Homo Sovieticus Revisited – Anti-Institutionalism, Alcohol and Resistance Among Polish Homeless Men in London



This article looks at the issue of the dramatic rise of street homelessness in London among Polish migrants from the perspective of social anthropology looking at the relationship between structural constraints faced by Polish migrants and their own perception of the social world, their meaning-making practices, norms and values, behavioral patterns. As I will show, focusing just on structural and economic determinants not only offers a simplistic and one-dimensional picture but it also fails to give an explanation and predict what happens if these constraints and exclusionary policies are removed and homeless migrants gain the same set of social rights as the rest of British and EU citizens (which in theory will happen in May 2011). An anthropological approach to the functions, roles and cultural meanings of homelessness, group bonds, masculinities, alcohol consumption, perception of the state and dominant society as voiced by homeless migrants I ’hanged around’ with, reveals that structurally rejected people with particular backgrounds reconstruct communities and form strong ties despite (or because of) a hostile, exclusionary and hegemonic social environment of the neoliberal order. Two conclusions are drawn from this analysis, empirical and theoretical: first, taking both structural and cultural factors into account, the levels of homeless among that group is going to rise, at least in London; second, the set of cultural forms of behavior and social practices described in academic literature as the homo sovieticus syndrome (Wedel 1986, Sztompka 2000, Morawska 1998) proves not only valuable and resourceful in highly individualized, neoliberal and capitalistic society but may in fact be reinforced in new conditions being a productive – socially and culturally - counter-reaction to the neoliberal order of social life in the global city.