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Title: An ethnographic exploration of the substance use of young people living in temporary homeless accommodation
Author: Hoolachan, Jennifer Elizabeth
ISNI:       0000 0004 5921 5970
Awarding Body: University of Stirling
Current Institution: University of Stirling
Date of Award: 2015
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The subjects of ‘youth’, ‘substance use’ and ‘homelessness’ are interconnected, but only a relatively small number of studies have examined the relationships between all three components. Literature highlights how homeless substance users are constructed as ‘vulnerable’ – yet ‘deviant’. Furthermore, academics have examined how people manage the ascribed identities of ‘substance user’ and ‘homeless’ as well as that of ‘youth’. According to sociologists, people’s self-identities and actions develop as a consequence of interactions with their socio-spatial worlds. Therefore, it is useful to contextualise the act of substance use within these complex interactions. This thesis explores the meanings and contexts of young, homeless people’s substance use. Data were obtained through an ethnographic study conducted in a homeless hostel over a seven month period in 2013 in which twenty-two young people (aged 16-21) and twenty-seven staff members participated. The majority of data were derived from participant-observation encompassing 200-250 informal interactions with the young people and 100-120 interactions with staff along with observations of people’s actions and descriptions of events and appearances. The field-notes were supplemented by four semi-structured interviews and a focus group, involving a total of eleven young people. Drawing on theories underpinned by symbolic interactionist and phenomenological philosophies, three overarching dimensions of the young people’s experiences were identified as important to their substance use and wider lives. First, the young people engaged in ‘place-making’ actions (including substance use) to personalise spaces within the tightly controlled environment of the hostel. Secondly, substance use was interwoven with the relationships that the young people held with their families, friends and the staff. The ‘pro-drug’ voices of their friends and relatives were arguably stronger than the ‘anti-drug’ voices of the staff. Thirdly, the categories of ‘youth’ and ‘substance user’ were recognised by the participants as pertaining to them, whereas the ‘homeless’ label was relatively meaningless. The thesis concludes that to understand people’s substance use experiences, it is important to consider the socio-spatial contexts within which they are located, particularly when these are temporary.
Supervisor: Anderson, Isobel ; Emond, Ruth Sponsor: Economic and Social Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Ethnography ; Drugs ; Alcohol ; Youth ; Homeless ; Belonging ; Symbolic interactionism ; Deviance ; Ethnology ; Homeless persons--Substance use ; Homeless persons--Temporary housing