Urban Ethics

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Johannes Lenhardt

How does the good life look at the other end?
Johannes Lenhardt (Anthropology, Cambridge)

Through my fieldwork with homeless people in Paris, I want to explore questions about a non-religious idea of the Good Life following Robbin’s call in ‘Beyond the suffering subject’. At the same time I want to present ideas of how to be good as they are formed in realms at the lowest end of the class scale.

I will leave concerns about environmentalism or sustainability behind and focus instead on issues around personhood and the future. I want to present examples of how people define the good life in terms of an idea of home: often lacking even the most modest means, the people I work with focus on creating both literal and symbolical homes. Activities as diverse as constructing cardboard huts, applying for identity papers, sharing a Punjabi meal, learning French, accessing day centres for a game of chess, praying in a catholic church or begging are part of this process towards a ‘better’ life.

Constant self-motivation and disciplining – often interrupted by security forces or health problems for instance – is directed towards the future: the future of not being home-less anymore.