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, Books Editor, 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, editor of The Borders of “Europe”: Autonomy of Migration, Tactics of Bordering

“The Ethics of Space fulfills ethnography’s long overdue promise in urban studies to deliver a nuanced, long-term and intimate insight into how processes of urban renewal, gentrification, real estate market speculation and land policy reforms engender social practices born out of a sense of loss and despair as much as solidarity and resistance. These, in turn, bring forth innovative and subversive values, practices and ways of imagining the self. Steph Grohmann’s engagingly written book, with its committed fieldwork and carefully crafted theoretical argument, succeeds in interweaving the very specific circumstances of the “squatting scene” in a particular social setting in Bristol with much broader theoretical and ethnographic discussions on the intricacies of squatting, communal living and urban inequality, making her work relevant for students of cities in both the Global North and the Global South.”

—Valeria Procupez, author of “The Need for Patience: The Politics of Housing Emergency in Buenos Aires,” Current Anthropology


Steph Grohmann is a research affiliate at the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography at the University of Oxford. She is interested in ethical life, spatial justice, and using anthropological tools in the struggle to end homelessness in Britain and beyond.

6″ x 9″, 285 pp.
ISBN: 978-1-912808-28-1 (paperback)
Price: $35

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The Ethics of Space





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: Extinction




Ethnographic Vignettes

Trolley Problem
Through the Looking Glass


Read our book review of The Ethics of Space and our interview with the author

The open-access PDF of The Ethics of Space: Homelessness and Squatting in Urban England by Steph Grohmann, attached on this page, excluding third-party material therein, is available under the terms of a Creative Commons international license BY-NC-ND 4.0 (Attribution Required / Non-Commercial Use / No Derivatives). See and