Postdoctoral Research Project: Unhoused citizens in Berlin, Leipzig and Dresden: Intimacy, privacy and rights under state law.


This three year research project is conducted in and funded by the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in the Department of Law &Anthropology in Halle (Saale), Germany.

Based on long-term research which combined an analysis of top-down policy and legal approaches to homelessness and housing deprivation with an ethnographic study of the everyday lives and life histories of different unhoused communities1 in Leipzig Germany, I propose an analysis of intimacy, intimate partner violence, and relations to state laws and legal institutions among unhoused persons in Berlin, Leipzig and Dresden.

The project thereby addresses two issues which constitute major global debates in recent years: the accommodation of diversity under state law and the ways in which minority groups experience state laws and relate to the state in the mediation of gender-based violence. The research examines legal citizenship along two levels: the top-down creation of legal personhood (through state laws, discursive practices and interventions); and unhoused person’s experiences and interactions with these rights and with the state, including those contestations and claims made on the state, or the absence thereof, in the event of experiencing intimate partner violence that constitute ‘bottom up’ definitions of legal citizenship. Through discourse analysis of legal and policy documents official narratives surrounding right to privacy and intimacy and the development of ideas around them, that is norms of citizenship contingent on one’s living status are examined. Fieldwork is conducted among unhoused persons in Berlin and Leipzig observation to explore what privacy and intimacy mean in unhoused persons lives, how they negotiate problems and violence within their intimate relationships, how they situate themselves vis-à-vis ideologies of citizenship and partnership, engage with different aspects of the state and its representatives, and how they imagine the state’s laws and their positioning to the state.


In Germany, human rights and the right to privacy and intimacy are basic rights. Privacy is defined spatially as the non-public sphere, the domestic arena, the family circle and private life, and the right to intimacy includes among other things sexuality and sexual life. However, these notions of privacy and intimacy as well as the processes in place to protect persons from intimate partner violence are constructed around an ideology of living circumstances wherein the private sphere is separated from the public sphere through the walls of one’s home. The question that therefore arises is how these rights can be realised among persons who live under conditions which do not allow for this spatial separation. How do such citizens perceive their legal agency and how do they interact with the state when they are wronged?


To study this complex and contradictory relationship, my research follows three objectives. It first analyses how the category of unhoused persons is constructed and how privacy and intimate relationships are experienced and lived without regular shelter. Secondly, it examines the role that violence plays in the intimate relationships of unhoused persons. How do they witness, expect, endure and execute intimate partner violence? The third objective requires investigating the aftermaths of violence. How do unhoused persons mediate and regulate violence within their relationships? How do they relate to and interact with state laws and law enforcement? Do they take steps to realise their rights and do they seek the protection of the state? And if not which, if any, alternative mechanisms do they employ?

For further information see. link to the Website of the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle (Saale) where Dr. Luisa T. Schneider is a research fellow.

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