Home is where the sledgehammer swings
John Collins (CUNY)
Paper short abstract:
This paper explores the affective basis of belonging as enacted in the demolition of private homes by undocumented immigrant workers in Queens, New York. It focuses on conceptions of home and the unhomely put forth by workers who demolish domestic spaces while working far from their own homes.
Paper long abstract:
This paper about the sentimental contours of home in the context of western Queens' immigrant-powered construction boom is based on two years of participant observation with Ecuadorean and Mexican undocumented workers in New York's demolition industry. It engages infrastructure as both a concrete form and structure of feeling by following workers as they seek, or fail to seek, to make sense of the domestic spaces they demolish. How do single men paid to destroy others' homes while far from their own families conceptualize the infrastructure of belonging? How does absence, and the feelings it produces and which render it legible, become tangible in relation to architecture and domestic objects? My responses to these questions, which are influenced by Freud's conceptualization of the unhomely as a form of alienation, turn on a close examination of the methods used in demolition, the comments and bodily dispositions evinced by workers, and their treatment of household architectures and objects as they intuit histories and functions for the spaces they demolish. The paper thus speaks concretely to the ways subjects make themselves at home in the world while engaging that which is not physically present, but nonetheless palpably unsettling.
The anthropology of infrastructure: ordering people, places, and imaginaries