1st Edition

Youth Homelessness and Survival Sex Intimate Relationships and Gendered Subjectivities

By Juliet Watson Copyright 2018
    184 Pages
    by Routledge

    184 Pages
    by Routledge

    Survival sex, commonly understood to be the exchange of sex for material support, is a practice that is associated with young homeless women. However, such a narrow definition of survival sex fails to recognise the multiple, complex, and coexisting motivations of young homeless women for engaging in intimate relationships in post-industrial capitalist society.

    In Youth Homelessness and Survival Sex, Watson’s insightful analysis of personal narratives reveals how young homeless women are exposed to situations in which survival can be impeded or assisted by playing out specific gender roles. Indeed, in identifying and contesting the dominant social discourses that young homeless women draw upon to frame their experiences of intimate affairs, Watson challenges the reader to understand how gendered subjectivities are produced and performed through heteronormative relationships. This enlightening book is vital in showing that homelessness is not a gender-neutral phenomenon and that there are gender-specific processes and practices involved in the navigation of poverty, violence, and social exclusion.

    Youth Homelessness and Survival Sex will appeal to undergraduate and postgraduate students, as well as postdoctoral researchers, interested in fields such as Homelessness, Youth Studies, Social Work, and Gender Studies.


    Chapter 1. Introduction: youth homelessness, gender, and the significance of survival sex


    What is survival sex?

    Reconceptualising survival sex

    Defining homelessness

    Applying a gendered lens to homelessness

    Conceptualising the home in relation to homelessness

    Constructing gendered subjectivities

    The research project

    The significance of experience: a narrative approach

    Chapter map


    Chapter 2. Young homeless women and the neoliberal subject



    The neoliberal subject

    Contemporary conditions of youth homelessness

    Discourse, power, and intersectionality

    Youth transitions—locating young people in post-industrial capitalist society


    Homelessness, individualisation, and class

    Young women ‘at risk’


    Postfeminism as anti-feminism

    Postfeminism as a conceptual shift within feminism

    Postfeminist critical analysis



    Chapter 3. Social capital, performativity, and gendered subjectivities in the homeless sphere


    Gender, homelessness, and subjectivity

    Social capital theory


    The field



    Symbolic violence and romantic love


    Feminine capital

    Vicarious physical capital



    Chapter 4. Survival sex, stigma, and managing material conditions

    ‘A butterfly’—Hayley’s story


    Gender, homelessness, and stigma—‘Just a piece of meat’ (Hayley)

    Stigma and social capital—‘I was a junkie, slut, alcoholic person, or something’ (Nicki)

    Survival sex and vulnerability—‘He didn’t want me there once he found out that I had a boyfriend’ (Alice)

    Stigma and subjectivities—‘I’ve got standards and I’m a nice person’ (Jessie)

    Material support—‘It was just ’cause I’d seen the pretty side of things’ (Sarah)



    Chapter 5. Survival sex and gender-based violence

    ‘My yo-yo life’—Jessie’s story


    Violence and homelessness—‘I’ve put myself in situations that I could’ve stayed away from’ (Jessie)

    Feminine capital and physical protection—‘I didn’t want to be by myself because I was scared’ (Hayley)

    Vicarious physical capital—‘I know people were scared of him’ (Hayley)

    Violence in intimate relationships—‘I don’t know what I was doing wrong’ (Jessie)

    Intimate relationships and the depletion of capital—‘No one wanted me at their place with him around’ (Nikita)

    Intimate relationships and romantic discourse—‘I say that "I love you" and everything’s OK again’ (Hayley)



    Chapter 6. Intimate relationships, social exclusion, and belonging

    ‘The little black duck: at the end of day it does have a life’—Nikita’s story


    Homelessness and social exclusion—‘The word homeless does actually kill’ (Lexi)

    Social exclusion and performativity—‘You become inconsistent and everyone looks at you badly ’cause your performance is bad’ (Elle)

    Seeking stability and belonging from survival sex—‘I’ve got something, I’ve got a life. I’ve got a boyfriend. Look at me’ (Hayley)

    The pressures of homelessness on intimate relationships—‘There’s not really much happiness and joy’ (Nikita)

    Maintaining subjectivity stability through adversity—‘I think going through so much has made us so much stronger’ (Bianca)

    Intimate relationships in homeless spaces—‘In a normal society you’d be in your own home’ (Hayley)



    Chapter 7. Constructing authentic selves

    ‘Searching for your identity’—Lexi’s story


    Making the right choice, authenticity, and subject positions—‘When you know what you want, you will achieve it’ (Lexi)

    Postfeminism and choice—‘I don’t really think about it as feminism, I just think, tough chick’ (Angela)

    The choice to be single: necessity—‘Two people, it’s harder than one’ (Elle)

    The choice to be single: resistance—‘When the time is for me, then I’ll be settling down’ (Lexi)

    The choice to leave an abusive intimate relationship: refusing to be a victim—‘I got a backbone and I said "no more"’ (Sarah)

    The choice to leave an abusive intimate relationship: becoming a mother—‘Past the brink of had enough’ (Angela)

    The choice to leave an abusive intimate relationship: the importance of capital—‘They’d made me see things that I couldn’t see when I was in it’ (Nikita)

    Choosing intimate relationships—‘I don’t think it’s really homelessness that defines my relationship’ (Alice)



    Chapter 8. Conclusion: diversifying homelessness


    Destabilising discourses: making structures visible

    Youth transitions



    Subjectivity construction

    Managing material conditions

    Managing violence

    Managing social exclusion

    Narratives of choice

    Final words


    Appendix: more stories

    Alice—The shift from having my family as a family to having Chris as a family

    Amina—Through high aspiration comes firm resolve

    Amy—My life

    Angela—The ‘how to’ and ‘how not to’ live life in Melbourne

    Bianca—Life as a house

    Elle—The puzzle

    Nicki—Crap life

    Paige—How can you put a title on something like that?

    Pauline—My life

    Sarah—Simple life



    Juliet Watson is a lecturer in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, at RMIT University, Australia.


    Young women’s homelessness is often hidden from view – not showing up in official statistics nor in popular representations of ‘rough sleepers’. In this important and original new study, Juliet Watson vividly illuminates young women’s experiences. In doing so she makes us question our understandings of both homelessness and of transactional sex, opening up nuanced ways of thinking about the intimate relationships women build in order to survive.

    Rosalind Gill, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis, City University of London, UK

    In Youth Homelessness and Survival Sex, Juliet Watson offers a compelling and confronting account of how young women face, understand, and manage the risks they face in homelessness. Through exceptional empirical research, deep theoretical expertise, and sensitive engagement with experiences of poverty, gendered violence, and social exclusion, Watson illuminates how these young women make strategic use of heteronormative femininity in their search for security, survival, and resources. This is an important and valuable book that reinforces the critical importance of gender analysis of precarious lives. 

    JaneMaree Maher, Director, Centre for Women's Studies and Gender Research, Monash University, Australia

    In this fascinating and disturbing book, Juliet Watson provides us with a scholarly yet unflinching examination of the reality of survival sex for young homeless women. She shines much needed light on a topic that is too often referred to in passing, and seldom given the in-depth consideration it deserves.

    Suzanne Fitzpatrick, Professor of Housing and Social Policy in the Institute for Social Policy, Housing, Environment and Real Estate (I-SPHERE), Heriot-Watt University, UK