Vanity as world-making: Voluntary homelessness in search of meaning

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Franz struggles for promotions, wealth and homeownership in Germany. Momentarily, his success fills him with pride but when emptiness takes over, he leaves job, family and home in search for meaning. Voluntarily homeless, Franz erects a camp in a deserted arsenal in Leipzig where between 60 and 100 rough sleepers live. There he lives purely from what others discard. Others—particularly drug consumers and permanently unemployed people who struggle with emotions of futility and worthlessness due to the value society attaches to labor, housing and health—join soon. Through their focus on community, friendship and sharing, they aim to replace accumulation with essence. However, the vanity they tried to escape, catches up with them when the city begins tearing down the camp to build quartier 416, Leipzig’s most modern district. The project slowly dies and with it the man who initiated it.
By analyzing why successful, career-oriented people walk out of their lives and, simultaneously, how those who never had such success imagine their own self-worth, the article queries the role and place of vanity as self- and societal expectations. People’s search for meaning in a cityscape that seeks to promote success and wealth, allows to analyze social and material dimensions of vanity as emotion and political project/practice. Vanity provides a lens through which to examine existential categories, priorities, and decisions. In this article, I analyse vanity as an entry point to understanding worldviews and processes of world-making
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37-56
Number of pages20
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021


  • homelessness
  • vanity
  • welfare
  • poverty


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