Trauma, Workfare and the Social Contingency of Precarity and Its Sufferings: The Story of Marius, a Street-Youth



Mark S. Dolson

Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry

October 2014



Based on ethnographic fieldwork in London, Ontario, Canada, with homeless and street-involved youth in a youth drop-in shelter that I call “At Home”, this paper is an ethnographically grounded narrative analysis of interview content and participant observation with a centre focus on my key informant, a youth from Eastern Europe whom I call “Marius”. Like many other street youth, Marius lives a life marked by precarity. His daily life is marked by traumatic memories of abandonment and abuse, which has lead to an inability to work; and structural violence facilitated by Ontario’s workfare program called Ontario Works, especially its mandate that all “participants” (i.e. those in receipt of social assistance, such as Marius) seek employment or face termination of their social assistance check. For Marius, the recounting of traumatic memories at At Home opened up a shared rhetorical space from which he could narratively align himself vis-ŕ-vis other street youth as a victim of precarity and trauma and therefore absolve himself of the onus to find employment. Regardless of his narrative positioning, he is constantly terminated from Ontario Works for not submitting proof of citizenship and proof of job-seeking activities. In conclusion, the only way for Marius to find any form of solace from his past and the constraints of OW is through isolation: a cultural stance that serves as a coping mechanism, and allows Marius to muddle through each day, all the while holding precarity and its pursuant anxiety and depression at bay.





Human Services and Justice Coordinating Committee