Domestic Boundaries, Frontiers & Kitten Filters

This blog post is written by Nicholas Thomas Lee, Assistant Professor, Ph.D., M.Arch.

The County Attorney and the Kitten Filter

On February 9th 2021, Rod Ponton, a county attorney in Presidio County, Texas, entered the 394th Judicial District Court room remotely via Zoom for a routine civil forfeiture case hearing. However, what ensued was anything but ‘normal’ with the lawyer appearing on screen as a talking kitten, unable to establish how to turn off a digital filter unknowingly applied to his camera feed. Immediately following the event, a video that is less than one minute long capturing this interaction went viral on the internet and ends with Ponton proclaiming the now iconic line, “I’m here live, I’m not a cat.”1 While highly amusing, this event highlights the blurring in conventional boundaries between professional / personal and public / private that many people have experienced due to an increased use of videotelephony since the start of the Covid-19 flu pandemic. This breach in established boundaries between public and private has become an everyday occurrence for many people that have had to work remotely from the confines of their home. During the 2nd quarter of 2020 alone, 40% of Danish employees were required to work remotely from their homes, with this statistic rising to an unprecedented 75% within the capital region of Copenhagen.2 With this in mind, we might ask, what has living, and working through successive lockdowns taught us about the boundaries, or perhaps more precisely, the ‘frontiers’3 between the domestic interior and the world outside?

The SARS-CoV-2 virus and the subsequent social restrictions that have been introduced globally with the intention of reducing the spread of its resulting disease Covid-19, have drastically disrupted our daily lives and domestic practices. Many activities, previously reserved for the public domain, such as working, educating, dating, fitness training, job interviews and, as we have seen above, even legal case hearings have suddenly had to take place remotely, within the home. Videotelephony platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, FaceTime & Skype have become the dominant forms of communication between the domestic interior and the world outside. This ‘intrusion’4 into the home of digital devices, such as PCs, laptops, tablets and mobile phones, which support these videotelephony platforms have made the boundaries between inside / outside, exterior / interior, public / private & work / home more porous.

Voyeurism, Vanity & Videotelephony

With the increased use of videotelephony vividly observed since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic,5 many people have experienced a greater public intrusion into their private homes while working remotely. This has placed greater scrutiny on our domestic interiors, décor and the personal belongings displayed within. Since the start of the pandemic, emerging phenomena have highlighted a simultaneous interest from the spectator and a concern by the voyeur for the ‘public’ display of the ‘private’ interior. Suddenly, topics such as voyeurism and vanity have become highly relevant when discussing these ‘threshold conjunctures’ between the home and the world outside that have been heightened by successive lockdowns. Representative examples of this are the Twitter accounts, ‘Room Rater’ and ‘Bookcase Credibility’, both established during the first lockdown in April 2020, with the latter’s sub-title being, “What you say is not as important as the bookcase behind you.”6 As the name suggests, ‘Room Rater’ allows the public to scrutinise the lighting, composition and content of other peoples’ videocall backdrops and then assign them a score out of 10, while ‘Bookcase Credibility’s’ thread contains an extensive archive of screenshots from videocalls where bookcases have played a prominent role. The composition and contents of these bookcases are then meticulously studied and critiqued by an avid and loyal group of Twitter users. Since the start of the Covid-19 flu pandemic and the establishment of lockdowns globally, one could say that the bookshelf has emerged as the preferred backdrop by public figures for conveying a sense of intellectual authority.7

Acts of voyeurism and vanity on the boundaries of the home are far from novel subjects when discussing the domestic interior. The academic and art historian, Linda Stone-Ferrier reflects upon thresholds between the domestic interior and the surrounding neighbourhood in the text, ‘Glimpses, Glances, and Gossip: Seventeenth-century Dutch Paintings of Domestic Interiors on Their Neighbourhood’s Doorstep’ (2020). By highlighting the importance of social interactions on the threshold between the home and its surrounding neighbourhood observed in paintings from the time, Stone-Ferrier challenges the presumption that there was a firm ‘borderline’ that distinguished the private from the public sphere in Dutch society. Of particular interest to Stone-Ferrier are the ‘voorhuis’, or front reception rooms that supported acts of commerce with the surrounding neighbourhood and that functioned as a stage for the private display of personal belongings intended for public scrutiny. Typical of the ‘voorhuis’ were distinctly designed windows and door openings, together with interior mirrored devices that were used to facilitate a reciprocal display / voyeurism between inside and outside. These open doors, windows and mirrored devices functioned as a ‘liminal’ intersection, occupying both sides of the threshold, which “served as the bridge, rather than boundary, between home and street.” (Stone-Ferrier, 2020, p. 29). Within the context of Stone-Ferrier’s study, these thresholds between the home and the neighbourhood are reinterpreted as a vital fluid discourse, rather than as finite boundaries, where the domestic interior was an essential part of its surrounding context. Stone-Ferrier’s reinterpretation of the ‘voorhuis’ and its various specular ‘threshold’ devices can provide us with useful insights on the contemporary phenomenon of remote working from home via videotelephony platforms.

Domestic Boundaries, Bridges & Frontiers

In his text, ‘A Topology of Thresholds’ (2005), the French architect and academic Georges Teyssot also explores ‘threshold conjunctures’, particularly within the domestic realm, through a historical analysis of mirrors, windows, frames and other specular devices. Themes such as voyeurism and vanity appear once again as Teyssot interprets the early 20th century writings of the German philosopher Walter Benjamin and the 19th century French poet and art-critic Charles Baudelaire. While Benjamin’s popular description of the 19th Century bourgeois apartment as a ‘velvet lined box’ for its inhabitants, such as that for a compass casing, places emphasis on the home as a means of protection it also simultaneously highlights that the interior, and its contents are on display. On this point, Benjamin goes as far as to describe a fictional section through the home as being a façade, “…no matter where you open it and cut a section through it, my house remains a facade” (Benjamin, 1982, p.4) While reflecting upon the effect of specular devices on the ‘modern’ home, and in particular window apertures and mirrors, Baudelaire arrives at an analogous conclusion to Benjamin, identifying a collapse in the threshold between interiority and exteriority, whereby the ‘modern’ domestic interior became a ‘private’ façade on ‘public’ display, while simultaneously the person on the street became a voyeur. Teyssot identifies specular devices, particularly mirrors and windows as being central to this collapse in the established threshold between the interior and the exterior. He writes, “Perhaps the modernist inhabitant is not so much to become exteriorized, or nomadic, as to find the home no longer neither simply an interior nor an exterior. ‘Living’ is somehow to now occupy the space between the two, inhabiting the threshold.” (Teyssot, 2005, p.106.) Teyssot’s interest in the ‘space between’ is indebted to the 20th century French philosopher Michel de Certeau’s reconceptualization of threshold ‘limits’ as frontiers that becomes voidal and interstitial, thus turning the boundary into a bridge, an ‘in-between’ or rather ‘a space between,’8 which provides the opportunity for exchanges, encounters and ultimately inhabitation. This understanding of boundary thresholds as bridges is strikingly similar to the observations drawn by Stone-Ferrier earlier.

Let us now return to the question posed at the start of this blog post, ‘What has living, and working through successive lockdowns taught us about the boundaries, or perhaps more precisely, the frontiers between the domestic interior and the world outside?’ The increased use of digital specular devices within the home has undoubtedly led to a greater porosity in the threshold between the domestic interior and the world outside, contesting and condensing traditional spatial limits between private and public domains. In these threshold conjunctures, temporal liminal places are created by these videotelephony interfaces that foster acts of voyeurism and vanity, perhaps represented most vividly by the Twitter accounts, ‘Room Rater’ and ‘Bookcase Credibility’. Through the writings of Stone-Ferrier and Teyssot, we have seen that this greater porosity in the boundary between the home and its surrounding neighbourhood is neither unprecedented, nor necessarily detrimental. In current times, analogue specular devices such as mirrors and windows have been supplemented, and in some cases replaced by digital screens and videotelephony interfaces, whereby we have become accustomed to seeing virtual mirror images of ourselves. Perhaps it is the 17th century Dutch ‘voorhuis’ that provides us with the best analogy for the domestic interior during the pandemic, performing as both a bridge between private and public domains through the facilitation of important social exchanges between the home and its surrounding neighbourhood, as well as a place of commerce.

Concluding Remarks

Over the course of successive lockdowns, many have experienced established boundaries relating to privacy breached, whether it be through the unintended attendance of a talking kitten at a legal case hearing or an impromptu work meeting from the bed. While the SARS-CoV-2 virus has tragically affected so many people globally, perhaps its associated social restrictions can provide an important catalyst for rethinking established boundaries between the domestic interior and the world outside. In the days following his viral kitten filter incident, even Rod Ponton acknowledged the much-needed entertainment that the video clip had given many people struggling with the then ‘new normal’ of remote working. The architectural historian Beatriz Colomina has even identified the bed, once a ‘symbol of intimacy’, as having the potential to become the new multi-purpose place within the home, through a metamorphosis into ‘a piece of public furniture’ (Colomina, 2020, p.29) by accommodating remote working, teaching, shopping and even socializing. Perhaps the domestic interior has once again become an essential part of its surrounding neighbourhood and it is on this ‘frontier,’ or rather, within this ‘in-between realm’ that we must now establish home.

Beatriz Colomina is one of four keynote speakers, who will speak at our conference ‘STAY HOME: New perspectives on the home’ November 10-11 2022 at The Royal Danish Academy in Copenhagen. Read more about the conference and our call for papers here.

Notes

  1. See https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-us-canada-56005428 (Accessed 25th March 2022).
  2. Statistics quoted in the post are taken from Danmarks Statistik. See https://www.dst.dk/da/Statistik/nyheder-analyser-publ/bagtal/2020/2020-09-22-40-pct-arbejde-hjemme-under-nedlukningen (Accessed 25th March 2022).
  3. ‘Frontiers’ here refers to Michel de Certeau’s interpretation of the frontier as an ‘in-between’ or a ‘space between’, whereby the simple act of delimiting a boundary allows for the potential of a passage, a crossing or a bridge to be established. See Certeau, M. (1984) 2011. Chapter IX: Spatial Stories. In Certeau, M. (1984) 2011. The Practice of Everyday Life: Vol. 1. (pp. 115-130). Berkeley: University of California Press.
  4. The French philosopher and prominent cultural critic of the post-war period, Jean Baudrillard has written extensively on the ‘intrusion’ into the home of specular devices and their effect on the ‘virtual’ relations between the ‘outside’ and the allegedly closed sphere of the domestic interior. It should be noted that this ‘intrusion’ has been taking place over many decades, although arguably advanced and expediated greatly by the Covid-19 pandemic. See Baudrillard, J. (1981) 2020. Simulacra and Simulation. Ann Arbor: Michigan University Press. & Baudrillard, J. (1968) 2020. The System of Objects. London: Verso.
  5. Zoom’s sales in the last three months of 2020 were up 370% compared to the fourth quarter of 2019. Over the same period its meeting participants jumped from 10 million to 350 million per day. See https://www.vox.com/recode/21726260/zoom-microsoft-teams-video-conferencing-post-pandemic-coronavirus (Accessed 25th March 2022).
  6. See https://twitter.com/bcredibility (Accessed 25th March 2022).
  7. See https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/01/arts/quarantine-bookcase-coronavirus.html (Accessed 25th March 2022).
  8. See Certeau, M. (1984) 2011. Chapter IX: Spatial Stories. In Certeau, M. (1984) 2011. The Practice of Everyday Life: Vol. 1. (pp. 115-130). Berkeley: University of California Press.

References

Baudelaire, C. (1947). The Mirror. In Paris Spleen. Trans. Louise Varèse. New York: New Directions.

Baudrillard, J. (1981) 2020. Simulacra and Simulation. Ann Arbor: Michigan University Press.

Baudrillard, J. (1968) 2020. The System of Objects. London: Verso.

Benjamin, W. (1982). Das Passagen-Werk, Volume 1 (2 Vols). Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp.

Benjamin, W. (1982) 1999. The Arcades Project. Trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin (based on the German volume edited by Rolf Tiedemann). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Certeau, M. (1984) 2011. Chapter IX: Spatial Stories. In Certeau, M. (1984) 2011. The Practice of Everyday Life: Vol. 1. (pp. 115-130). Berkeley: University of California Press.

Colomina. B. (2020). The Bed in the Age of COVID-19: Uncovering a New Workplace. In Fehlbaum. N. (Eds), Vitra: New Dynamics in the Home (pp. 28-29). E-Paper, Birsfelden, Vitra International AG.

Stone-Ferrier, L. (2020). Glimpses, Glances, and Gossip: Seventeenth-century Dutch Paintings of Domestic Interiors on Their Neighbourhood’s Doorstep. In RACAR: Revue d’art Canadienne / Canadian Art Review, 45(2), (pp. 25–46). Montreal: RACAR

Teyssot, G. (2005). A Topology of Thresholds. In Home Cultures, vol. 2, Issue 1 (p. 89-116) Oxford: Berg Publishers.

STAY HOME Conference

The STAY HOME project will host the international conference STAY HOME: New perspectives on the home on the 10th-11th of November 2022 at the Royal Danish Academy in Copenhagen. We invite speakers to deliver research and design perspectives on the home as a physical, social, digital, and existential place in past, present, and future.

Call for Papers

What is home and how do we relate to, inhabit, shape, experience, and use it? Home is described in terms of shape, space, and scale, but also in terms of experiences, relationships, and emotions. During the corona crisis home became a central yet contested term. What does it mean to stay at home? What makes a home? What about those without a home? The pandemic might be a catalyst for thinking about home in new ways – not only as a safe or as a private space, but maybe also as an unsafe space or a space that is sometimes public or professional. We invite scholars to think with us about the home.

The aim of the conference is to share and discuss new perspectives on the home – in particular perspectives that emerge during crises and may inform future conceptualizations of human dwelling. We invite speakers to deliver research and design perspectives on the home as a physical, social, digital, and existential place in past, present, and future.

STAY HOME: New perspectives on the home is an interdisciplinary conference on the home hosted by the Danish research project STAY HOME: the home during the corona crisis – and after funded by the Carlsberg Foundation (2020-24).  The project investigates practices, experiences, and uses of the home during the corona crisis and afterwards, and includes subprojects on existential experiences, domestic violence, the digitalized home, and the spatial organization of the home. STAY HOME is conducted by an interdisciplinary team from the faculties of Theology and Humanities at the University of Copenhagen, The Royal Danish Academy: School of Architecture, and the IT University of Copenhagen. Read more about the project in English or Danish.

Keynote speakers

Professor Joanne Begiato, School of History, Philosophy and Culture, Oxford Brookes University. Preliminary title: Making the [un]happy home: emotions, bodies, and spaces in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Britain.

Howard Crosby Butler Professor of the History of Architecture Beatriz Colomina, Princeton University School of Architecture.

Chancellor’s Professor Paul Dourish, Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences, University of California, Irvine.

Associate Professor Hanna Reichel, Princeton Theological Seminary. Preliminary title: Home/alone? – Technologies of haunting and belonging.

Topics of interest

Possible topics include but are not limited to:

  • Feeling at home
  • Sharing home
  • Domestic claustrophobia
  • Missing home
  • Absent homes
  • Home and mobility
  • Dwelling and belonging
  • Home as an existential place
  • Forced home
  • Vulnerable safety
  • Home without a house
  • Sense of home
  • Boundaries and thresholds of the home
  • Hybrid homes
  • Imagining home
  • Smart or invasive home

Date and location

The conference takes place on the 10th -11th of November 2022 at The Royal Danish Academy in Copenhagen.

Types of presentations

It is possible to apply with a proposal for a paper presentation, a presentation by a research group or a poster. The conference language is English.

  • Paper presentations are 15-minute presentations based on original research.
  • Research group presentations are 20-minute presentations by a group of researchers working together.
  • Poster-presentations are graphic one-page posters (A2) exhibited throughout the conference and presented in a session dedicated to Q/A and discussion of individual posters.

Application process

The application must include the following:

  • Title of the presentation
  • Indication of type of presentation (paper, group or poster)
  • Full name, affiliation, country of residence, and email address of corresponding presenter
  • Indication of all presenters’ disciplinary backgrounds and affiliations
  • CV of all presenters (pdf)
  • Research abstract (150-300 words) indicating: research objectives, methodology, findings, future scope, and 3-5 key words(pdf)

Please submit your application here no later than April 15 2022 at 12.00 pm CEST/UTC+2.

The proposals will go through peer-review and answers will be sent out appx. 6 weeks after the application deadline. The abstracts are evaluated on the basis of:

  • Originality
  • Scholarly quality
  • Relevance to the conference themes and topics
  • Disciplinary and geographical variation among presentations

We might want to publish selected papers with hitherto unpublished research after the conference.

Practical information

There is no conference fee. The conference includes refreshments during breaks, and it is possible to buy lunch on-site.

We welcome geographical breadth. Non-European scholars may choose to present online if preferred. If you prefer to present online please state this in the application form.

A few travel bursaries up to 400 euros will be available as reimbursements after the conference. Depending on funding, we hope to be able to offer additional bursaries reimbursing travel expenses up to 940 euros.

The travel bursary application must include the following:

  • Motivation for attendance of the conference (max 150 words)
  • Budget showing travel expenses related to the conference
  • Indication of whether you will still be joining the conference or would like to present online if your travel expenses are not fully reimbursed

Please submit your travel bursary application together with your academic application.

Contact

Academic questions should be addressed to PI of STAY HOME, Professor Mette Birkedal Bruun: mbb@teol.ku.dk

Practical questions or questions regarding the application process should be addressed to editor of STAY HOME, Emma Klakk: emma.klakk@teol.ku.dk

Unravelling Silence and Noise in the Archives

Several complex but crucial questions in our interdisciplinary conversations on the archive have continued to resurface as matters worthy of reflection. What is an archive? How do we create them? And how can we mine our archives for individual and collective experiences of the home during the Corona pandemic in accordance with the scholarly requirements of our individual research fields? Since we at STAY HOME are researching materials as varied as architectural models, interviews, and historical documents, as well as working from different theories and methods, we often face dissimilar challenges and possibilities across disciplines. We have, however, also discovered aspects of our archival work which give rise to interdisciplinary conversations.

In this blog post, I will reflect on a series of readings and discussions on the archive carried out in the STAY HOME research group which helped elucidate shared thoughts and concerns. More specifically, I will focus on the varying ways in which silences are embedded in the archives and how these silences are created, negotiated and interpreted through the researcher’s interactions with archives.

Silence, Absence, and Fragments

Archives play a vital role in determining which pasts to preserve for posterity. Over the centuries, shifting archival paradigms have shaped different frameworks regarding the aims and processes of archiving as well as for establishing and maintaining archives (Cook 2013, 97, 196).

The undeniable significance of archives for collective memory and identity formation has led several scholars to critically examine who has established archives, when, to what purpose and to which effect. Consequently, many scholars have argued that archives are inextricably linked to power. Amongst others, Joan M. Schwartz and Terry Cook have argued that “archives are established by the powerful to protect or enhance their position in society. Through archives, the past is controlled.” (Schwartz & Cook 2002, 1). They point out how certain pasts are privileged and others marginalized, and through this process, how archives are permeated by silences and absences. This also makes archives an active site for the negotiation of social power (Schwartz & Cook 2002, 1). As Michel Trouillot pointed out in Silencing the Past (1995) we must keep in mind “the many ways in which the production of historical narratives involves the uneven contribution of competing groups and individuals who have unequal access to the means for such production” (xix). In other words, the processes through which some aspects of the past (and the present) are made invisible is connected to power, and it is vital to critically assess these power dynamics.

Rather than approaching silences as being destructive of the archives, some scholars have argued that researchers should seek to probe the many meanings hidden in and communicated through silences. Writing on oral history interviews, Alexander Freund emphasizes how silences are ambiguous and open to a multitude of interpretations:

Silences may express individual or collective forgetting, collaborative remembering, discomfort, reluctance, (self-)censorship, noncompliance, confrontation, reticence, politeness, fear, anger, deceit, taboos, contemplation, concern for the other, reflection, conformity, or that which need not be told. Some silences are explicit or obvious, others are not.

Freund 2013, 223

The STAY HOME group discussed whose experiences of the home our individual research projects are able to uncover and highlight. In combination, our four different projects give different perspectives on collective and individual experiences during the Corona pandemic, but we will, however, never be able to capture everyone’s experience. We will inevitably still have blind spots as a consequence of our archives and focus.

The Researcher’s Cut

Archival research is enmeshed in a multitude of knowledge practices. Archives are not only fragmented, but as the feminist scholar Maria Tamboukou suggests, archival research is thoroughly fragmented too. In the article “Archival Research: Unravelling Space/Time/Matter Entanglements and Fragments” (2014), she describes how archival work is both shaped by the archives themselves, the theories, notions, and demarcations the researcher is working from, as well as the space and time in which the research takes place.

While working in the archive, researchers always create an archive of their own, Tamboukou states. It is through what she terms “the researcher’s cut” that “archival fragments, theoretical insights, spatio-temporal experiences and material conditions and limitations” are gathered into a unity (631). In other words, the researcher’s questions, interpretations, theoretical insights and (de)selections exist as an interaction between spatial, temporal and material relations alongside similar selective forces within the archive itself (617). The researcher’s cut is therefore “never the consequence of a linear and closed causality of the research hypothesis, questions and theoretical insights that [the researcher] initially brought in the archive” (628).

According to Tamboukou, when we gather and create an archive we always do so from our own perspective. At STAY HOME, we have discussed how the fact that we ourselves have lived through and experienced the Corona pandemic will undeniably influence how we read and what we interpret from our archives. In some cases, it can even be difficult to separate our own experiences, what we have heard from relatives and other relations, and what we have read in our archives from one another. Our own personal experiences will inevitably become part of our archives.

Concluding remarks

Our communal delving into the notion of the archive incited a variety of mutual reflections. Firstly, on the extraordinary limitations and conditions placed on collecting and establishing archives during the Corona pandemic, and its effects on which and whose experiences have been collected. Secondly, on the necessity of considering and listening for silences in our archives and the meanings hidden within them. Thirdly, on the demand for awareness of what has not found a place in our archive or in our researcher’s cut, and on the inevitable partiality of our archives and of our findings. And finally, and most importantly, on permitting these reflections to resurface and to persist.

References

Cook, Terry. “Evidence, Memory, Identity, and Community: Four Shifting Archival Paradigms.” Archival Science 13, no. 2 (2013): 95-120.

Freund, Alexander. “Toward an Ethics of Silence? Negotiating Off-the-Record Events and Identity in Oral History.” In Oral History Off the Record: Toward an Ethnography of Practice, ed. A. Sheftel and S. Zembrzycki (New York: Palgrave Macmillan US, 2013), 223-238.

Schwartz, Joan M. and Terry Cook. “Archives, Records, and Power: The Making of Modern Memory.” Archival Science 2 (2002): 1-19.

Tamboukou, Maria. “Archival Research: Unravelling Space/Time/Matter Entanglements and Fragments.” Qualitative Research 14, no. 5 (2014): 617-633.

Trouillot, Michel-Rolph. Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. Boston, Massachusetts: Beacon Press, 1995.

The digital technologies and the body

In the beginning of the STAY HOME project, we continually returned to a discussion of phenomenology. Recurring questions arose concerning the understanding of phenomena and experiences related to home, body, digital technologies, boundaries, social relations etc. in our different research fields. In this blogpost, I take my point of departure in articles we have discussed in the STAY HOME research group for a brief pondering of the phenomenology of the body and technology. Furthermore, I reflect upon the relationship between human beings, technology and the home during the corona crisis.   

The body and the corona crisis as disturbance

In the philosophical concern with the structures of experience and consciousness, known as phenomenology, human beings are viewed as something different from other objects in the world. A human being is understood as a “being-in-the-world” constituted by its relationship to the very world that it inhabits (Zahavi 2018: 73, 79). It is a phenomenological viewpoint that disturbance makes us notice the objects and space around us in a different way. For example, we notice our body when we experience physical pain (Zahavi 2018: 75-84). The disturbance, which enables us to view our surroundings and ourselves in a different way, is important when examining how we behave within our homes during the corona crisis. We have found that the phenomenological understanding of the role of disturbances is illuminating in this context. One of the questions that grew out of our discussions on phenomenology concerned the effects of the disturbance of the corona crisis on the relationship between technology and the body in the home.

The body and the digital technology

Lars Botin, an associate professor in techno-anthropology and participation at Aalborg University, argues that digital technology is more than a mere object. He understands digital technology as something that “adopts” the human body. It becomes a part of the body and has an impact on how we can gain a perspective on the world. He argues that we do not need to slow down and hold back the evolution of technology and instead proposes a new path,

“…in which human-technology relations and evolutions lead toward a “eutopia” (eutopia = good-place) where our bodies reside and operate with technology on a meaningful and beneficial level. In this eutopia we are embraced by and embrace technology, in this case media and we evolve new identities and bodies that might be cyborgs, goddesses, and/or monsters.”

Botin 2017: 168

Botin argues that technology should be understood as an integrated part of the body (Botin 2017: 168). He avers that humans are constantly moved and shaped by technology and cannot maintain a static and controlling poise and that the media become flesh in this meeting (Botin 2017: 175). “…we are in a position to co-create, co-constitute, co-construct, co-design, and co-shape the way we are in co-relations with media, because we are  through and with the media” (Botin 2017: 176). In short, he understands the body as being always and already in the media and vice versa (Botin 2017: 177). The media as such becomes flesh and body (Botin 2017: 179). In this way, we have new ecstatic bodies, which are variants of the “thick” body, in the phenomenological sense of the physical body. He argues that the human and the digital technology should not be considered as conflicting, but that digital technology brings possibilities and a new bodily understanding (Botin 2017: 181). Botins understading of body and technology have been especially interesting due to the increased use of zoom-meetings, facetime and online activities at home.

The body, the media and the corona crisis

During the corona crisis, the digital technologies have come to play a larger role in education, business meetings, social events, counseling and private relationships because of the restrictions that require us to stay home and keep social distance. An Australian study made during the corona crisis in 2020 by Jess Hardley and Ingrid Richardson, showed that the mobile phone as digital technology was no longer experienced as part of the body because other devices were used more often, and thus the body and the phone can be said to have undergone an uncoupling. Hardley and Richardson investigated how mobile media are “situated” in the domestic environment and suggest that the covid-19 pandemic has altered our experience of “networked corporeality”. They discuss the ambiguity of digital intimacy in the uncoupling of mobile media and the body as a result of a rapid increase in both screen time and time spent at home (Hardley and Richardson 2020: 1). Further, participants experienced some form of detachment from their mobile phone, both physically and affectively, as other interfaces, desktop computers, laptops, tablets and iPads, became the preferred, predominant or required modalities of networked interactions (Hardley and Richardson 2020: 8).

According to Hardley and Richardson’s research, it seems that the participants were removing themselves from an understanding of certain technologies as part of their body. Does it mean that the corona crisis disturbed them in a way that made them view their surroundings anew? Did the changed perspective result in being more aware of their own bodies and their relation to digital technology as the mobile phone, because of the disturbance in their digital? It is interesting if the crisis could cause a disturbance in the relation between body and the mobile phone, and interesting to ponder what this means for the understanding of digital technology as part of our bodies as Botin argues.

Concluding remarks

The question whether digital technologies are a part of the body as an ecstatic body or if they are an extension of the body is interesting in the STAY HOME project for several reasons. In the STAY HOME research group, we have discussed the following questions: 1. what does it mean for the understanding and experience of privacy during the corona crisis if the digital technologies are our body and not something we can remove from ourselves? 2. If the bodily experience in the home can be perceived through digital devices, how does this affect our understanding of zones and boundaries in the home? 3. How can the digital technologies be used to control others and how can they be used to hide the reality, and show only a curated or a digital body in online meetings? 4. How can the understanding and experience of the digital technologies as part of our body or as an extension effect our existential experience of ourselves and effect our everyday being?

The questions raised in the research group will influence or be integrated into our future work. My own theological project will especially include the question of how the understanding and experience of the digital technologies affect us as human beings. Furthermore, with an increased presence of digital technologies in the home, questions of how we as bodies live in the home during times of crisis are crucial.

References

Botin, Lars. 2017. Sublime Embodiment of the Media. Postphenomenology and media: Essays on human-media-world relations. London: Lexington Books.

Hardley J, Richardson I. 2020. Digital placemaking and networked corporeality: Embodied mobile media practices in domestic space during Covid-19. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies. December 2020. doi:10.1177/1354856520979963

Zahavi, Dan. 2018. Spatiality and embodiment. Phenomenology The Basics. Routledge: Taylor & Francis

The notion of home as a gateway for conversation across disciplines

In this blog post, PhD Fellow Katja de Neergaard reflects on a series of readings and discussions on the notion of home between the core researchers of the STAY HOME project.

Challenges when working across disciplines

Much work has been done to delineate the meaning of home, and many terms exist to characterise it: house, household, domestic space, dwelling etc. How a home is described differs across academic fields, and many definitions exist. The multiplicity of the notion of home was apparent in our first meetings on the STAY HOME research project; in the core working-group comprised of a postdoc and three PhDs, we quickly realised that we all brought different notions of the home with us. Maybe not surprisingly, the home is one thing to the architect, another to the theologian and a third to a historian. This poses a challenge in interdisciplinary research. Different notions of home place emphasis on different aspects of the home, influence what we focus on empirically and what we determine as significant for our analysis. Therefore, having different ideas of the home on an interdisciplinary research team can make it difficult to establish a shared vocabulary and direction.

In this blog post I first present some of the many approaches to studying the home, particularly related to my own field of Science and Technology Studies (STS). These are used to briefly illustrate how different notions of home hold different potentials for research because they foster different empirical and analytical paths. Finally, I show how the home served as a gateway into different disciplines of an interdisciplinary research team. By discussing different notions of home, we experienced a greater understanding of the perspectives we each represent. In his way, the notion of home became a (conceptual) place for us to meet as researchers, from which we were able to venture into each other’s fields.

The notion of home in STS

STS is concerned with the mutual relationship between science, technologies and society. Studies within STS focus on understanding how these realms interact and have effects. But even within this discipline, there can be many approaches to studying the home, some of which I will present below.

In some areas of STS, the home is considered in relation to the larger political structures and economies that it is part of. For example, Handel notes that houses are part of larger regimes “in which the home/house is a feature in a wide system of planning, political economies, and state policies” (Handel 2019, 1046). At the same time, others like Madigan et al (1990) note, that house and home are conflated in the term ‘home ownership’ and brings attention to how the physical house is also tied to individual economic resources, personal identity and security.

Other STS scholars examine the home as influenced by “cultural norms and individual fantasies” (Rapport 1998, 8). This includes exploring the relationship between the home and ideas of family, gendered aspects of the home, as well as idealised notions of home. For example, some examine how the distinctions of public and private sphere have produced a notion of home as a place of refuge from the surveillance and expectations of the ‘outside’, while others argue that a sense of security is not a given in all homes.

While cultural norms influence the home, the materiality of the home, including the lay-out, technologies, size etc., also “constrain or facilitate cultural and historical modes of relating between the people who share these spaces” (Mallett 2004, 66). To account for the dialectic relationship between social practices and the physical space, some conceptualise the home as a socio-spatial system. To Saunders and Williams (1988) the home is the fusion of the physical and social unit, and it is in this setting that social relations and institutions come into action and are re-produced. Similarly, Massey argues that place “is constituted by the particular social relations that occur in a specific location, the social effects that arise in this interaction and its ‘positive interrelations with elsewhere’ or outside (1992: 13). By its very nature then the identity of a place is ‘provisional’” (Massey in Mallett 2004, 70). From this perspective then, the physical attributes of the home are deeply intertwined with the relational aspects of the home, as well as the societies they interact with. Furthermore, casting the home as something also always in flux brings attention to processual and practice-oriented perspectives on the home. In this regard, Dourish and Bell argue that we should refrain from assuming that the category of home and domestic are “pregiven and stable, [and that] we need to look at the ways in which it is actively produced” (Dourish and Bell 2011, 6).

A final example of a perspective on the home found within STS, is to approach the home as an experience or a localisable idea (Douglas 1991, 289). Considering the home this way brings attention to notions such as homeland, community, a city, a set of relations or a sense of belonging. In this stream of thought, often propelled by feminist thinkers, the boundaries of home are impermeable. For example, some focus on the relationship between home and journeying, conceptualising the home as a “relational realm from which people venture into the world and to which they generally hope to return” (Case in Mallett 2004, 77). Such ventures out of the home are part of the constitution of home itself, because the movement occurs in relation to the home (Ahmed 1999). In much of this work, the home is examined as phenomenological experiences and states of being, rather than a fixed and stable unit.

The perspectives on home I have described above illustrate the multiplicity of the notion and show that there are many possible approaches, even within my own field. Furthermore, the examples make apparent how various notions of home place emphasis on different aspects of the home, and as such, influence what type of examination of the home is relevant. For example, examining the home as a unit in a larger political system requires a different mode of inquiry than examining the home as phenomenological states of being. Thus, making particular notions of home explicit is important because they influence the research-process by shaping our empirical focus and hold different analytical potentials.

The notion of home as a gateway

With all of these approaches available within one field, bringing together perspectives on an interdisciplinary research team can seem daunting. In fact, coming up with a shared definition on the project would likely prove impossible. However, in the process of grabbling with this and seeking to clarify our respective ideas of home, we realised that we achieved a greater understanding of each other’s disciplines. This became apparent when discussing a perspective that considers the relationship between technologies and societal development, and the effects onto the home. Through Dourish and Bell’s account of how bringing a technology like the vacuum cleaner into homes changed gendered ideas about carpet cleaning and introduced new standards of cleanliness, my fellow researchers were able to better engage with the role of technology from an STS perspective. Likewise, my own understanding was informed by accounts of how the home has been influenced by historic events such as the industrial revolution, which resulted in major changes to patterns of employment and re-configured the distribution of wealth, thereby changing the way domestic life was organised and imagined. Furthermore, I gained a deeper knowledge of how developments in relation to work-life, ideas of comfort and intimacy, become organising principles for the design of domestic spaces.

It became clear to us that the complexity of the notion of home presents us with an opportunity – it is a point of entry into our respective disciplines. Therefore, our aim is not to strive for one common definition of the home. Instead, we seek to inhabit the tension between these different perspectives and allow the notion of home to be a gateway from which we can venture into multiple disciplines. We see this a way of confronting ourselves with any preconceived notions of the home, while achieving a deeper understanding of other perspectives. In doing so, we hope to follow Mallet, who urges conversations about the home between disciplines “that both reflect[] and accommodate[] people’s complex and diverse lived experience of home” (Mallett 2004, 64).

References

Ahmed, Sara. 1999. ‘Home and Away: Narratives of Migration and Estrangement’. International Journal of Cultural Studies 2 (3): 329–47. https://doi.org/10.1177/136787799900200303.

Douglas, Mary. 1991. ‘The Idea of a Home: A Kind of Space’. Social Research 58 (1): 287–307.

Dourish, Paul, and Genevieve Bell. 2011. Divining a Digital Future: Mess and Mythology in Ubiquitous Computing. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Handel, Ariel. 2019. ‘What’s in a Home? Toward a Critical Theory of Housing/Dwelling’. Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space 37 (6): 1045–62. https://doi.org/10.1177/2399654418819104.

Madigan, Ruth, Moira Munro, and Susan J. Smith. 1990. ‘Gender and the Meaning of the Home’. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 14 (4): 625–47. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2427.1990.tb00160.x.

Mallett, Shelley. 2004. ‘Understanding Home: A Critical Review of the Literature’. The Sociological Review 52 (1): 62–89. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-954X.2004.00442.x.

Rapport, Nigel Julian. 1998. ‘“Home and Movement: A Polemic”.’ In Migrants of Identity. Perceptions of Home in a World of Movement., edited by N J Rapport and A. Dawson, 3–38. United Kingdom: Berg.

Saunders, Peter, and Peter Williams. 1988. ‘The Constitution of the Home: Towards a Research Agenda’. Housing Studies 3 (2): 81–93. https://doi.org/10.1080/02673038808720618.

STAY HOME: an interdisciplinary research project

The corona crisis has demanded of individuals, families and societies a complete re-assessment of the functions and boundaries of the home. The lockdown has required that private spaces accommodate typically public activities such as work, school, day-care, exercise, concerts, and religious congregations. Meanwhile, the everyday life of the household has become more segregated and hermetic. These shifts have made visible social, architectural, digital, and existential structures of the home, bringing to the fore risks and potential of relevance for future homes. 

Through an interdisciplinary approach, the STAY HOME project documents experiences and initiatives and identifies new insights and practices regarding the home during the corona crisis. It will trawl ethnographic archives and data generously shared by other corona projects, including The Digitalisation of Everyday Lives during the Corona-crisis (ITU/AAU) and the corona diary project at the National Museum of Copenhagen as well as data gathered by the STAY HOME scholars.

STAY HOME is directed by Professor Mette Birkedal Bruun, and the main research team consists of three PhD students and one assistant professor from four different disciplines at the Faculties of Theology and Humanities (UCPH), the IT University of Copenhagen (ITU) and The Royal Danish Academy, School of Architecture: 

Anne-Milla Wichmann Kristensen’s  work is anchored in Systematic Theology. This PhD project is concerned with existential experiences in the home during the corona crisis, especially experiences of courage and anxiety. It examines the corona crisis through the theological concept of kairos (the right moment), analysing it as an existential crisis, which enables a new perception of time and a new understanding of history and life. Anne-Milla will study an ethnographic archive through the theology of Paul Tillich, asking what the corona crisis means for the experience of courage and anxiety in the home during the 2020s lockdown. 

Katrine Rønsig Larsen’s work is anchored in Family History. This PhD project is concerned with the significance of the corona crisis for experiences with family violence. Employing a history of experience approach, Katrine will analyse the historically and culturally contingent experiences of family violence in the context of societal transformation. Rather than establishing a stable notion of what family violence is and how it is experienced, her dissertation aims to uncover the unstable cultural understandings of violence in the family and to historicise the experience of violence itself.  

Katja de Neergaard’s work is anchored in Science and Technology Studies. This PhD project is concerned with the effects of the lockdown and increased digitalisation on how privacy is understood and enacted. It examines how digital technologies influence individuals’ ability to control and negotiate the thresholds of privacy by asking the following question: How is privacy enacted and transformed as a consequence of an increased digitalisation of the home during the lockdown? By analysing an ethnographic archive collected during the first lockdown from March-June in 2020, and by collecting additional material through digital methods, Katja will interrogate the effects of a welfare state in a state of exception and the consequences on privacy, specifically. 

Nicholas Thomas Lee’s work is anchored in Interior and Spatial Design. His project entitled, Dwelling in a Time of Social Distancing examines the unprecedented demands that the current corona crisis has placed on the private home interior and its architectural arrangement. With a focus on forms of dwelling and how we design and inhabit the domestic built-environment the following question is posited: In the midst of a ‘crisis’ in domestic architecture that has been amplified by the current corona crisis and its associated lockdowns, how might the architect reconceptualise the spatial organisation of the contemporary dwelling interior to better accommodate the needs of its inhabitants? Through ‘research by design’ experiments, the project explores the potential of threshold spaces and polyvalent places in a series of prospective dwellings, in the form of physical scale models and 1:1 spatial probes. 

The interdisciplinary approach of the STAY HOME project is developed in an ongoing exchange between the four researchers and with historical research into the home and its social, spatial, technological and existential implications conducted at the Danish National Research Foundation Centre for Privacy Studies.

This research blog will be concerned with the STAY HOME researchers’ collaborative work with concepts, theories and methods. Taking our point of departure in interdisciplinary discussions and academic exchange within the research team, we will present thoughts and reflections on concepts such as homeexperience, archive etc., which prove to be relevant for our work. We look forward to engaging in and contributing to the dialogues and discussions about The Home and the influence of the corona crisis on the social, digital, architectural and existential characteristics of present and future homes.