Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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A life lived on the corner

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posted on 2021-11-15, 14:59 authored by McGovern, Bronwyn Jewell

This thesis explores the everyday life of Brother, a well-known street dweller and local identity, who lives everyday life on a busy street corner in Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand. Brother’s way of doing ‘being ordinary’ attracts strong public curiosity, media interest, and monitoring by informal and formal social control mechanisms, including medical intervention. This research provides a comprehensive account of what can happen to those at the margins who dare, or are impelled, to do things differently. My research is inspired by the longstanding tradition of street corner sociology, and grounded within the sociology of everyday life orientation. My street ethnography involved participant observation over a three-and-a-half year period. In that time, I observed Brother and other street people, capturing the depth and nuanced complexities of a life lived in the open. Central to this thesis is an examination of the ways in which wider social structures and institutions bear upon the local micro-setting, in particular how classification processes act to ‘make, remake, and unmake’ people. Three core concepts of space, body, and social interaction are explored to examine, through the situatedness of everyday talk and social action, how social meanings are locally produced and understood. I argue that by developing spatial, bodily, and interactional methods, Brother has established organisational and social capacities, and lines of conduct, that are firmly founded in autonomous actions. Through his rejection of ascribed ‘homeless’ membership and his clear embracement of a street lifestyle, Brother’s street life is shown to subvert and trouble normative understandings, while engendering and maintaining a lived sense of home in the city he calls his whare [house]. My research contributes an Aotearoa New Zealand perspective to the international sociological street corner landscape, and provides a Wellington perspective to the emerging domestic literature on street life. More broadly, my study aims to stimulate critical sociological reflection regarding different modes of being and belonging in the world and how we, as a society, respond to this.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Social and Cultural Studies


Dew, Kevin