chapter  4
30 Pages

Homeless minds today?

ByPAUL HEELAS, LINDA WOODHEAD

The argument in this chapter derives from reflection on the ‘homeless mind thesis’ as formulated by Peter Berger, Brigitte Berger and Hansfried Kellner in The Homeless Mind: Modernization and Consciousness (1974, orig. 1973). The thesis concerns the turn to the ‘subjectivities’ of the self, a turn which results from loss of confidence in primary institutions, and is seen to result in a situation of homelessness. A crucial contribution to the sociology of modernity, this thesis offers not only a key for explaining the countercultural homelessness of the 1960s, but continuing insights into subsequent developments. Contrary to what the thesis might have led one to expect, however, the counterculture and accompanying homelessness appear to have diminished rather than expanded since the 1960s. Our argument here is that this can be explained in terms of (a) the development of what Berger et al. (1974) term ‘secondary institutions’ which increasingly offer a ‘middle way’ between primary institutions and the fragile resources of the homeless self drawing upon itself and (b) the broadening of the turn to the interior self or life into a more inclusive ‘turn to life’ – whereby life is understood not only as subjective and ‘self-focused’, but as relational, humanitarian, ecological or cosmic. As will be explained in what follows, we believe that these two developments are intimately related, with proliferating secondary institutions supporting the turn to life, and the turn to life enhancing secondary institutions.