The Ethics of Space

Homelessness and Squatting in Urban England

By Steph Grohmann

Foreword by Nicholas De Genova

Across the Western world, full membership of society is established through entitlements to space and formalized in the institutions of property and citizenship. Those without such entitlements are deemed less than fully human as they struggle to find a place where they can symbolically and physically exist. Written by an anthropologist who accidentally found herself homeless, The Ethics of Space is an unprecedented account of what happens when homeless people organize to occupy abandoned properties.

Set against the backdrop of economic crisis, austerity, and a disintegrating British state, Steph Grohmann tells the story of a flourishing squatter community in the city of Bristol and how it was eventually outlawed by the state. The first ethnography of homelessness done by a researcher who was formally homeless throughout fieldwork, this volume explores the intersection between spatial existence, subjectivity, and ethics. The result is a book that rethinks how ethical views are shaped and constructed through our own spatial existences.



[A] powerful new book . . . . The Ethics of Space makes a number of wide-ranging arguments about access to and exclusion from space, and the UK’s largely unchanging patterns of land ownership. But it also provides many vivid glimpses of Grohmann’s own experiences. . . . It is one of the striking features of Grohmann’s writing that the people she describes, like characters in novels but unlike the individuals used in much academic writing to illustrate a point, feel three-dimensional and are capable of surprising the reader.

—Matthew Reisz | Times Higher Education

“The ethics of space is a rare and extraordinary work that deftly integrates fine-grained and sensitive ethnography with a bold philosophical imagination. With this remarkable book, Steph Grohmann not only exhibits her remarkable capabilities as an ethnographic researcher with a tenacious critical intellect—attuned to the complexities of contemporary hierarchies of wealth, power, and prestige—but also delights the reader with her exceptional talents as a writer. Based on fieldwork with squatters and other homeless people, primarily in Bristol, during which Grohmann was herself living as a squatter, the book examines how people who are not securely housed, and are therefore “home”-less, are also socially and politically produced as being always “out of place.”

—Nicholas De Genova

266 pages
ISBN: 9781912808281
Price: $35.00

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Table of Contents

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Chapter 1: Of life and fieldwork
The “field” as morally neutral zone

Chapter 2: Shelter
An attack on one is an attack on all

Chapter 3: Hope
Becoming at home

Chapter 4: Codes of honor and protection
Of apes and anarchists

Chapter 5: Total places
The Big Society strikes back

Chapter 6: The enemy within
The return of the savage noble

Chapter 7: Fragments
Death and sanctions

Chapter 8: Circle the wagons

Reference List

Ethnographic Vignettes:

Trolley Problem
Through the Looking Glass