Reading Homelessness in Roskilde through James Joyce’s Ulysses

Keld Buciek


Can a reading of James Joyce’s Ulysses contribute to understanding contemporary social geography issues in relation to social policy? Dealing with problems of homelessness in the city of Roskilde, Denmark, this article investigates the extent to which a reading of Ulysses - with a primary focus on the Calypso chapter - could make us wiser in our understanding of contemporary social problems. Could a reading of Joyce help us increase our empathic capacities in our interactions with homeless people and therefore increase our capacities for offering them assistance and care? The article answers this with the ‘Yes’ from Joyce’s famous novel. Homelessness is a complex, multidimensional phenomenon caused by risk factors ranging from structural to institutional, interpersonal, and individual. We should carefully look at the various components structuring homelessness, such as the discourses surrounding homeless people and the framing of their experiences or their concrete encounters with the things (objects and settings) and codes at play in the spaces they (temporarily) inhabit and move through. Literature is important for understanding such phenomena and experiences not only because it reflects on them at the thematic level, but also because it stages and enacts them stylistically from an ‘inside’, subjective perspective. The reading of the theme of homelessness in relation to Joyce’s character Leopold Bloom has made it clear that homelessness should not only be seen in economic or sociological terms, but also in psychological and philosophical terms, as an existential feeling structuring one’s way of being in the world.


James Joyce; homelessness; social geography; loss; coping; empathy; literature; poetry of existence

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