An exploration of the impacts of austerity on homeless people and service providers
: an image of fear, despair and “a murderous joke”

  • Bruno Basilio De Oliveira

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The current debate regarding austerity suggests that vulnerable people tend to experience it more harshly than other citizens. This research exemplifies the value of providing a space within the research context that enables marginalised, vulnerable people, to contest and generate knowledge on what they have been through. The current research explores a participatory framework for emancipatory research with people who have experienced the impact of austerity either as a homeless welfare claimant or as a key stakeholder who has provided a service to homeless people during the austerity-led changes to the welfare system. This thesis aims in particular to a) generate valuable knowledge on systemic violence and emancipation for and with people who have experienced homelessness under austerity; and b) investigate the impact of austerity as a form of cultural hegemonic power that creates and legitimises new forms of oppression.

Methodologically, this work was informed by Mertens’(1999) Transformative Paradigm, and underpinned by a Critical Realist approach. Divided into two phases, the work used a combination of qualitative and visual methods with the underlying aim of having a research space where oppressed people could challenge hegemonic power. During phase one, nine key stakeholders (aged 27 to 62) participated in semi-structured interviews. During phase two, five people with lived experiences of austerity and homelessness(aged 35 to 62) participated in the photo-elicitation sessions, photography workshops and development of a photographic exhibition supported by local organisations. The photo-elicitation wasa tool for data collection as well as a space for participation and emancipation. Thereafter, a thematic analysis was conducted where the participants of the photo-elicitation were invited toa session to discussthe themes–that had been derived from the data by the researcher.

The findings reveal a context where people experiencing homelessness live in fear and many service providers have poor mental health, as the behaviour of homeless peopleis often managed through an arbitrary system of means-tested Universal Credit. This thesis contends that vulnerable people have experienced ‘flagellation’, or a form of legitimised hegemonic violence that people who have their subaltern experience go through. The findings show that the current and open narrative of austerity is forged under the neoliberal way of thinking where consent to systemic violence against an economically and socially vulnerable group is culturally legitimised. Key stakeholders recognise that there is a ‘murderous’scene (systemic oppression) that their clients (homeless people) go through. Meanwhile, the photo elicitation sessions elucidated homeless people’s experience of fear and despair, but also their emancipation to challenge the same hegemonic power that has culturally forged the oppressive setting under which they are living

This research provides an empirical example of emancipation through research that addresses the critique of applying subaltern research to create a space for resistance, challenging hegemonic power. It contributes to the practical application of subaltern studies by providing an example that enabled the people living under the subaltern experience to speak. Furthermore, it highlights how systemic violence is consented to and legitimised. It offers an insight into Mertens’ Transformation Paradigm, and an advancement to the critique of neoliberal policies that dehumanises vulnerable groups and reframes participatory research under the lens of subaltern theory. It foregrounds the potential of research to be a space for emancipation for people who are living in an oppressive hegemonic context.
Date of AwardJul 2021
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorHelen Johnson (Supervisor) & Carl Walker (Supervisor)

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