following up from my earlier blog post, I am getting deeper into both, theory and fieldwork, and am coming up with some observations I would like to share with you. Potentially some of you have some ideas about how to embed the findings into anthropological literature (on friendship, love and sex in other contexts) for which I would be eternally grateful.
The more I speak to the group of beggars on the street the more I cultivate the following feeling: begging people have to face a reality that is not quite the bottom-line of subsistence (most of them are never close to starving...) but in constant crisis (health issues, drug abuse, financial pressure from different sides). This, however, does not in general make the relationships they have to other people within their community much different from the ones that any 'normal' person on the street has - only more radically and immediately pronounced.
I trace how different kinds of relationships - love, trustworthy friendship / companionship, colleagues and acquaintance - are spelled out in terms of exchange. What does it mean to be in love for a homeless/begging person when it gets to material resources / crucial information? Is everything really 'shared'? My first findings are that materially, lovers as well as 'long-term' do indeed share everything. Sharing even goes so far that is does not have to be made explicit. Among acquaintances on the street (which most homeless/begging people in my community are), sharing stops when it gets to money for instance. Most people share food, cigarettes and space (even though also here only very limited: particular periods on a particular spaced are marked by 'individuals of authority' - no intrusion or sharing of this particular space is possible; only before or after, the space can be used by someone else). But they rarely 'share' drugs and money. Here, the mode of exchange is much more commodity-like (you definitely have to pay back - as immediately as possible and sometimes you might even have to pay back interest). Also, hospitality is a frontier; as soon as someone is housed, only a particular group of people (trustworthy friends, (ex)lovers) will be allowed to participate in the privilege of housing. Overall, in the community of beggars a very superficially pronounced culture of friendship and understanding seems to pertain. Respect is surely an issue - but when it gets to certain issues - money, shelter, drugs - even this stops. Lying, gossiping, theft - all of those surely not friendly interactions dominate in those moments when addiction and personal gain take over.
I am still very much trying to systematize this (and feed in love relationships, sexuality (shared?) and hostility more systematically) but I would really appreciate any kind of comment you have on this topic.
All the very best from London,