In the field of urban studies, I focus on poverty and the city. I am particularly interested in three interrelated topics: architecture/design and poverty; informality and city; and the temporal, spatial, and social dimensions of street culture. Employing various methods in my projects, from classical ethnography through survey and social network analysis to GPS tracking and visual methods, I have also contributed to some debates concerning social research methodologies. Even though my primary activity is academic research, I also try to consistently perform science, which is public, responsible, and innovative. In other words, I strive to carry out research where, ideally, the results have a positive impact.

 

(1) I explore the global operation of social innovations that tackle urban poverty through architecture, art, or design (AAD). Various schools, collectives, and studios use AAD to help poor communities of the global South by innovating their material environment, but this trend is visible in the global North. Social innovations thus have played an increasingly important role alongside more established global and national social policies. Based on the recent scholarship regarding fast policy transfer and mobile urbanism, I want to compare “slums” in Colombia and homelessness in Czechia to establish a novel understanding of how innovations globally emerge and travel, how they are locally implemented, and what impact. 

(2) I inquire into how homelessness is produced by urban politics and the city itself while simultaneously searching for the role of homeless people’s affective and practical agency in this. Drawing on assemblage urbanism, I bring together spatio-temporal practices with infrastructure, urban governance, and the urban political economy. Apart from this, inspired by post-colonial urbanism, I search for understanding various implementations and the impacts of the (global) economic arrangement within the post-socialist and the Czech local context.

(3) Between 2010 and 2013, I conducted fieldwork among homeless people in Pilsen, Czechia, as part of my doctoral research. I focused on several traditional topics of sociocultural anthropology, such as socioeconomic organization, time-space, or moral reasoning. Since then, I have been continuously studying the street culture of homelessness. Relying on a practices-oriented approach, I especially shed light on time-space mobility, placemaking in the public space, and home-making within the informal city.

ARCHITECTURE/DESIGN AND POVERTY

Vašát, Petr. 2020. Making city-bases: homeless places, poverty management, and urban change in Pilsen, Czechia. Urban Geographyhttps://doi.org/10.1080/02723638.2020.1826752.  

The article explores how homeless people make places in the public space, while revealing some of the overlooked effects these places may have on the wider city. The article relies on extensive ethnographic research and media coverage analysis of a place called Eskalátory (the Escalators) in Pilsen, a second-order city in Czechia. Eskalátory is part of an underpass with a four-lane road, a tramway, and four outdoor escalators, altogether, forming a specific urban assemblage. The paper describes three specific assemblage enactments of poverty management, homeless placemaking, and sociomateriality, and argues the place played a crucial role in urban change involving the surrounding area. Therefore, it conceptualizes Eskalátory as a “city-base", an assemblage produced by actors human and non-human that contributes to urban outcome. 

 

INFORMALITY AND CITY

Šimon, Martin, Petr Vašát, Hana Daňková, Petr Gibas & Markéta Poláková. 2019. Activity spaces of homeless men and women measured by GPS tracking data: a comparative analysis of Prague and Pilsen. Cities 86 (3): 145–153.  

The aim of this article is to investigate the factors that influence the size of activity spaces of homeless men and women in cities. Vulnerable population groups such as the homeless face the risk of mobility challenges that can exacerbate their social exclusion even more through mobility-driven spatial exclusion. The extent of an individual’'s activity space is a key precondition for the daily coping strategies and life opportunities of homeless people. This study is the first to combine GPS tracking of homeless people based on a week-long GPS measurement with mobility interviews. The article tests five hypotheses as to the influence of city size, age, gender, housing situation and education on the size of activity space. Data obtained for a large city (Prague) and for a small city (Pilsen) are analysed using three geospatial measurements of activity spaces. In line with mixed-method approaches, the results are further triangulated through mobility interviews. By mapping the objective activity spaces, we were able to evaluate the role of individual and contextual factors in shaping homeless life and discuss the theoretical and practical implications of activity space measurement for social policy and urban planning. 

 

STREET CULTURE OF HOMELESSNESS

Vašát, Petr. 2014. "Předevčírem, nebo kdy to bylo?" Temporalita třídy nejchudších ("Yesterday, or when was it" - the temporality practices of the poorest class). Sociologický časopis / Czech Sociological Review 50 (1): 57–82 

The article seeks to describe the poorest class's notion of time and through this critically address the prevailingly one-dimensional and unproblematised conception of time in the Czech social sciences. The relational concept of the poorest class here refers to individuals united by specific social practices and strategies that are determined by their position and mutual proximity within a social space. The article's theoretical framework is anthropologist Nancy Munn's practice-based or agent-oriented approach to time and space, according to which socio-cultural practices do not just occur in time and space but also create or produce that time and space. The concept of temporalisation (time and space) is used in this respect to refer to a variegated, symbolic process whose forms can encompass different degrees of awareness and consideration of the dimension of time. Through the optics of this theoretical approach the article examines four dimensions of agent-based temporalisation: (1) the tactical nature of time, (2) the relation between past, present, and future, (3) time reckoning, and (4) the rhythm of everyday practices. The text presents data from ethnographic field research conducted in the urban setting of the City of Pilsen. The aforementioned dimensions of time are understood as a reflection of social structures, that is, of the position of agents in a social space associated with poverty and marginalisation. 

Vašát, Petr. 2013. "Sme na jedný lodi": Morálka a morální ekonomie v kontextu chudoby a marginalizace ("We´re on the same boat": moral and moral economy under conditions of poverty and marginalization). Český lid: Etnologický časopis / Ethnological Journal 100 (4): 427–448.  

The aim of the article is to critically reassess relation between moral and economy of agents from the poorest class. The relational concept of the poorest class designates here homeless, drug-users, and some poor individuals generally that all have common particular social practices on the one hand and a position within of the social space on the other hand. The theoretical-conceptual frame of the article is the theory of practice of Pierre Bourdieu, “the nested geography” of Adrian Smith and Alison Stenning, and the approach to a moral economy of Jonathan Parry and Maurice Bloch. Based on the ethnographic research in the urban environment of the city of Pilsen the article put forth consistent definitions of used concepts – i.e. economic practices, moral, and moral economy – and relation among them that have heretofore been missing in the urban poverty studies. Instead of studies that just vaguely point out existence of sharing or other form of reciprocal behavior, the article offers empirically-based conceptualization of the moral economy. In this definition it stands as response to poverty and marginalization of the researched agents. It is therefore an expression of moral dimension of habitus and stands as complementary strategy to economic practices and economic systems within that is an agent or a group of agents involved. 

Vašát, Petr. 2012. Mezi rezistencí a adaptací: Každodenní praxe třídy nejchudších (Between resistance and adaptation: the everyday practices of the poorest class). Sociologický časopis / Czech Sociological Review 48 (2): 247–282.  

The article studies homelessness in the city of Pilsen, but instead of the traditional perspective, which works with the common definition of a ‘homeless person’, it introduces and defines the relational concept of the poorest class. The advantages of this class concept are that: (1) it does not rule out the possibility of the construction of a notion of home by members of this class; (2) it provides more information about social practices generally; (3) it focuses on the agent-individual, avoiding the reification of a homeless person in the form of a homogeneous group. Using the concepts of active agency and space-time the article aims to describe time-space mobility, everyday practices, and the production of places of the observed agents. This study draws on the theories of Pierre Bourdieu and Michel de Certeau and on the space-time theories of David Harvey, Thorsten Hägerstrand, and Michel Foucault. It works with ethnographic data and puts forth the idea that unlike dominant places, which are strategically produced and can be ascribed one dominant meaning and associated practice, in the case of tactically produced places there are always multiple meanings and thus a myriad of associated practices. These specific places are ‘heterotopias’. The article describes the (re)production of one heterotopia and in doing so offers an empirically based conceptualisation of such a place. 

 

RESEARCH METHODOLOGIES

Šimon, Martin, Petr Vašát, Hana Daňková, Petr Gibas & Markéta Poláková. 2020. Spatially explicit mobility of homeless people: exploratory analysis of GPS tracking data. GeoJournal 85 (5): 1411–1427 

The aim of this study was to examine the spatial mobility of homeless people in urban areas, exploring homeless mobility, its drivers, limits and links to personal attributes, and whether there is an association between the extent of spatial activity and an individual’s housing situation. To our knowledge, there has been no prior exhaustive attempt to explore the spatial mobility of homeless people using Global Positioning System (GPS) location devices. The theoretical background of the research was based on time-geography approaches. The research used a mixed method approach involving participatory GPS mapping. Spatial mobility was measured by GPS location devices. GPS tracking made it possible to capture the precise location of a person in time and space, and subsequently to identify the daily and weekly mobility rhythms of such people. The GPS data were further contextualised by conducting interviews with homeless people and asking about their daily mobility. The groundwork for the interviews resulted in printed maps of the participants’ daily spatial mobility (n = 598). The combination of timelocation data and ethnographic methods presented several technical and organisational difficulties, but the pilot study provided valuable knowledge about the everyday-life mobility of homeless people in cities. A novel understanding of the links between homeless mobilities, urban commons and the life conditions of homeless people can inform current welfare policies relating to the poor. 

Bernard, Josef, Hana Daňková & Petr Vašát. 2018. Ties, sites and irregularities: pitfalls and benefits in using respondent-driven sampling for surveying a homeless population. International Journal of Social Research Methodology 21 (5): 603–618.  

The Respondent-driven sampling (RDS) is a survey method for hidden populations and, as such, it offers a suitable approach for sampling the homeless. Surprisingly, the practical use of RDS in surveying homeless populations has only sporadically been described in the professional literature so far, and the specifics of using RDS for sampling this group have not been reflected in depth. The goal of the article is to investigate how three specific concerns, namely the transitional character of social ties among the homeless, problems with locating the interview site, and the irregular use of coupons, affect the sampling process. The findings of the article are based on experience using RDS for creating two independent samples of homeless persons in two Czech cities. Worries of poor referral effectiveness were disproved, but poor validity of the network size indicator, tendency towards irregular use of coupons, and negative effects arising from selecting service centres for the homeless as survey sites were confirmed. 

Vašát, Petr, Petr Gibas & Markéta Poláková. 2017. Mezi taktikou a afektem, ne-místem a místem: Vizuální analýza každodenní geografie osob bez domova (Between Tactics and Affect, Non-place and Place:
A Visual Analysis of the Everyday Geography of Homeless People
) Sociologický časopis / Czech Sociological Review 53 (4): 533–564. 
 

The article uses photovoice to explore the everyday geography of homelessness and its affective dimension. We focus on two aspects of the everyday geography captured by photovoice: (1) movement in space and (2) the performativity of heterotopic places. The aim is to understand how the research partners as actors (re)present and (re)construct their everyday geography by visual means and how they relate to it affectively (or otherwise). Photovoice is a suitable method for this type of research as it has been used across the social sciences and especially in action research as a productive tool that allows people to document and reflect on their everyday life, their strengths, and their concerns, and to communicate all this effectively to the wider public. In this article, we critically discuss photovoice and argue that besides its action potential, it can also be used to generate rich visual research data. We present data collected from photovoice research on homeless people in Prague and Pilsen, two cities in the Czech Republic, and conduct formal analytical and hermeneutic analyses of the data. The photographs we obtained reveal the movement of our research partners – the homeless – in space and their relationship to different places and the people in them. In general, people were the most frequently photographed theme. The research revealed that social relations are the most important aspect in the creation and production of places in cities. Several factors, most importantly age, influence the extent to which social relations play this role. 

Vašát, Petr, Josef Bernard. 2015. Formování komunit, nebo sociální integrace? Analýza personálních sítí ukrajinských imigrantů v Plzni (Forming communities or social integration? a personal network analysis of Ukrainian immigrants in Pilsen) Sociologický časopis / Czech Sociological Review 51 (2): 199–226.  

The aim of this article is to describe the personal networks of Ukrainian immigrants residing in an urban centre in the Czech Republic and to identify patterns that can help to elucidate some aspects of their integration. Social support networks in this study were created using the multiple name generator method. Here the generator was made up of six questions asking whom respondents might turn to for money, employment, housing, leisure, to discuss intimate things, or might simply be important to the respondent in some other way. Data-collecting was conducted in Pilsen, an industrial city with a large number of immigrants, and data were obtained from 30 Ukrainians. The networks were measured using structural measures (density, degree centrality and betweenness centrality) as well as common egocentric ones (multiplexity, frequency etc.). The analysis revealed that networks of Ukrainians are not very dense and consist mainly of friends. Friends are important in matters concerning housing, employment, and leisure. By contrast, family is important in more extraordinary situations - for instance, in a financial emergency or to discuss crucial issues. There is also a significant difference between the networks of manual and non-manual workers: manual workers are likely to associate with peers also working in manual labour and their networks are denser than the networks of non-manual workers. In Pilsen, Ukrainians do not form locality-based ethnic communities, and in a long-term perspective their personal networks indicate gradual social integration to the Czech society. 

 

© 2020 by Petr Vašát

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