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This article proposes that the social lives of homeless young people are structured by two strategies: autonomy and relatedness. The strategy of autonomy is the prevailing modus operandi of homeless young people who respond to the uncertainty and instability of their lives with a defiant independence and self-reliance. However, their propensity to self-interested autonomy exacerbates a sense of isolation, alienation and loneliness, which leads to the strategy of relatedness. These strategies are responses to instability that take divergent, and even contradictory, approaches to dealing with the conditions of youth homelessness. There is a complex interaction between these two strategies, with homeless young people's social lives and the conditions of their lives structured by the seeming incompatibility of autonomy and relatedness. This article draws on ethnographic research and 12 months of participant observation to provide an understanding of the strategies of autonomy and relatedness as they pertain to the lives to homeless young people. The strategies of autonomy and relatedness capture the recurring themes and organising sentiments in the lives of homeless young people whilst still acknowledging the diverse, inventive and unlimited variety of practices enacted by this heterogeneous group of people.


Institute of Child Protection Studies

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Journal Article

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