Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Words Past/Images Present/Future Invisible: Looking Beyond "Today" in Narratives of Homelessness

Professor Cynthia Joyce Miller.

For some, the notion of the future is an elusive privilege - the past and present weigh far too heavily to allow forward movement in life or imagination. This is often the case for homeless individuals. Afforded little space in either the history of a community or its future, the homeless often exist in a bracketed present, comprised of a succession of "todays". The future, either individual or collective, becomes distant, unattainable, and irrelevant to meeting the challenges of the moment.

Drawing on oral, written, and visual narratives, this paper explores the strained relationship between homelessness and the future. It examines future orientation among a group of Boston's homeless, and investigates contexts through which these individuals engage with the progression of their lifecourses - highlighting those moments in which they attempt project, or resist projecting, their identities and imaginings into the time beyond "today". Using interdisciplinary methodologies, such as narrative histories, place biographies, photo essays, and dramatization, the project explores the ways in which this group of homeless individuals envision their own futures and those of their communities - and the places where the two might intertwine.


Professor Cynthia Joyce Miller  (United States)
Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies
Emerson College

I am a cultural anthropologist, specializing in community development, environment, and place-based identity. My research has included studies of the social impacts of visual media on rural communities in India and the Yucatan, immigrants' social and spatial recreations of homelands, and my current project on ecological identity and homelessness, which includes a visual component, "Images from the Streets". My teaching includes courses on urban studies, social activism, and community building, with an emphasis on community-based learning and arts for social change. My published work has appeared in Women's Studies Quarterly, Human Organization, ISLE (The Journal for the Study of Literature and the Environment), Culture and Power, The Journal of Cultural Geography, and Anthropologica. My work in visual media has appeared in several volumes published by the International Library of Photography, and the sociology journal, Contexts.

  • Homelessness
  • Life narrative
  • Future orientation

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)