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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Senses of place among young people entrenched in a "local" drug scene : an urban ethnography Fast, Danya


In the public imagination, street youth are frequently defined through their relationships with place. Whether because they are viewed as innocent victims or violent criminals, young people who are homeless, destitute and visibly addicted to drugs are often understood to be out-of-place in the public spaces of city centers. This thesis is based on ethnographic fieldwork with a group of street-entrenched youth in Greater Vancouver conducted from January 2008 to January 2013. It included the creation of photography by youth exploring their sense of place in the city over time. Merging phenomenological perspectives on place-making with a focus on the processes of political economy and power that make some place worlds more enduring than others, I demonstrate that sense of place among youth who occupy the margins of urban space is far more complicated than conventional understandings imply. My findings reveal that, among youth, the “local” drug scene was produced in tension with a broader social spatial landscape of power, political economy and possibility, in which various remembered and imagined places were also implicated. In the context of this wider landscape-in-motion, involvement in Vancouver’s inner city drug scene could be articulated as both a sense of belonging and dislocation, “being in the center of something” and “getting lost in the city.” The drug scene could be a frontier of economic opportunity, in which anyone could attempt to stake a claim through activities like street-based drug dealing. And, it could be the site of a strictly enforced moral logic of violence and organized crime. The overarching objective of this thesis is to characterize these complex understandings, experiences and affects, and how they intersected with the regimes of living youth enacted on the streets. I conclude by highlighting that in order to meaningfully address youth’s initiation into and sustained involvement in “risky” forms of drug use and crime in settings like Vancouver, intervention at the level of policy is urgently needed in order to address social suffering across young people’s lives, and the wider geographies they implicate.

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