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SIEF2011 10th Congress: Lisbon, Portugal.
17-21 April 2011

(P202)

Home bodies: phenomenological investigations of 'being at home'

Location Tower A, Piso -1, Aud. 1
Date and Start Time 19 Apr, 2011 at 11:30

Convenors

M Nell Quest (Rutgers University) email
Fran Mascia-Lees (Rutgers U) email
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Short Abstract

This panel asks how affect and sensory perception create experiences of home and belonging and how these constitute ways of 'being in the world'. It treats 'senses of home' and sensations of 'being at home' as moments of embodied, sensory engagement with material objects and social/political worlds.

Long Abstract

'Home' is a central conceptualization within the organization of most people's everyday social and material worlds, often understood as a specific intimate place, a sanctuary from the tumultuous public sphere. The idea of 'feeling at home'—a sentiment embedded in complex emotional attachments—is commonly invoked to describe people's comfort within the space of the home as well as within their broader social realms, from neighborhoods to nations. But what of one's 'sense of home' or the sensation of 'being at home'? These conceptualizations focus attention acutely on how affect and sensory perception create experiences of home and on how these experiences create a way of 'being in the world'. To explore people's processes of place-making, these papers draw on recent work in the anthropology of embodiment and the senses to consider the creation of home and belonging as a moment of embodied, sensory engagement with material objects and the social world. The session focuses on how people create a sense of home and being at home through their movements within and between sensuous material and social worlds and on how these sensory experiences take on meaning within larger cultural and political contexts. We welcome papers that interrogate the sensory construction and embodied experiences of home and belonging, whether in people's domestic lives or more broadly in their neighborhoods, communities, cities, or nations.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Displacing 'emplacement': the ambience of home

Authors: M Nell Quest (Rutgers University)  email
Fran Mascia-Lees (Rutgers U)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper grapples with the question of what language to use to access phenomenological and sensory experience without reinscribing divides between subject/object, mind/body, or implications of false fixed or steady states. Building on sensory and phenomenological anthropology, we propose a conceptualization of "ambience" as an alternative to emplacement, "the sensuous interrelationship of body-mind-environment" (Howes 1995), and argue that ambience is better able to attend to the fluidity and process of home as experience. Ethnographically, we explore how ambience creates sensory and embodied experiences of home for populations in the United States and Marseille, France.

Long Abstract

In recent work in anthropology, "emplacement" has been offered as a corrective to the concept of embodiment which bridges the mind/body divide, but, some critics suggests, falls short of revealing the sensory interrelationship of the body and mind to the environment. In conceptualizations of emplacement, the environment is conceived as "both physical and social" as exemplified in the phenomenological experience of "feeling at home," which is constituted by a concatenation "of sensory and social values" (Howes 1995). In this sense, emplacement contrasts with displacement, the feeling of "being homeless." However, with its prefix, "em" (en), "emplacement" expresses conversion or entry into a specified state, suggesting that home is a fixed entity, rather than embodied process. In this paper, we suggest that anthropologists would be better served by focusing on concepts that unfix a sense of spatial boundaries and rootedness. We offer "ambience" with its implication of "lying all around" and immersion in the sensual (as in ambient temperature, ambient light, and ambient sound) as an alternative, exploring how ambience creates sensory and embodied experiences of home for populations in the United States and Marseille, France.

'Homing oneself': home as a practice

Author: Ida Winther (Aarhus University)  email
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Short Abstract

The aim of this paper is to examine how home is done, stretched between everyday life, practices, dreams, loss and cultural ideas of home. There are many homes and ways `to home oneself´. We may use different strategies in order to create a homely feeling and a certain sense of belonging.

Long Abstract

What is home? A building, a concept, a physical and mental phenomenon, an embodied experiences or practice? There are many homes and ways `to home oneself´. Many of us quite often dwell in other places than at home (as professional commuters between two places, as travellers staying in hotels, as children of divorced parents living one week with mom and one week with dad). We spend so much time in and between these movements and settings that we may even (have to learn how to) 'home ourselves'. In other words, we may use different strategies in order to create a homely feeling and a certain sense of belonging. This paper expands on the notion that home indicates more than a house, but also responds to the overuse of the concept home. The aim of this paper is to examine how home is done, stretched between everyday life, practices, dreams, loss and cultural ideas of home. My intention is not to remove home, but to revitalize it to prevent it from turning into a pell-mell or a zombie (Beck 1999). This is important because we are moving away from the hegemonic idea of one home to the tactics of feeling at home, even in more mobile ways. The study is cross-disciplinary, drawing on cultural phenomenology, material culture, the history of ideas and ethnographic fieldwork among commuters.

A home is when you skip the bell

Author: Radharani Pernarcic (Faculty of Arts UL Ljubljana)  email
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Short Abstract

The paper mainly investigates the role of senses in the creation of the feeling of “being at home”. The author argues that such a feeling is established when sensual information are no longer the objects of attention, but become the silent entrance to further scapes.

Long Abstract

The paper firstly investigates for the possible realms, in which a feeling of home can take place. Based on that, the author analyzes a few cases, revealing how in order to create a feeling of being at home, the key role of senses needs to transform from being an object of attention to becoming a silent entrance to our engagement and journey through/with spaces/scapes. This means that sensorial information is no longer something one deals with alone, but rather becomes a tool to deal with the world. What is further at stake, is therefore not only a power of a particular sensation, but also the matter of their presence or absence, the timing and duration of both and finally the coordination and composition between the latter. Furthermore, a feeling of being at home may not necessarily be based on being familiar with certain sensorial information, but may also emerge due to a fluent finding-one's-way even within unfamiliar environments, practices and sensations. Thus, the paper will also discuss the issue of being at home within oneself - as a state of body-mind, regardless of the environment. All in all, it will also stir into the issue of "homeness" in terms of being-with-yourself, rather than familiarity-with-surroundings. In addition, the focus will be put on the question, whether feelings of home may only grow in time and automatically (by living), or could they also be encouraged and produced by our conscious and intentional activity.

The 'not' of being-at-home

Author: Hayder Al-Mohammad (University of Wisconsin-Madison)  email
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Short Abstract

I aim to highlight the tension inherent in the dialectic of the ‘at home in the world’ and the ‘not at home in the world’ by suggesting that the ‘not-at-home’ should not be conceived as opposed to ‘being-at-home’; indeed, the ‘not-at-home’ is a condition of being-at-home.

Long Abstract

Based on fieldwork conducted in Basra, Iraq, I aim to highlight the tensions inherent in the dialectic of 'being at home in the world' and 'not being at home in the world'. Heidegger claims in 'Being and Time' that the 'not-at-home' is human-being's fundamental experience as a being-in-the-world. The question, however, arises: how can being-in-the-world have as its basic experience the 'not-at-home'? One of the moves I want to make is to suggest that the 'not-at-home' should not be conceived as opposed to 'being-at-home'; indeed, the 'not-at-home' is a condition of being-at-home. The ethnographic narrative I use to ambiguate the theoretical picture is concentrated on the figure of Abu-Ahmed who works as a day-labourer in Basra. His attempts to build a secure home and life for his wife and children is constantly thwarted by militia violence, gang robberies and poor economic conditions generally within Iraq. His vascillation between immersment in the social world through work and detachment when he has no work and can do very little, picks out the less cosy relation between human-being and world.

Revisiting the lost home: expressions and experiences of being here and being there

Author: Gesa Bierwerth (Université Laval, Québec, Canada)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper is about the expressions and experiences of homecoming of WWII expellees. It focuses on how these returnees search, find, revisit and symbolically re-inhabit their old houses. Revisiting the birthplace is crucial to the expellee’s apprehension of home in the last stage of their life.

Long Abstract

This paper is about the expressions and experiences of homecoming of WWII expellees. 65 years after the end of the war and 20 years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, German expellees travel back to their homelands in Eastern Europe. My demonstration is based on ethnographic fieldwork with returnees who rediscover the places of their childhood. I focus on the bodily practices of homecoming, namely the way of moving and stopping, of gazing and pointing sites and objects, in order to apprehend the expellees' experiences of being home again.

The returnees' search for their roots is centered on material vestiges. The childhood home functions as the mental starting point of the personal itinerary in the village of origin. They head for their houses and some even seek to cross the threshold. These homecomers actually search, find, revisit and symbolically re-inhabit their old houses. "Being here", back home several decades after the forced departure, is a highly emotional experience that allies retrospection and introspection: rediscovering the house also means to rediscover oneself. Homecoming offers a framework for narration and reflection about Self and the itinerary of life which took a special turn in 1945. Memory might fill up the material vacuum, the absence of tangible vestiges. Thus, the expellee's childhood home resurrects before the inner eye; the returnee actually can "be there", emotionally and even bodily in the intimate past home. Homecoming experiences are crucial to the expellee's apprehension of home in the last stage of their life.

Transnational home: sights and sounds

Author: Carlo Cubero (Tallinn University)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper will address reflexive issues that have arisen in the ongoing process of making a documentary about 'home in movement'. Making an ethnographic documentary requires a sensuous and metaphoric approach to ethnography where expressive practises and materialities are articulated through inter-subjective encounters. “Home” will be articulated as a 'meshwork of paths' that occurs through the movement of people and things.

Long Abstract

This paper will address reflexive issues that have arisen in the ongoing process of making an ethnographic documentary about transnational migrants between West Africa and Western Europe. The plot of the documentary follows specific subjects as they travel across the hemisphere engaging in various practises that are linked to place - ie. music playing in France, Germany, and Benelux and grassroots activism in Burkina Faso. I will be arguing that the process of making an ethnographic documentary about transnational practises requires a sensuous and metaphoric approach to ethnography where expressive practises and materialities are articulated through inter-subjective encounters, which are embedded in the research footage itself. Making a documentary about this process highlights the sensorial dimensions of creating home and provokes the notion of thinking of home as a sensory experience that can be recreated audio-visually. My documentary seeks to articulate "home" as a mobile notion, where place is understood as a 'meshwork of paths' that occurs through the movement of people and things. I will articulate this mobile notion of home by deploying cinematic discourse and practise. In other words, I will talk about what are the results of thinking about the textures and sounds of scenes, actions, rhythms, and character and place these sensory experiences in a broader social context. The paper will address how these themes are coming together in the ongoing process of making this documentary. I will also show edited clips of my research footage.

Building a home in the world

Author: Rachel Harkness (University of Edinburgh)  email
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Short Abstract

Eco-building provides fertile ground for considering people's processes of place-making and what it means to 'be at home'. Attentive to the materials of eco-construction and to builders' embodied and sensory engagements with them, this paper examines the particular 'way' forged by such eco-dwellers.

Long Abstract

This paper considers the creation of experiences of home and the constitution of 'ways of being in the world' through recourse to the literal: to the work of building one's own home and the effort to build it ecologically or sustainably. Exploring the beliefs and practices of a certain group of ecological self-builders, building is shown to be - as the phenomenologists claim - fundamentally linked to thinking and dwelling. The eco-house that is self-built (often by hand) is not only the dweller's 'first universe' as Bachelard famously described it, but also a statement of intent and a guide for future ways of being-in-the-world. The builder-dwellers' sensory engagement with building materials and the social nature of their labour are central to making the process of construction one of being at home in the environment-world (a place at once local and global, human and non-human).

Cultivating gardeners, nurturing home

Author: Jane Nadel-Klein (Trinity College)  email
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Short Abstract

Gardens are personal spaces by which gardeners extend their homes into the realm of nature, through a complex set of social and multisensory engagements. Gardeners and plants develop mutually embodied relationships. In effect, they cultivate each other.

Long Abstract

Gardens are highly personal spaces and a means by which gardeners extend their sense of home outwards from their dwelling's walls. To garden requires a set of specialized knowledge that often is acquired through complex social relationships with other gardeners and horticultural institutions. More than theoretical knowledge is needed, however. The gardener commits herself to a quasi-parental and multi-sensory relationship with plants: accepting responsibility for tending, training and even disciplining leafy bodies so that they conform to the gardener's aesthetic expectations. In turn, the plants, like any offspring, exact their own demands upon the gardener's body. The garden becomes the embodiment of the gardener's desire for home to incorporate a sense of "nature," while the gardener's mind and body are trained to fulfill the garden's needs. The persona of the gardener thus grows along with the garden, producing a habitus that is at once social and individual. In the process of placing and nurturing plants, the gardener transforms both home and self.

Sheep, herding and family farms: sense of home in the Scottish Borderlands

Author: John Gray (University of Adelaide)  email
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Short Abstract

The theme of this paper is to analyse the way in which hill sheep farming people produce a sense of emplacement and belonging through their farming activities in what to outsiders is the foreboding and relatively unproductive landscape of the Scottish borderlands.

Long Abstract

The theme of this paper is to analyse the way in which hill sheep farming people produce a sense of emplacement and belonging in what to outsiders is the foreboding and relatively unproductive landscape of the Scottish borderlands. This sense of home is the produce of three level of movement and consequent attachment to the land that results in a consubstantial relation between person and place. The first level is the way in which generations of hill sheep move over particular locales in the hill grazing, giving birth to and nurturing their lambs and in doing so genetically adapt to the specificities of the landscape. The second level is the organisation of shepherding such that a single herd is responsible for the care and quality of a group of sheep inhabiting a defined area of the hills. As a result of this care which involves a herd's movement around the area inhabited by the sheep, they are seen to embody the stockmanship and skills that define the social personhood of a shepherd. Third, the way in which a matriline of sheep become adapted and bond to the land on which they reside is used as a genetic metaphor for the way a farming family bonds to the land of the farm such that family and farm are experienced as consubstantial.

Dwelling in the presence of a changing forest landscape: social relationships between humans and the physical environment

Author: Håkan Berglund Lake (Umeå University)  email
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Short Abstract

The paper deals with how people encounter and existentially treat changes of the physical environment in places they call home. It will argues that their relationship to the physical environment is lived and is to be considered social and reciprocal in character .

Long Abstract

As a result of quotidian work and care in the place where we live, we become familiar with it, and appropriate it as our own. In this process we simultaneously embody something of ourselves in the place; it gives rise to a sense of being a part of it, or an oneness with it. This phenomenological idea of merger of subject and object, identity and physical environment, is helpful if we want to understand what is happening when people are subjected to changes of the physical environment in places they call home.

In a forested region in northern Sweden, where I currently carry out a fieldwork, the forest land is mainly owned by a big forest company which exploits it for raw material supply and wind power production. As a consequence, the forest landscape becomes changed. For the residents, this implies that new phenomena, something alien, appear in their life worlds. How do people interact with and encompass this otherness? In focusing on the lived, direct, and unreflective relation with the physical appearances, the paper will argue that this relationship is to be considered as social and reciprocal in character between subjects, that is to say an intersubjective relationship. Like the interaction with another person, wind turbines or clear-cut areas have the potential to become a part of them or being separated from them, as an alien other.

Yearning for the sound of Eire: voicing home, hearing exile

Author: Dara Culhane (Simon Fraser University)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper explores relationships between sound, memory and embodied experiences of senses of home and exile. I place analytic focus on voice and accent as embodied sensory expression and experience, and propose directions for methodological development in sensory ethnography.

Long Abstract

This paper explores relationships between sound, memory and embodied experiences of senses of home and exile. Drawing on a reading of letters interwoven with a reflexive account of ethnographic fieldwork, I place analytic focus on voice and accent—spoken, heard, forgotten and remembered-- as constitutive of individual and collective identities, and as embodied sensory expression and experience. "Letters home" are a significant source for explorations of the experience of exile, descriptions of everyday life in Diaspora communities, familial connections across space and time, and relationships to home(s). This paper offers a reading of a collection of letters written by a woman to her sister in Dublin. The archival record begins in 1922 when, accused of engaging in a sexual relationship judged transgressive, the 42- year-old fled Ireland for Montreal, Quebec. It concludes in 1939 when she returned to Dublin. The letter writer was an actress and an elocution teacher for whom listening to and performing voice and accent was a livelihood, an expression of gendered, national and class identity, and a creative relationship to being in the world. Through commentaries on voices she hears, voices she misses, and the responses she senses to her own voice, her letters describe her experiences of exile, and her ambivalent longings for and imaginings of "home" in both places. Led to attention to voice, accent and their relationship to senses of home and identity through this archival research, I offer an analysis of the fieldwork process, and propose directions for methodological development in sensory ethnography.

'This is what home smells like': experiences of air pollution on a First Nations reserve in Canada's 'Chemical Valley'

Author: Deborah Jackson (Earlham College)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper explores how the sense of being at home on a First Nations reserve in Canada is disrupted by air pollution from the surrounding petrochemical plants, with a focus in the sense of smell. I argue that the local smellscape instills in residents a profound sense of the uncanny.

Long Abstract

Aamjiwnaang First Nation is located near Sarnia, Ontario, in the midst of Canada's "Chemical Valley," a concentration of petrochemical facilities producing extraordinary levels of pollution. In this paper, I explore how the sense of being at home on the reserve is disrupted by that pollution; in so doing, I give special attention to air pollution and residents' responses to the associated odors—that is, to the sense of smell. As I analyze what happens when smell becomes the dominant sense through which the homeland is experienced, I draw on C. S. Peirce's semiotic framework to focus on a unique feature of olfaction: smell entails embodiment of the perceived substance and is therefore an index, in Peirce's sense, connecting self and surroundings in profound and transformative ways. Having endured physical dislocations and significant loss of land in the past, most in the present-day community are firmly committed to staying on their remaining land base, which has been home to the Aamjiwnaang First Nation for many generations. Ultimately, I argue that the local smellscape, while having reinforced a positive sense of being at home on the reserve in the past, is now, due to the constant presence of toxic fumes, instilling in residents a profound sense of the uncanny—of not being at home in their otherwise familiar and beloved homeland.

Feeling free and democratic: the politics of being at home at the Russian dacha

Author: Melissa Caldwell (University of California, Santa Cruz)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper explores how Russian dachas (summer cottages) are spaces of civic engagement that foster among Russian citizens the visceral, sensory expression and experience of political values such as freedom, democracy, choice, and resistance to the institutions and forces that structure their everyday lives.

Long Abstract

During the twentieth century, Russian dachas (i.e., summer cottages) and the natural settings in which they are located acquired value as spaces that enable and foster a strong civic life, most notably citizens' engagement with ideals of freedom and populist politics. It is in these rustic and natural settings where Russians claim to experience freedom, comfort, and choice in deeply sensual, visceral ways, and where they feel most capable of expressing their opinions and reorienting their bodily responses to the institutions and forces that otherwise structure and regulate their everyday lives. Russian cottagers (dachniki) contend that the place-world of the dacha encourages a fuller and healthier expression of behaviors and sensory responses than is possible in other realms, such as the confining and desensitizing spaces of cities, workplaces, or apartments. From claims about lowered blood pressure and more restful sleep to affirmations of heightened sensory awareness of time, plants, sociality, and political critique, Russians assert that a multi-dimensional, more authentically physiological human existence is best accessed at their dachas in the countryside. This paper takes up these themes by examining how Russian dachniki feel both "at home" and politically engaged in the countryside. By drawing on research among Russian dachniki, I investigate the processes of "interanimation" that exist at the dacha to understand how Russians' visceral, sensory experiences of political engagement are shaped by, and in turn shape, the natural settings in which they are situated.

Being at home in a summer house

Author: Kerstin Gunnemark (University of Gothenburg)  email
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Short Abstract

Many people appreciate having summer homes in the countryside. The summer houses are often more connected with continuity during a lifetime than the urban home. The research aim is to interpret different comprehensions of the feeling to be at home in a summer house in the era of late modernity.

Long Abstract

Many people appreciate having summer homes in the countryside to complement apartments or private homes in urban areas. It is not unusually that summer houses stands for more continuity in a person's lifetime than the urban home, which has changed addresses several times. One aim of this ethnological project is to discuss the summer homeowners' perceptions of their houses by the Swedish west coast in the present era of late modernity. The purpose is to compare the summer homeowners' identification with their summer homes today, with references to their local and global experiences. Attention will be paid to how urban summer homeowners describe themselves in interplay with the environment; summer homes with historical and esthetical values; private and public spheres in the summer resort. Special focus gives to their memories of houses and artefacts connected to summer experiences from the 1950s and further on. These items will be interpreted as material belongings which are corresponding to social events, for instance meetings with relatives and neighbours. Owners of summer houses also describe their interest for old houses and their preferences considering esthetical values of belongings related to contexts of cultural heritage. The research aim is to interpret different comprehensions of the feeling to be at home in a summer house and local society in the era of late modernity.

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'Being at home' on the battle front

Author: Sonja Hagelstam (Åbo Akademi University)  email
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Short Abstract

This presentation discusses how a sense of home and belonging was created on the battle front by soldiers during WWII, and how this process of place-making was connected to and urged by the civilian family mainly through epistolary dialogues.

Long Abstract

Drawing on four extensive collections of letters written by Finnish soldiers and their families during the war 1941-44, I will discuss how the lodgings on the front gradually were turned into home-like places among the soldiers. The sensory experiences of 'being at home' were constructed through everyday practices, material objects, and civilian traditions and by evoking a sense of warmth, comfort and safety. In addition, the experiences of home were created and mediated in the soldiers' correspondences with their loved ones.

The civilian families participated actively in the process of home-making on the front. They offered to send material objects to make living on the front more homelike and comfortable, and in their letters they acknowledged the feelings of being at home on the front. In relation to the civilian home the lodgings on the front were, however, never perceived as home. The civilian home was the "real home" and the place the soldiers longed for and hoped to return to.

By appropriating the foreign non-place on the front and by turning it into a place of belonging on an emotional level, some sense of normality, continuity and stability could be achieved in the extreme crisis of war. The "home" on the front thus served as a refuge against destruction and chaos on the battle front. This was of great importance in the efforts to overcome the strains of war and in the attempts to bridge the spatial and experiential gap between the front and home.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.