Accepted paper:

Discomfort and agency: representations of the homeless in contemporary British drama

Authors:

Dorothee Birke (Aarhus University)

Paper short abstract:

The talk discusses how in contemporary British drama, the figure of the homeless character is used to explore the connection between (dis)comfort and agency.

Paper long abstract:

In my talk, I will discuss how in contemporary British drama, the figure of the homeless character is used to explore the connection between (dis)comfort and agency. If, as the call for papers for this panel suggest, "ideals and practices of home are bound up with notions of comfort or comfortableness", having no fixed abode is usually associated with an extreme level of physical, environmental and sociocultural discomfort. I will discuss the different ways in which such discomfort is embedded and evaluated in plays by by Jez Butterworth, Alan Bennett and Nadia Fall. Is it represented as a deprivation, featuring the character as a victim of social inequality? Is it explained as resulting from a lack of homemaking abilities, i.e. a defect on the part of the individual? Or does the play focus on the characters' resilience towards discomfort, or even their embracing of discomfort as an alternative to conventional domesticity? While in the first two cases, discomfort is associated with a lack of agency, in the last case it is, conversely, connected with heightened agency. I will show how the plays negotiate all three cases, thereby evoking as well as critiquing cultural norms of 'proper' home-making behavior. I will further ask to what extent the plays employ strategies that are designed to discomfort the audience in order to emphasize their critique.

panel Home08
Dis)comforts of home: historical and cultural perspectives