Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Embrace the Margins: Adventures in Archaeology and Homelessness

Following the news this week that the 2013 Homeless World Cup is to be held in Poznan, Poland with the hope of using the "social power of football to change homeless people's lives and fight their exclusion" I was reminded of an article published in Public Archaeology in 2011 entitled 'Embrace the Margins: Adventures in Archaeology and Homelessness' in which Rachael Kiddey and John Schofield explain their efforts to not only "conduct an archaeological study of contemporary homelessness that broke new ground in several ways" but also to find out "whether participation in the archaeological project offered genuine and tangible benefits for the communities and individuals concerned."

Kiddey and Schofield chose to conduct their study at Turbo Island, a tract of private land in the Stokes Croft area of Bristol, UK with the intention of "developing a socially engaged and socially active form of archaeology."

The reasoning behind the experiment is explained in the article's introduction:

"Archaeology has a broad base, and offers a range of intellectual possibilities. Its close attention to material culture and place, and to interpreting traces of evidence for past human behaviour, embraces the full range of human experiences, from the deep past to the very latest depositions, and is inclusive of everyone in society. Archaeology also provides a range of possibilities for public participation and engagement, not only with the archaeological process but also with intellectual content. During our
wanderings in Bristol we often discussed archaeology, and one recurring theme was the similarities between survival strategies of contemporary homeless and earlier hunter-gatherer societies, in terms of food gathering, social cohesion and compassion, and in the locations chosen for settlement."

The authors reference the work on archaeology and the homeless that preceded their study but also stress the one big difference:

"Sociologists and anthropologists have increasingly sought to explore the culture of homelessness and its impact, while homelessness has also started to receive archaeological attention. However, this project was always going to be different in that it sought specifically to engage homeless people directly in fieldwork and in the presentation of findings"

The majority response to the project from local authorities, the police and the homeless people involved was overwhelmingly positive. The authors conclude with the following:

"This project allows us to map places that traditionally are ignored and overlooked. For example, in most interpretations of Stokes Croft, Turbo Island is described as a ‘gap site’ — a non-place where ‘nothing’ exists. Throughout our excavation and working in partnership with socially excluded, marginalized people we learnt about rituals and patterns of behaviour of which we previously knew very little...Throughout this project archaeology has contributed to understanding a community felt by many, even within the professions engaged to work with homeless people, to be ‘unreachable’. It was also an experience which our homeless co-workers greatly enjoyed and appreciated."

>> Read the full article for free

>> "UEFA support for Homeless World Cup"

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