The postgraduate interdisciplinary conference Home|less was organized by four PhD students of the University of Kent: Christopher Chang (School of English), Christina Chatzipoulka (Kent School of Architecture), Luca Di Gregorio (School of European Culture and Languages) and Barbara Franchi (School of English), and supported by the Graduate School, School of English and Kent School of Architecture. It took place on Friday 20 and Saturday 21 in June 2014 in Keynes College, on the Canterbury Campus.
The two-day event was articulated in two keynote speeches, six panels and an open forum with two local charities presenting their mission and activity. The conference dinner was held at The Goods Shed on Friday evening.
The local keynote speaker was Prof. Gordana Gordana Giusti from the Kent School of Architecture. Her lecture, entitled “Architecture and Homeless”, was given in the morning of Friday and attempted through references to the work of philosophers, theoreticians and historians to approach “homelessness” in space and time.
The second keynote speech was delivered by an international guest, Dr. Marianne Amar from the Museum of the History of Immigration in Paris (France). Her talk on Saturday, entitled “At home in exile? Redefining “home” in the process of migration”, provided a historical overview on major (im)migration movements over the first half of the last century in, and to/from Europe which emphasized the shift in immigrants’ notions of “homeland”.
The sixteen (in total) presentations of the conference were grouped in three panels on each day. The selection of the papers of each panel aimed to push forward the interdisciplinary character of the conference bringing together people of different background and diverse approaches around the topic of Home|less-ness. The panels’ titles in the conference programme were indicative based on the submitted abstracts and in most cases their quality positively exceeded the organizers’ expectations after the presentation of the full papers. Also, thanks to its multidisciplinary nature, each single presentation generated lively discussions and fruitful conversations, during each Q&A or coffee/lunch break. The conference hosted delegates from several British universities as well as one from the University of Malta and one from University College, Dublin; whilst the University of Kent was represented by five papers from four different schools (School of Anthropology and Conservation; School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research; School of Arts; School of European Culture and Languages).
Also, the conference attracted attendees from across the University and beyond, for what proved a very productive mix of backgrounds and approaches to an urgent topic in current society. The organizers are very pleased with this outcome.
The first panel entitled “Homeless between the Polis and the Mind” and chaired by Andy Brogan (School of Politics and International Relationships, University of Kent) comprised of two papers. The first paper by Jennifer Hoolachan (University of Sterling) was entitled “Homelessness and Substance Use: An ethnographic exploration of this Complex Relationship in the context of a Scottish Homeless Hostel” and the second one ‘Local homelessness: Methodologies and Meanings’ presented by Ruth Auger and Carin Turnaker (University of Kent). Both papers analysed the authors’ ongoing research on actual homelessness in Glasgow and Canterbury respectively, and their experiences living and working with homeless people.
The second panel “Imagining space | Theorizing Homelessness in Urban Contexts”, chaired by Christina Chatzipoulka (University of Kent), brought together two papers which assigned to “homelessness” a less negative -if not positive- connotation by claiming that being literally or metaphorically homeless can be potentially a way of life, a choice or an option of escaping reality. The two presenters of this session were Rebecca Camilleri (University of Malta) and Maeve Kelly (University College Dublin) and their papers were entitled “Feeling at home” and “The mobile and the imMobile: the struggle to understand Homeless as a choice” respectively.
During the third and last panel of the first day of the conference “Lost and Found Spaces | Identity and belonging “, chaired by Pauline McGonagle (University of Kent), the feeling of being homeless was addressed through notions such as identity, belonging and comfort from an educational-psychological, social and psychoanalytical perspective. The combination of the three presentations (by, Camilla Stranger (Goldsmith University), ‘“You feel comfortable here…like you’re at home”: using dance to create a home for disaffected young women within urban educational settings’; Mengwei Tu (University of Kent), ‘One transnational home or between two homes: How do one-child migrants cope with filial responsibility towards their parents in China and their own home-making in the UK?’; Liz Greenway (The Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust / University of East London), in her paper titled ‘Homelessness can be an attachment disorder’ highlighted in a very successful way the multiple meanings of feeing/being at home as well as the personal and social reasons that may cause the opposite feeling.
The last session of the day was the Open Forum with representatives from two local charities, which proved to be a real highlight for the whole event. Paul Easterbrook from Porchlight and Gayle Jones from St. Mungo’s Broadway delivered two fascinating and moving presentations on their commitment with and for the most excluded in society: the homeless. The two speakers explained the mission, structure and main activities of their organizations, but most of all told fascinating and moving episodes encountered in their daily work.
The second day saw a considerable shift, from homelessness in urban contexts to questions of exile, identity and belonging. “Stories of Migration,” chaired by Barbara Franchi (University of Kent), examined personal and political implications of the sense of home(land), across literature, the history of publications and performative arts. Gioia Panzarella (University of Warwick) delivered a paper titled ‘Migrant writings in Italian. Julio Monteiro Martins and a Home for ‘The Other Barack,’’ on the relations between clandestine immigrants and wealthy though unstable Italians in contemporary postcolonial Italian fiction. Subsequently, Rachel Noorda (University of Stirling) spoke about the legacy of Scottish tradition and heritage societies in the USA, in her paper ‘Romanticizing the Homeland: Views of Scotland for Scottish-Americans in Las Vegas’. Finally, Smita Misra (University of Kent) gave a fascinating presentation on the difficulties and rewards of turning one’s sense of identity and home into a staged performance, in ‘The Precariousness of Empathy: a Performance Autoethnography’.
Ideas of migration, and exile were central also to the panelists of the fifth session. “Exiled in Water,” (chaired by Barbara Franchi) where the connection between individual displacement, loss and homelessness was given by journeys across seas or along rivers. Lucinda Newns (London Metropolitan University) discussed how the process of storytelling was a more productive way to regain home than the mainstream postcolonial approaches of writing back, in her paper “Homelessness and the Refugee: De-Valorising Displacement in Abdulrazak Gurnah’s By the Sea”. Conversely, Krista Bonello (University of Kent), took the audience on a journey across sea spaces in Romantic literature, as well as contemporary literary versions of exile at sea, in ‘Writing in Water/Exile by Water: The Sea and Radical Homelessness in Shelley, Yeats, and Synge’. Finally, Emma Bennett (University of Essex), combined Heideggerian theories to photographies representing the inexorable end of rural life and the beginning of industrial society, in -‘Dwelling on the Yangtze River: Heidegger, Kander and Muge’.
Finally, the conference came to its conclusion with the panel “Homeless in the City: the Tramp Across Space and Time.” Chaired by Luca Di Gregorio (University of Kent), the panel examined homelessness in urban contexts, by focusing on tramp figures across history and literature. Luke Davies, from UCL, spoke about the tramp in homeless memoirs from Britain and the US in the early 20th century, in his paper ‘John Brown and W.A. Gape: The tramp as a Victim of Unemployment’. Thirtankar Chakraborty (University of Kent) shifted the discussion to the relation between the tramp and existential quests in his paper ‘Samuel Beckett’s early tramp’, whereas Luke Seaber (University College, London) gave the final paper of the conference, titled ‘Homelessness’ and Incognito Social Investigation: Explorations of When ‘Homeless’ Was Not Metonymic with ‘Poor’.
During the conclusion remarks, the organizers thanked the two keynotes, all panelists and participants and, most importantly, spoke about the possibility of turning conference papers into either a special issue or a collection of essays: the Home|less Conference will hopefully be a starting point for further exciting projects in the future!
The organizers would like to thank the Graduate School and the Schools of English and Kent School of Architecture for their help and support which they have given during the whole organizational process.