Auto/Biography, Space and Community
  • Room 211, Rolle Building

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The IHC Methodological Innovations Group is pleased to present the Auto/Biography, Space and Community event consisting of the presentation and discussion of the two papers listed below. 

  • 'Learning to DWELL: Sociological reflections on recurrent and entrenched homelessness and its possible solutions' by Sally Mann, University of Greenwich
  • 'Exploring the benefits of the material and the virtual in the narratives of those working towards release into the community after punishment, by Julie Parsons, University of Plymouth

The event is free to attend but registration is essential via the above link. 

Please scroll down to view the paper abstracts and author biographies.

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Today's events

Learning to DWELL: Sociological reflections on recurrent and entrenched homelessness and its possible solutions 

Sally Mann, University of Greenwich 


This paper adopts a particular perspective on homelessness and how best to understand it. It seeks to listen to and learn from the experience of people who have lived through recurrent homelessness; to ‘locate the origins and course of home, not only in discrete and isolated events of a housing history, but also in the ongoing story that is told about this history’ (Thomas and Dittmar, 1995: 498). Drawing from ethnographic reflections and data collected from walking interviews, I explore the experience of recurrent homelessness and what it takes to successfully reconnect in mainstream society. This analysis includes an understanding of the culture of homelessness and its effects on an individual’s ability to break free and resettle in mainstream society. What is revealed is a complex picture of social relationships and the ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors of community affiliation. Living on the streets, with some sense of belonging to a community of homeless people, might be a more humane option than temporary, insecure accommodation in a neighbourhood which offers few ‘places’ to connect. The narratives here demonstrate that the experience of homelessness certainly contains extreme marginality, but securing accommodation does not always increase social connection, it may reduce it. 

The success of a small grass-roots project named ‘Purpose and Belonging’ in East Ham, Newham, highlights how a number of people living with homelessness have experienced transformative change through holistic practices that re-establish connection to place and to a neighbourhood. These practices are homespun: gardening, cooking, communal eating, participating in sports. There are long-term, invested relationships with an asset-based methodology of assisting recovery, and most importantly, a community to belong to. Despite the painful recollections in this paper, this is a hopeful story. Programmes which help people facing the challenges to find a ‘place’ to call home help us identify what has been lost in wider society and how it might be restored: what we all need to ‘feel at home’ in a neighbourhood. 


Sally Mann is a senior lecturer in sociology at the University of Greenwich. She is an activist as much as an academic. She has been supporting several grassroots projects in East Ham, London, which were set up to provide a community response to street homelessness and food poverty. Five years into this she has begun to write up a series of papers attempting to give a voice to community members and challenge dominant representations of those who experience homelessness and poverty. Sally’s doctoral research explored post-structuralist and theological subjectivities and the place of speaking and listening in these. She now focuses on issues of inequality, including representations of the poor and the social construction of deviance.

Exploring the benefits of the material and the virtual in the narratives of those working towards release into the community after punishment

Julie Parsons, University of Plymouth


In this paper I draw on qualitative data gathered from two consecutive research projects at a part community funded resettlement scheme (RS) that works with prisoners released on temporary licence and those at risk of going to prison (referred to as trainees). From 2016 to date, I have conducted over 85 interviews with 36 trainees, (19 prisoners and 17 people referred through probation), some of whom have been interviewed up to six times during their placement at the RS. The first funded research project explored the benefits of commensality (eating together) for those sharing a lunchtime meal at the RS, from trainee, staff and visitor perspectives. Following this I received funding to develop a Photographic electronic-Narrative (PeN) project to create a virtual social space for trainees to engage in dialogue with the wider community. In terms of desistance (cessation from criminal activity), both generativity (doing for others) and social capital(s) have proved relevant. For the former, helping to create a meal for others from scratch is significant, in the latter the creation of a virtual social space that gives trainees access to a means of expressing how they are ‘doing good’ (Maruna 2001) is beneficial. In both examples both material and virtual social spaces work in creating opportunities for dialogue between criminalised individuals and the community they have hurt.

Visit the website at

Maruna, S (2001) Making Good: How Ex-Convicts Reform and Rebuild their Lives. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association Books.


Julie Parsons is an Associate Professor in Sociology. She received an Independent Social Research Foundation (ISRF) mid-career fellowship (2016-17), to develop a Photographic electronic Narrative (PeN) project with men released on temporary licence from the local prison and others serving community sentences on placement at a local resettlement scheme (RS), which is ongoing. This followed a Sociology of Health and Illness (SHI) Foundation Mildred Blaxter fellowship (2015-16), exploring commensality (eating together) as a tool for health, wellbeing, social inclusion and community resilience at the same RS. Her book Gender, Class and Food, Families, Bodies and Health (Palgrave MacMillan 2015), was shortlisted for the Foundation of Health and Illness (FHI) book prize in 2016. She was programme lead for MSc Social Research from 2010-14 and is currently programme lead for BSc (Hons) Sociology. She is convener of the British Sociological Association (BSA) Food Study Group, a member of the BSA Auto/Biography study group, the BSA Medical Sociology study group and the British Society of Criminology.

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