Spaces of Homelessness: Urban Experience and Identity Constructs of the Homeless between Welfare and Punishment, 1924-1974


This dissertation project investigates the urban ways of living by the homeless in 20th-century Germany. The study begins with the welfare reforms of 1924, which for the first time expressed the right of the homeless to welfare alongside their decades-long subjection to criminal prosecution. This ambivalent position between welfare and punishment remained in place until the formal decriminalization of homelessness in East Germany in 1968 and in West Germany in 1974, and was the basis for the state’s handling of and the social perception of the phenomenon of homelessness.


Using an approach involving the history of everyday life and experience, the project elaborates on urban experiences evoked by the state of homelessness and pursues the question of how these experiences shaped the lives and identities of those affected, across time and space. Using four cities in East and West Germany as examples, the study establishes analytical spaces of experience and action. In addition to questions of societal patterns of perception and forms of dealing with the issue in these spaces, the study focuses chiefly on negotiation processes between the homeless and authorities, modes of self-representation, and the strategies and reactions of the homeless to stigmatization and marginalization.

The dissertation is supported by a doctoral scholarship granted by the German Academic Scholarship Foundation (Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes).

© Institut für Zeitgeschichte