may take on a more significant role in the construction of identities.Ceri’s research questions are as follows:(a) How do homeless people negotiate different identities through their interactions and the narratives they tell?(b) How are the identities of homeless people situated within the wider public discourses of homelessness, as evidenced by discourses within and outside the day centre?
7 – Linguistics, Media & Culture