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The Environmental Anthropology of Homelessness

Josiah is a father, writer, teacher, linguist, and poet and has competed in a number of national essay competitions (and won some).


As the title of this article suggests, the aim of the current analysis is to create a theoretical framework with which to evaluate the connections between the environment - both as a conceptualized idea and as a lived context - and homelessness as a state of human experience, a state particular to modern capitalistic society in which land has been commodified and privatized to the point of mass exclusion from access to land and its products (Takahashi 1997).

Within urban ecosystems as defined in modern ecological studies, where do the geographies of wildlife and “geographies of homelessness” (DeVerteuil 2009) overlap with marginal and industrial zones and pollutants in the environments, and how great is the divergence of these zones from nodes of power, wealth, and access to forums and discourses? Such multidimensional mapping could be used to engender awareness of profound social and environmental justice issues.

Indigenousness has been lost among citizens of modern societies: there is no more right to land in modern societies. The homeless may feel this separation most clearly when they find a marginal or wild space and call it home only to be evicted by the forces of ‘civilization’ and ‘order’ (Rose 2015). A framework is needed to examine the ways the homeless experience the environment. This framework, which the author will attempt to develop on the following pages, tentative and exploratory in nature though it will be, can then be applied to the future study of homeless populations with a view toward illuminating their connections to their environments.

But first, more about the idea of an ‘Environmental Anthropology of Homelessness’.

The current study is interested in investigating why, how, and where homeless people interact with the natural world, as it exists within the modern city/town urban setting; how they think of the importance of the environment; and what modern society can learn from them and from the ways its rules, laws and ideologies related to the environment create injustices in the lives of the homeless and obstruct their access to nature and natural products.

Humans are always in an ‘environment’, and our health is constantly affected by the types of environments we inhabit and the ways our culture allows us to inhabit them and use them to meet our needs. Processes related to public lands are dealt with by members of groups in our society, but not all voices are heard. How can the indigent and their experiences shed light on environmental patterns within our cities and towns, as well as patterns of social and environmental justice among the citizens of our country? How can the adaptive strategies the homeless use to survive in fragmented and off-limits environments be understood in terms of discourses on ethics, urban planning, law, and governance?

The relationship of the homeless to the dominant society vis-à-vis access to environmental resources shares a number of similarities with that of indigenous peoples around the world, in that the dominant form of global society involves the systematic exclusion of such ‘peripheral’ or non-participatory groups of people from land, without which survival is made almost impossible and essentially peripheral.

If an individual or group are not part of the global system in which commodified land is traded and kept privately, if they are not part of the global rat race, then access to resources and natural settings is questionable in our time and becoming more so for some groups (Mikkelson 2015:12). The capitalistic process seems to exert inexorable pressure on other types of social organizations, to either join in or get left behind.

That truth extends to those who do not have ‘jobs’ and thus who do not accumulate resources. A number of indigenous groups around the world have come to confront this reality as the sale and ‘development’ of land around them has seen the drastic reduction in their ancestral hunting, fishing, farming, and gathering grounds. A worldview of commodified land has enclosed and entrapped them. Similarly, homeless people have the abilities and desire to meet their needs and hang their hats on public lands and marginal natural areas within the boundaries of cities and towns, but they are prevented from doing so by the intercession of laws and regulations making such basic pursuits illegal (DeVerteuil 2009).

We are viable organisms in as much as we have access to the resources we need. Being excluded through organizational structures beyond our control from access to resources as basic as land to hunt in, ground to grow plants in, a source of water to drink, wood to build a shelter with: this seems like an infringement on our rights as human beings.

This kind of de facto exclusion of individuals from access to our common inheritance in the form of nature, through what amounts to the combined effects of historical-social relations and accidents of fate as well as specific actions on the part of the individual and their consequences, nevertheless reveals a gross imbalance, an impossibility even, in our system of organization that will not prove just to future historians, looking back on us.

What are the dominant discourses that attempt to justify and explain away such base infringement on the rights of humans as biological organisms in need of habitat? An Environmental Anthropology of Homelessness would need to answer such a query.

Likewise, the methods we use to survive and the resources we consume reflect our lifestyle choices in the ways our lives impact our environments. The fact that the homeless exist within urban landscapes where most people consume more than their fair share of the earth’s resources, themselves making do with limited natural environments and limited resource use, begs a number of questions regarding marginality, equality, and environmental justice within the modernist paradigm.

In a world being destroyed by pollution and rapidly mined and clear-cut for its resources in order to feed the consumptive habits of the ‘housed’ of the developed world, are not the homeless likely to be regarded as something like heroes in the future backlash against our collective gluttony?

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The impact their lives have on their environments requires a careful examination because of this, as resource use is highest in America among all nations of the world, and exemplars of low-resource use should be identified and understood in these terms for the betterment of our national rate of consumption, as a step in our walk toward a sustainable future. In what ways should our resource use and philosophy of the environment reflect those of the indigent?

Where do homelessness and the environment intersect? At this juncture, what can be learned relating to homelessness as it is viewed cast in the light of environmental anthropology, environmental justice, urban ecology, urban planning, housing studies, indigenous studies, sustainability studies, philosophy and other disciplines?

In the following sections, the relationship between homelessness and the environment will be examined from these different vantages through a review of the related literature. The mentioning of these varied disciplines is not accidental: their combinatory perspectives are essential to the multidisciplinary theoretical approach to an environmental anthropology of homelessness as it will be developed over the course of the paper.

Some Theoretical Underpinnings

The theoretical foundation of an environmental anthropology needs to combine a study the political economy and the political ecology of the homelessness-environment interface. How do power, space, and hegemony displace the homeless within ‘public’ spaces as well as discourses about those spaces?

Such a theory would look at the distribution of space in terms of power centers and peripheral zones, and the distribution of the homeless within these spaces, then overlay this view with another comparison, this one of the homeless and the environment within the urban landscape and their relative dispersals. Are such dispersals illustrative of two brands of ‘wilderness’, of not conforming to the modernist, capitalistic, ‘civilized’ model of living with its centralized power nodes?

Bourdieu has some thoughts on these matters, writing that the closer the individuals and groups are to such nodes of power, the more similarities they have to each other, and the more peripheral the groups, the more different they are form those at the center (Bourdieu 1989:16). These centers are increasingly protected from the homeless using various strategies.

The “Carceral” model of fortifying spaces to keep the homeless out in Los Angeles and the “Revanchist” model of policing the homeless out of public spaces as a process of ‘reclamation’ in New York City seem to imply that urban governance wishes to exclude the homeless from its public natural spaces as much as possible (DeVerteuil 2009:648). Urban ecology can help illuminate these parallels, for the natural environments near the nodes of power within modern cities may reflect such lack of diversity in just the same way that the social geography of Bourdieu does.

In other words, in modern cities, the diversity of wildlife may mirror the diversity of worldviews or lifestyles or perspectives on ‘proper’ social organization, in the radical form of the power differential between the indigent and the ‘housed’ within the social space.

Access to nature and natural products, as well as inhabitance of public space, raises questions of environmental justice for the homeless, and connects to studies of indigenous people around the world. Both the indigenous of the ‘wild’ spaces of the world, and the homeless on the margins and public ‘wild’ spaces of the city, call for a more careful examination of the interstices of social constructions of reality from different epistemological and philosophical viewpoints. From where does the predominance of the commodified version of land ownership gain its power?

Jacques Derrida, whose philosophical thought has been called ‘deconstruction’ due to its model of examining the underlying assumptions of the western philosophical and social/moral traditions and their binary oppositions, might highlight such an imbalance in the idea of the ‘homeless’ as opposed to the ‘housed’(Derrida 1992). Such is a prime example of one of the ranked binary systems he writes on, upon which western social structure and its discourses and texts are based, and one which begets a number of problematic assumptions on the members of that culture as part of their linguistic and cultural inheritance.

Through deconstruction of the dichotomy of ‘housed/homeless’, one can see underlying assumptions about the meaning of home that may not be relevant to all forms of how ‘home’ can be understood by people. One person’s ‘forest’, ‘riverbank’, or ‘overpass’ is another person’s ‘home’. Deconstructing the assumption that having a house is having a home gives the lie to the idea that the ‘houseless’ must necessarily be ‘homeless’.

Another facet of the emergent investigative framework of the indigent relation to the environment can be found by examining the ecological footprint of the homeless, including their estimated carbon footprints and per capita levels of consumption and calorie intake and the ways the environment might shape the ‘culture’ of homelessness. This connects the study of homelessness to the tradition of ecological anthropology of Steward, White, and Rappaport, a materialist approach that measures the direct physical relations between the individuals and their environment (Steward 1955; Rappaport 1968).

These studies would all tie up the theory of an environmental anthropology of homelessness with sustainability studies. What are the differences in consumption rates between an average homeless individual and an average ‘housed’ individual? In what ways does this reflect a ‘cultural’ difference, as White’s theory of civilization being directly related to energy consumption would posit (White 1949)?

A further connection which the investigative framework should examine relates to the access of the homeless to the dominant discourse, both in terms of the governance of shared public resources, as well as the representations of their identities within those discourses. How often are homeless voices heard in forums related to the environments they inhabit? What do they say? Discourse analysis would be a useful tool for this aspect of the investigation of the Environmental Anthropology of Homelessness (Wodak 2001).

Philosophy can also play a role in understanding the environmental experience of the indigent. This is a good place to further emphasize the theoretical correlations between the emerging discourse of an Environmental Anthropology of Homelessness with both Marxist studies and the thinking of Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Pierre Bourdieu.

To a certain extent, it could be argued that both Marxism and Foucauldian thought are concerned with the culturally created power of discourses and their political systems to modulate and control humans within social frameworks for the maintenance of unequal power relations (though the former advocates the use of global mechanisms to dismantle and equalize the human experience while the latter advocates individualism and free will) (Foucault 1991). Yet the critical impulse driving Marxist thought alike drives Foucault’s idea of the job of the public intellectual to shake up existing notions and question all cultural assumptions (Foucault 1991:12).

The experiences of the homeless within the context of their illegal tenancy of marginal environments would seem to be under such power-relation constraints and to be begging such a critical examination. Bourdieu described the habitus and varied social fields in which different forms of an individual’s habitus might be played for various strategies for success within that field (Bourdieu 1989). In his “Social Space and Symbolic Power”, Bourdieu defined a theory of power relations relevant to the inhabited spaces of a place.

The connection between homelessness and their environments viewed through the lens of Bourdieu’s conception of habitus and fields could prove illuminating of alternative modes of existence outside of the mainstream lifestyles of the dominant social paradigm, as well as underlining the political geography of the city, one of mutual exclusion of the indigent and the environment from the central spaces of power.

As Murdoch et al. wrote in “The Preservationist Paradox: Modernism, Environmentalism and the Politics of Spatial Division”, the classificatory schemes placed on urban geographies transform the ways the environments can be inhabited, and it seems as if this places the homeless in a shrinking habitat. This structuring of the discourse of spatial organization has deep roots which undergird assumptions about private property and other essentially western notions.

Also worthy of investigation is the way in which traditional housing through programs such as ‘Housing First’ and ‘Homeward Bound’, currently seen as a possible solution to chronic homelessness in conjunction with case management, with its discipline ‘Housing Studies’, can be intersected with the study of environmentalism to discover ways to minimize the negative impacts of such projects and maximize the relationship between the recently housed homeless and their environments, ecological and artificial. This intersection is approached in “Housing/Futures? The Challenge from Environmentalism” by Mark Bhatti.

Finally, the manner in which the homeless tend to inhabit liminal spaces in which natural elements continue to exist, spaces would could be argued to be ‘wild’ in some fragmented sense perhaps, are treated by the dominant systems of law and order, and whether they should have some right to the environment as living beings. This concept is approached in “Ontologies of Socioenvironmental Justice: Homelessness and the Production of Social Natures” by Jeff Rose, as well as by others.


Homelessness and Environmental Justice

What is environmental justice? While many definitions exist, and there is some debate concerning the entirety of the meaning of the phrase, the following formulation from the U.S. government’s Environmental Protection Agency is suitable for the purpose of this paper. The E.P.A. defines environmental justice as follows:

“Environmental Justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” (EPA website, accessed 4.25.2016).

As one can see from this definition, the EPA considers the environment to be everyone’s shared inheritance, and income is clearly included in the statement. Yet the de facto distribution of the benefits of public land do not measure up to these lofty ideals (Rose 2014).

With the stated goals of providing “the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards, and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work”, the EPA must not have been including the most marginalized members of our society: the homeless. Or at least it seems that must be the case when one reads articles that detail the lack of environmental justice among some homeless populations.

Perhaps the most compelling arguments related to this intersection are big ethical questions. Do all humans have an inalienable right to a portion of the environment’s products, as well as space within that environment for habitation? For those of us with neoliberal ethical backgrounds, the answer seems to be a straightforward yes. However, there are instances in which such basic rights are questioned by the structures of our society.

A fine example presents itself in the form of Jeff Rose’s article “Ontologies of Socioenvironmental Justice: Homelessness and the production of Social Natures” (Rose 2014). In this article, the author examines the lives of Hillside residents, individuals “facing homelessness while living inside a municipal park” a situation which begs many questions similar to those posed by this investigation. Rose writes “Ethnographic exploration of this sociopolitical and socioenvironmental setting illustrates the ontological complexities surrounding constructions of the nonhuman world, discursive and material realities, social and environmental justice, and homelessness” (Rose 2014).

From this passage one can see that the author admits multiple connections between the environment, homelessness, and society at large. The ‘homeless’ residents of Hillside relate to their environments in ways which make the term homeless questionable: the natural environment of the public park is their home. The break from western conventions of property ownership equating ‘home’ is not tolerated by the materialistic, legalistic society, in which such ‘wild’ residency is not just looked down on but illegalized.

This same situation can be seen played out when indigenous people, to whom ownership of land is an alien concept, are robbed of their traditional group-held territory by outsiders wielding property ownership ideas and legal and military force to back up those ideas.

The plight of the Yasuni and Xingu tribes of the Amazon come to mind, as they face down oil and hydroelectric development projects with little resources and a similar marginalized positioning within the global discourse. The politics of land rights distribution is an aspect of political economy of global civilization which has repercussions from the jungles and tundra of distant continents to the parks and sidewalks of American cities, and people without stakes in this capitalist system are becoming more disenfranchised.

Marxist and Foucauldian thought can be used to further identify the parallels between the experience of indigenous peoples fighting for their use of traditional land, and homeless people vying for a square of common land to call their own within the highly commodified urban landscapes of the western world. Marxism could be used as a lens with which to view in both examples a lower class being exploited and systematically denied what is rightfully theirs by the powerful elite. Indeed, a radical Marxist could claim that the need for ‘housing’ is another ploy of the capitalist machine to convince people to buy things they do not need. As Somerville wrote in “Homelessness and the Meaning of Home: Rooflessness or Rootlessness?”:

“Homelessness, like home, is…an ideological construct, but to say this is not…to dismiss it as ‘unreal’...Homelessness is ideologically constructed as the absence of home and therefore derivative from the ideological construction of home. As with home…the construction is one of both logic and emotion. People distinguish between the absence of ‘real home’ ([…] home in an ideal sense) and the lack of something which can be called home for them (meaning lack of abode). The meaning of homelessness….cannot be determined outside of the processes of ideological construction which give rise to such distinctions: there is no ‘reality’ of homelessness beyond the structures created by our intellects, experiences and imaginations.” (Somerville 531)

Somerville here describes the ways in which homelessness, when viewed from Foucault’s idea of discourses governing the ‘rules of engagement’ for the conceptualization of home, as it were, are deprived of their ability to identify home for themselves based on their own set of meanings and relationships. Derrida’s deconstruction would probably arrive at a similar view, and Marx might add that such enforced empty land for the enjoyment of a privileged class at the expense of people on the land was a symptom of an elitist capitalist state ripe for a proletariat revolution.

And thus within the parlance of the dominant discourse the indigent are homeless regardless of how they feel about whatever place they may spend the nights, outside or in, if they do not own that place. Rose brings this point across well in his article when he writes that the Hillside residents have a matter of social and environmental injustice on their hands because the dominant discourse does not deign to recognize the validity of “…how the Hillside residents understand their complex experiences of living in nature” on public land (Rose 254).

As with Somerville questioning what ‘home’ means and who should define it for whom, Rose asks whether the Hillside residents tenancy in the park should not equate to their ability to help make decisions about its future and their future in it. Does their presence, in some sense, make them indigenous to the park? To which piece of ground in our modern commodified society do the homeless have the opportunity to claim indigenousness, if not to some piece of marginal or public space? Who took away their inalienable right to be indigenous to somewhere?

One of the problematic paradoxes of human history is that civilization seems to progress onward seemingly unswerved by the impacts of some of its greatest ‘achievements’ of understanding. Progress in thought does not seem to translate well into the functioning structure of western culture. Jesus, Buddha, and many other mystics preached peace and universal compassion thousands of years ago, yet wars continue to grow in frequency and in the amount of human suffering they entail, as well as in the amount of resources spent on them.

Marx identified the culprits of these wars and many of the world’s inequalities as the elite capitalists and power brokers of the world, yet capitalism ironically prevailed in the Cold War and has become almost forcibly endemic. Cultural relativism helped us understand the relative nature of ethics, yet fundamentalists and traditionalists continue to hold to traditional xenophobia and fear. An understanding of indigenous rights helped us recognize the crimes of colonialism and imperialism, yet economic imperialism and cultural colonialism continue.

Indigenous wisdom and spiritual traditions have shown us the way western culture is too oriented toward the material and too disconnected from the spirit and nature, yet many continue to medicate and insulate themselves from reality with layers of stuff. The environment has been destroyed and cultural diversity shattered by the monocultural global capitalism machine, yet it continues to spread and obliterate biocultural diversity and the prospects of the future generations of humanity. We theorize, but we do not actuate.

The progress of civilization as a philosophically and ideologically-grounded entity embodying what it professes to understand seems irrevocably stymied by forces that bear much closer scrutiny than they have gotten in the past. What and whom hold up the dynamic evolution of which humanity is obviously capable in favor of sustaining percentages of growth in non-adaptive industries equipped with outdated technologies? How has communal wisdom been suppressed in favor of individual avarice? How has common understanding not led to a worldwide revolution of the form and substance of a collective government of the people?

Who took away the indigenousness of Americans? Why do the indigent, the indigenous of the Amazon, and the Inuit of the Arctic perceive their natural inheritance disappearing or already gone?

There are many questions, some of a global scale, which arise when viewing the environmental anthropology of homelessness from a critical perspective. The answers can be a bit better illuminated by showing how marginalized groups, outside of the dominant paradigm, such as the homeless, can serve as indicators of the state of the overall relationship of the culture to the environment.


Urban Ecology and Homelessness

What is urban ecology? Simply put, it is the study of organisms as they interact with each other and the nonliving environment within an urban setting (Niemela 1999). Urban ecology is a relatively new form of ecology, and the theories describing its scope are still being refined, but its history has been documented (McDonnell 2011).

The science of urban ecology has been developed primarily to inspect the effects of human populations in large concentrations on local environments, the ways nature emerges in urban settings, and how chemical pollutants and other forms of ecosystem change are caused by dense human populations. The science is developing, and holds a number of unfinished pieces and unrealized potentials, as of yet. That said, the obvious potentialities and even essentiality of urban ecology to an environmental anthropology of homelessness seem apparent.

Through an urban ecology perspective, the interactions between the homeless population and the broader environment of an urban area can be not only understood but also quantified through direct testing. Certain techniques relevant to the practice of urban ecology would be particularly useful: tests for levels of pollutants both among the homeless and in the environments they are found to inhabit could be used to define these peripheral zones: tests for heavy metals, nitrates, phosphates, sulfates, and other pollutants can be tested for (Grim et al. 2008).

The results of these tests can then be mapped and included on the emerging multidimensional map defining the homeless population in relation to nodes of power, wealth, and diversity as described above. This testing for pollutants can also illustrate another connection to environmental justice issues of unequal distributions of environmental contaminants in marginal areas of cities.

Another technique of urban ecology useful to the study of the environmental anthropology of homelessness would be the study of human effects on biogeochemical pathways. This study would help further understand the ways the homeless are introduced to contaminants and could identify the sources of such contaminants and provide evidence fo legal action to redress any wrongdoing on the part of the polluters (Kaye 2006).

Finally, a third technique of urban ecology is the study of human-wildlife interaction in urban settings. How do the homeless interact with the limited, but still present, forms of wildlife in urban and semi-urban settings? Which parts of the ecosystem are viewed as potential sources of food or other useful resources?

Looking at the details of these relationships could illuminate interesting adaptive strategies, human-environment relationships, and conceptualizations of wildlife outside of those common within the dominant discourses of western culture. The intrinsic importance of such non-conformist approaches to inhabiting a place lie in their ability to make the dominant culture more self-reflexive.

One author who has done a fine study of the intersection between urban ecology and homelessness is Randall Amster. In his 2008 work “ Lost in Space: The Criminalization, Globalization, and Urban Ecology of Homelessness”, he described many of the connections to be made within the context of such a study. In Chapter 2 the author focuses on the spaces on the margins of society, far from the nodes of power, wealth, and discourse, which the homeless are often “constrained to occupy”, while in Chapter 6, “The Ecology of Resistance,” the author speaks to human rights struggles, environmental justice, and “the contested realms of public space” Amster 2008). Work such as his is an indicator that the emerging discourse around the environmental anthropology of homelessness is relevant and timely.

In her review of the book, Teresa Gowan wrote that Amster “…Understands his case as a particle that illuminates the universe, an example of street-level repression which demonstrates a global shift towards the privatization and “disneyfication” of city spaces and the criminalization of homelessness”. The idea connects to that raised earlier in this investigation, in which it was stated that the plight of the homeless seems definable by the question of where they have the right to simply be, and the politics of spatial division, compartmentalization, and exclusion.

Another important study that would help undergird a theory of the ecology of homelessness is Nooe and Patterson’s “The Ecology of Homelessness”, in which the authors “…propose a broad conceptual model of homelessness that examines biopsychosocial risk factors associated with homelessness in relation to the constructs of temporal course, housing status, and individual and social outcomes.”

The authors of this important study to the foundation of an ecological component to the environmental anthropology of homelessness go on to describe how they use an “…ecological perspective to situate and describe known biopsychosocial risk factors in a hierarchy of systems/domains” in which the indigent operate. (Nooe 2010:106). This facet of the environmental anthropology of homelessness could have numerous benefits to understanding the environments the homeless inhabit, the obstacles they face, and the ways these phenomena illuminate deeper structural realities of society and its relationship to the natural world


Thus a theory of the environmental anthropology of homelessness is emerging: as one can see, the relationship of the homeless to the environmental spaces they inhabit can be analyzed and understood in terms of political geography, political economy, and political ecology, in the form of overlapping maps defining the associated areas and examining where the nodes of power, nodes of wealth, nodes of diversity of lifestyle/worldview, and nodes of diversity of wildlife overlap and who inhabits them. Sites of discourse and the ratios of contributors would be important to document.

In conjunction with this multidimensional map, a theoretical approach founded on Marxism and poststructuralist thought such as that of Foucault, Bourdieu, and Derrida, can underline the ways in which environmental injustice for the homeless is culturally founded on the nature and substance of the relevant dominant discourses in American society, their distance from the place the discourses happen (marginality) and the absence of their voices from them (lack of inclusion).

Examining the power relationships among the various actors within the urban ecosystem, deconstructing the nature of the categories and binaries of the discourse, visualizing the relationships as forms of habitus and social fields in which limited potentialities and proven strategies for success exist, and comparing the environmental experiences of the homeless to the environmental experiences of the indigenous peoples of the world: all of these critical and analytical approaches to the relationship between the indigent and their environments are important components to understanding the complexity of why and how the homeless exist in and think about the environments they inhabit, as well as powerful mirrors for self-reflexively examining our common cultural assumptions about the environment.

Also worth examining are the structures of society which delimit and regulate the environments, the ranked binaries of our linguistic cultural heritage, the associations people have with concepts such as ‘home’ and ‘homeless’: all are relevant to the ‘disciplining’ of the possible connotations of ‘home’ to within society’s accepted boundaries of what it means, accompanied by forced agreement on those precepts. Within the urban ecosystem, urban ecology combined with ecological anthropology can help illuminate the physical relationships the homeless have to their environments, paralleling sustainability studies, housing studies, and environmental philosophy by underlining the ways in which the homeless might be exemplars of a more sustainable lifestyle within the context of western consumer culture.

Furthermore, urban ecology can be used to illuminate patterns of pollution and human-ecosystem interaction to better understand these processes and their effects on the homeless. Discourse analysis can be used to examine the ways the voices of the indigent are, or are not, heard in the relevant discourses. Perhaps most importantly, a participatory action research model could be used as an extension of the environmental anthropology of homelessness approach to initiate a greater amount of access to forums on matters related to environments and wild spaces for homeless people, as well as for other benefits.

The experiences of the homeless with the environment in urban settings, where these environments are in relation to power, wealth, and other factors, the ways the indigent interact with them, are affected by them, are excluded from contributing to discussions about them, and are disciplined in relation to them by the dominant society: all are features of this new brand of environmental anthropology focusing on civilization’s most obvious discontents and the taking away of their indigenousness.

The problems facing the unsustainable nature of capitalistic society are manifold. Perhaps our consumptive patterns can be eased if we consider the wisdom of the homeless within the heart of the greatest consumer culture in history.

As one homeless individual once told me, “I’m not homeless, man. No. I’m home free.”


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