Hungary today is the only country in the world that has encoded in its constitution the possibility of penalizing homelessness in public spaces. The intensity of criminalization of homelessness in recent years has given rise to a tug-of-war between the ruling party and grassroots activists. This dissertation explores the politics of homelessness in Budapest from three interlocking perspectives, drawing on primary historical sources, social science literature in English and Hungarian, the secondary analysis of a participatory action research project as well as the author’s experiences as a housing rights activist. It will first examine how the state has addressed homelessness as the most extreme manifestation of a severe lack of affordable housing, or “housing poverty,” throughout the 20th century. While the dissertation sheds light on a number of attempts by the state to intervene, it ultimately demonstrates public authorities’ failure to appropriately address the prolonged housing crisis. Second, the dissertation illuminates the role of grassroots efforts in shaping public responses to housing poverty and homelessness from the early 1900s to the present. Revealing a long and largely unknown history of citizen activism for housing and dignity, the dissertation points out the fragmented nature of these struggles and argues for the need to develop more sustained strategic organizing to achieve housing justice.

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Thirdly, the dissertation discusses the role of social scientists in advancing progressive social transformation, especially in the field of housing rights, by examining ethnography from below and participatory action research as two different, but equally valuable approaches to engaged social science. In a broader context, while the dissertation identifies moral exclusion as the cultural-ideological underpinning of penal approaches to poverty, it argues that the radical rise of the criminal paradigm is a symptom of a larger social, political and economic crisis of the post-socialist Hungarian state. In terms of new directions, the dissertation identifies the current dominant social construction of homelessness as a major hindrance to challenging the dominant paradigm of management and criminalization. As a result, it argues that a radical redefinition of homelessness is necessary to address housing inadequacy in a just, inclusive and sustainable way.

by Udvarhelyi, Eva Tessza, Ph.D., CITY UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK

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