Public Space and Visible Poverty: Research Fields without Exit

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Selling the magazine The Big Issue, and begging for change, are distinct activities. Nevertheless, in the context of public spaces, both are recognisable as phenomena of visible poverty. Although these are not equivalents, they entail and are characterised by resemblances: beggars and vendors align themselves with pedestrian traffic flows in order to elicit money from, or sell magazines to, passers-by. These alignments are recoverable through detailed observation of the practices they involve, such as orienting to the temporal organisation of specific locations for maximum pedestrian traffic, close attention to and exploitation of the sequential environments that constitute public spaces, positioning within or standing just outside the pedestrian flows, using glance-available categories to increase opportunities for donations or sales. This chapter reports on two fieldwork experiences. One was observational team ethnography. The other involved a fieldworker with a single informant, in interview and tutorial activity. A tutorial, through which a seller of The Big Issue instructed the fieldworker to use pedestrian flows as a resource, is not subject to the reductions of positional reflexivity. Instead, this tutorial illustrates the contingencies of methods, as seen from the vantage point of the seller, with implications for the use of video data. Description and analysis was informed by an agenda-setting study of public spaces as categorial and sequential environments, which had a decisive influence upon subsequent studies of turn-taking systems. Once the self-replication and categorial organisation of pavement cultures are recognised, public spaces become fieldwork settings without exit.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLeaving the Field
Subtitle of host publicationMethodological Insights from Ethnographic Exits
Place of PublicationManchester
PublisherManchester University Press
Number of pages13
ISBN (Print)978-1-5261-5765-2
Publication statusPublished online - 4 Jul 2023


  • Area Knowledge
  • Begging
  • Pavement Culture
  • Praxeological Ethnography
  • Preference Rules
  • Sociology of Everyday Life
  • Street Ethnography
  • The Big Issue
  • Visible Poverty


Dive into the research topics of 'Public Space and Visible Poverty: Research Fields without Exit'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this