Beggars in Geneva: no right to the city?

Room F
Monday, 31 August 2015
15.15 – 17.00
homelessness, local governance, poverty, public space, right to the city, Roma issues, urban space

In 2008 was implemented in Geneva (Switzerland) a law, which restores the prohibition of begging and gives right to police agents to immediately seize its profits. The political rhetoric used to promote this new law alluded to the large presence of beggars, especially Roma from Romania, in the streets of Geneva as a source of insecurity: passers-by were subject to constant harassment and public space was being deteriorated. Indeed, the visible presence of Roma from Romania begging on their knees, prostrated and sleeping under bridges (especially since 2006, when new agreements concerning freedom of movement were concluded between Switzerland and Romania and Bulgaria) generated an intense debate in the public space.

But who really are the beggars in Geneva? Do they all develop the same strategies and practices in the public space? What are the senses of begging for them? What are their representations of the anti-begging law and its effects on their practices? This presentation is based on a one-year intensive fieldwork in Geneva (2013-2014) which triangulated qualitative interviews with beggars and parliamentary debates analysis. The rich constituted database was interpreted with an analysis grid constituted of elements of the sociology of representations and Karsz’s transdisciplinary approach of practices analysis. It reveals a tension between a diversity of representations that can be consider as concerned actors' answers to the question “Whose right to the city?”. The presentation will especially focus on beggars representations on begging and cohabitation in public space.

Annamaria Colombo
School of Social Work Fribourg - University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Western Switzerland (HES-SO)
annamaria.colombo [at]
Giada De Coulon
Caroline Reynaud

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