How to Cite

Gorman-Murray, A., & Dowling, R. (2007). Home. M/C Journal, 10(4). https://doi.org/10.5204/mcj.2679
Vol. 10 No. 4 (2007): 'home'
Published 2007-08-01

Previously limited and somewhat neglected as a focus of academic scrutiny, interest in home and domesticity is now growing apace across the humanities and social sciences (Mallett; Blunt, “Cultural Geographies of Home”; Blunt and Dowling). This is evidenced in the recent publication of a range of books on home from various disciplines (Chapman and Hockey; Cieraad; Miller; Chapman; Pink; Blunt and Dowling), the advent in 2004 of a new journal, Home Cultures, focused specifically on the subject of home and domesticity, as well as similar recent special issues in several other journals, including Antipode, Cultural Geographies, Signs and Housing, Theory and Society. This increased interest in the home as a site of social and cultural inquiry reflects a renewed fascination with home and domesticity in the media, popular culture and everyday life. Domestic life is explicitly central to the plot and setting of many popular and/or critically-acclaimed television programs, especially suburban dramas like Neighbours [Australia], Coronation Street [UK], Desperate Housewives [US] and The Secret Life of Us [Australia]. The deeply-held value of home – as a place that must be saved or found – is also keenly represented in films such as The Castle [Australia], Floating Life [Australia], Rabbit-Proof Fence [Australia], House of Sand and Fog [US], My Life as a House [US] and Under the Tuscan Sun [US].

But the prominence of home in popular media imaginaries of Australia and other Western societies runs deeper than as a mere backdrop for entertainment. Perhaps most telling of all is the rise and ratings success of a range of reality and/or lifestyle television programs which provide their audiences with key information on buying, building, renovating, designing and decorating home. In Australia, these include Backyard Blitz , Renovation Rescue, The Block, Changing Rooms, DIY Rescue, Location, Location and Our House. Likewise, popular magazines like Better Homes and Gardens and Australian Vogue Living tell us how to make our homes more beautiful and functional. Other reality programs, meanwhile, focus on how we might secure the borders of our suburban homes (Crimewatch [UK]) and our homeland (Border Security [Australia]). Home is also a strong theme in other media forms and debates, including life writing, novels, art and public dialogue about immigration and national values (see Blunt and Dowling). Indeed, notions of home increasingly frame ‘real world’ experiences, “especially for the historically unprecedented number of people migrating across countries”, where movement and resettlement are often configured through processes of leaving and establishing home (Blunt and Dowling 2).

In this issue of M/C Journal we contribute to these critical voices and popular debates, seeking to further untangle the intricate and multi-layered connections between home and everyday life in the contemporary world. Before introducing the articles comprising this issue, we want to extend some of the key themes that weave through academic and popular discussions of home and domesticity, and which are taken up and extended here by the subsequent articles.

Home is powerful, emotive and multi-faceted. As a basic desire for many, home is saturated with the meanings, memories, emotions, experiences and relationships of everyday life. The idea and place of home is perhaps typically configured through a positive sense of attachment, as a place of belonging, intimacy, security, relationship and selfhood. Indeed, many reinforce their sense of self, their identity, through an investment in their home, whether as house, hometown or homeland. But at the same time, home is not always a well-spring of succour and goodness; others experience alienation, rejection, hostility, danger and fear ‘at home’. Home can be a site of domestic violence or ‘house arrest’; young gay men and lesbians may feel alienated in the family home; asylum seekers are banished from their homelands; indigenous peoples are often dispossessed of their homelands; refugees might be isolated from a sense of belonging in their new home(land)s.

But while this may seriously mitigate the affirmative experience of home, many still yearn for places, both figurative and material, to call ‘home’ – places of support, nourishment and belonging. The experience of violence, loss, marginalisation or dispossession can trigger, in Michael Brown’s words, “the search for a new place to call home”: “it means having to relocate oneself, to leave home and reconfigure it elsewhere” (50). Home, in this sense, understood as an ambiguous site of both belonging and alienation, is not a fixed and static location which ‘grounds’ an essential and unchanging sense of self. Rather, home is a process. If home enfolds and carries some sense of desire for positive feelings of attachment – and the papers in this special issue certainly suggest so, most quite explicitly – then equally this is a relationship that requires ongoing maintenance. Blunt and Dowling call these processes ‘homemaking practices’, and point to how home must be understood as a lived space which is “continually created and recreated through everyday practices” (23). In this way, home is posited as relational – the ever-changing outcome of the ongoing and mediated interaction between self, others and place.

What stands out in much of the above discussion is the deep inter-connection between home, identity and self. Across the humanities and social sciences, home has been keenly explored as a crucial site “for the construction and reconstruction of one’s self” (Young 153). Indeed, Blunt and Dowling contend that “home as a place and an imaginary constitutes identities – people’s sense of themselves are related to and produced through lived and imaginative experiences of home” (24). Thus, through various homemaking practices, individuals generate a sense of self (and social groups produce a sense of collective identity) while they create a place called home. Moreover, as a relational entity, neither home nor identity are fixed, but mutually and ongoingly co-constituted. Homemaking enables changing and cumulative identities to be materialised in and supported by the home (Blunt and Dowling). Unfolding identities are progressively embedded and reflected in the home through both everyday practices and routines (Wise; Young), and accumulating and arranging personally meaningful objects (Marcoux; Noble, “Accumulating Being”). Consequently, as one ‘makes home’, one accumulates a sense of self.

Given these intimate material and affective links between home, self and identity, it is perhaps not surprising that writing about a place called home has often been approached autobiographically (Blunt and Dowling). Emphasising the importance of autobiographical accounts for understanding home, Blunt argues that “through their accounts of personal memories and everyday experiences, life stories provide a particularly rich source for studying home and identity” (“Home and Identity”, 73). We draw attention to the importance of autobiographical accounts of home because this approach is prominent across the papers comprising this issue of M/C Journal. The authors have used autobiographical reflections to consider the meanings of home and processes of homemaking operating at various scales. Three papers – by Brett Mills, Lisa Slater and Nahid Kabir – are explicitly autobiographical, weaving scholarly arguments through deeply personal experiences, and thus providing evocative first-hand accounts of the power of home in the contemporary world. At the same time, several other authors – including Melissa Gregg, Gilbert Caluya and Jennifer Gamble – use personal experiences about home, belonging and exclusion to introduce or illustrate their scholarly contentions about home, self and identity.

As this discussion suggests, home is relational in another way, too: it is the outcome of a relationship between material and imaginative qualities. Home is somewhere – it is situated, located, emplaced. But it is also much more than a location – as suggested by the saying, ‘A house is not a home’. Rather, a house becomes a home when it is imbued with a range of meanings, feelings and experiences by its occupants. Home, thus, is a fusion of the imaginative and affective – what we envision and desire home to be – intertwined with the material and physical – an actual location which can embody and realise our need for belonging, affirmation and sustenance. Blunt and Dowling capture this relationship between emplacement and emotion – the material and the imaginative – with their powerful assertion of home as a spatial imaginary, where “home is neither the dwelling nor the feeling, but the relation between the two” (22). Moreover, they demonstrate that this conceptualisation also detaches ‘home’ from ‘dwelling’ per se, and invokes the creation of home – as a space and feeling of belonging – at sites and scales beyond the domestic house. Instead, as a spatial imaginary, home takes form as “a set of intersecting and variable ideas and feelings, which are related to context, and which construct places, extend across spaces and scales, and connects places” (Blunt and Dowling 2).

The concept of home, then, entails complex scalarity: indeed, it is a multi-scalar spatial imaginary. Put quite simply, scale is a geographical concept which draws attention to the layered arenas of everyday life – body, house, neighbourhood, city, region, nation and globe, for instance – and this terminology can help extend our understanding of home. Certainly, for many, house and home are conflated, so that a sense of home is coterminous with a physical dwelling structure (e.g. Dupuis and Thorns). For others, however, home is signified by intimate familial or community relationships which extend beyond the residence and stretch across a neighbourhood (e.g. Moss). And moreover, without contradiction, we can speak of hometowns and homelands, so that home can be felt at the scale of the town, city, region or nation (e.g. Blunt, Domicile and Diaspora). For others – international migrants and refugees, global workers, communities of mixed descent – home can be stretched into transnational belongings (e.g. Blunt, “Cultural Geographies of Home”).

But this notion of home as a multi-scalar spatial imaginary is yet more complicated. While the above arenas (house, neighbourhood, nation, globe, etc.) are often simply posited as discrete territories, they also intersect and interact in complex ways (Massey; Marston). Extending this perspective, we can grasp the possibility of personal and collective homemaking processes operating across multiple scales simultaneously. For instance, making a house into a home invariably involves generating a sense of home and familiarity in a wider neighbourhood or nation-state. Indeed, Greg Noble points out that homemaking at the scale of the dwelling can be inflected by broader social and national values which are reflected materially in the house, in “the furniture of everyday life” (“Comfortable and Relaxed”, 55) – landscape paintings and national flags and ornaments, for example. He demonstrates that “homes articulate domestic spaces to national experience” (54). For others – those moving internationally between nation-states – domestic practices in dwelling structures are informed by cultural values and social ideals which extend well beyond the nation of settlement. Everyday domestic practices from one’s ‘land of origin’ are integral for ‘making home’ in a new house, neighbourhood and country at the same time (Hage). Many of the papers in this issue reflect upon the multi-scalarity of homemaking processes, showing how home must be generated across the multiple intersecting arenas of everyday life simultaneously.

Indeed, given this prominence across the papers, we have chosen to use the scale of home as our organising principle for this issue. We begin with the links between the body – the geography closest to our skin (McDowell) – the home, and other scales, and then wind our way out through evocations of home at the intersecting scales of the house, the neighbourhood, the city, the nation and the diasporic. The rhetoric of home and belonging not only suggests which types of places can be posited as home (e.g. houses, neighbourhoods, nations), but also valorises some social relations and embodied identities as homely and others as unhomely (Blunt and Dowling; Gorman-Murray). The dominant ideology of home in the Anglophonic West revolves around the imaginary ‘ideal’ of white, middle-class, heterosexual nuclear family households in suburban dwellings (Blunt and Dowling). In our lead paper, Melissa Gregg explores how the ongoing normalisation of this particular conception of home in Australian politico-cultural discourse affects two marginalised social groups – sexual minorities and indigenous Australians. Her analysis is timely, responding to recent political attention to the domestic lives of both groups. Scrutinising the disciplinary power of ‘normal homes’, Gregg explores how unhomely (queer and indigenous) subjects and relationships unsettle the links between homely bodies, ideal household forms and national belonging in politico-cultural rhetoric. Importantly, she draws attention to the common experiences of these marginalised groups, urging “queer and black activists to join forces against wider tendencies that affect both communities”.

Our first few papers then continue to investigate intersections between bodies, houses and neighbourhoods. Moving to the American context – but quite recognisable in Australia – Lisa Roney examines the connection between bodies and houses on the US lifestyle program, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, in which families with disabled members are over-represented as subjects in need of home renovations. Like Gregg, Roney demonstrates that the rhetoric of home is haunted by the issue of ‘normalisation’ – in this case, EMHE ‘corrects’ and normalises disabled bodies through providing ‘ideal’ houses. In doing so, there is often a disjuncture between the homely ideal and what would be most helpful for the everyday domestic lives of these subjects. From an architectural perspective, Marian Macken also considers the disjuncture between bodily practices, inhabitation and ideal houses. While traditional documentation of house designs in working drawings capture “the house at an ideal moment in time”, Macken argues for post factum documentation of the house, a more dynamic form of architectural recording produced ‘after-the-event’ which interprets ‘the existing’ rather than the ideal. This type of documentation responds to the needs of the body in the inhabited space of domestic architecture, representing the flurry of occupancy, “the changes and traces the inhabitants make upon” the space of the house.

Gilbert Caluya also explores the links between bodies and ideal houses, but from a different viewpoint – that of the perceived need for heightened home security in contemporary suburban Australia. With the rise of electronic home security systems, our houses have become extensions of our bodies – ‘architectural nervous systems’ which extend our eyes, ears and senses through modern security technologies. The desire for home security is predicated on controlling the interplay between the house and wider scales – the need to create a private and secure defensible space in hostile suburbia. But at the same time, heightened home security measures ironically connect the mediated home into a global network of electronic grids and military technologies. Thus, new forms of electronic home security stretch home from the body to the globe. Irmi Karl also considers the connections between technologies and subjectivities in domestic space. Her UK-based ethnographic analysis of lesbians’ techo-practices at home also considers, like Gregg, tactics of resistance to the normalisation of the heterosexual nuclear family home. Karl focuses on the TV set as a ‘straightening device’ – both through its presence as a key marker of ‘family homes’ and through the heteronormative content of programming – while at the same time investigating how her lesbian respondents renegotiated the domestic through practices which resisted the hetero-regulation of the TV – through watching certain videos, for instance, or even hiding the TV set away.

Susan Thompson employs a similar ethnographic approach to understanding domestic practices which challenge normative meanings of home, but her subject is quite different. In an Australian-based study, Thompson explores meanings of home in the wake of relationship breakdown of heterosexual couples. For her respondents, their houses embodied their relationships in profoundly symbolic and physical ways. The deterioration and end of their relationships was mirrored in the material state of the house. The end of a relationship also affected homely, familiar connections to the wider neighbourhood. But there was also hope: new houses became sources of empowerment for former partners, and new meanings of home were created in the transition to a new life. Brett Mills also explores meanings of home at different scales – the house, neighbourhood and city – but returns to the focus on television and media technologies. His is a personal, but scholarly, response to seeing his own home on the television program Torchwood, filmed in Cardiff, UK. Mills thus puts a new twist on autobiographical narratives of home and identity: he uses this approach to examine the link between home and media portrayals, and how personal reactions to “seeing your home on television” change everyday perceptions of home at the scales of the house, neighbourhood and city. His reflection on “what happens when your home is on television” is solidly but unobtrusively interwoven with scholarly work on home and media, and speaks to the productive tension of home as material and imaginative.

As the above suggests, especially with Mills’s paper, we have begun to move from the homely connections between bodies and houses to focus on those between houses, neighbourhoods and beyond. The next few papers extend these wider connections. Peter Pugsley provides a critical analysis of the meaning of domestic settings in three highly-successful Singaporean sitcoms. He argues that the domestic setting in these sitcoms has a crucial function in the Singaporean nation-state, linking the domestic home and national homeland: it is “a valuable site for national identities to be played out” in terms of the dominant modes of culture and language. Thus, in these domestic spaces, national values are normalised and disseminated – including the valorisation of multiculturalism, the dominance of Chinese cultural norms, benign patriarchy, and ‘proper’ educated English. Donna Lee Brien, Leonie Rutherford and Rosemary Williamson also demonstrate the interplay between ‘private’ and ‘public’ spaces and values in their case studies of the domestic sphere in cyberspace, examining three online communities which revolve around normatively domestic activities – pet-keeping, crafting and cooking. Their compelling case studies provide new ways to understand the space of the home. Home can be ‘stretched’ across public and private, virtual and physical spaces, so that “online communities can be seen to be domesticated, but, equally … the activities and relationships that have traditionally defined the home are not limited to the physical space of the house”. Furthermore, as they contend in their conclusion, these extra-domestic networks “can significantly modify practices and routines in the physical home”.

Jennifer Gamble also considers the interplay of the virtual and the physical, and how home is not confined to the physical house. Indeed, the domestic is almost completely absent from the new configurations of home she offers: she conceptualises home as a ‘holding environment’ which services our needs and provides care, support and ontological security. Gamble speculates on the possibility of a holding environment which spans the real and virtual worlds, encompassing email, chatrooms and digital social networks. Importantly, she also considers what happens when there are ruptures and breaks in the holding environment, and how physical or virtual dimensions can compensate for these instances. Also rescaling home beyond the domestic, Alexandra Ludewig investigates concepts of home at the scale of the nation-state or ‘homeland’. She focuses on the example of Germany since World War II, and especially since re-unification, and provides an engaging discussion of the articulation between home and the German concept of ‘Heimat’. She shows how Heimat is ambivalent – it is hard to grasp the sense of longing for homeland until it is gone. Thus, Heimat is something that must be constantly reconfigured and maintained. Taken up in a critical manner, it also attains positive values, and Ludewig suggests how Heimat can be employed to address the Australian context of homeland (in)security and questions of indigenous belonging in the contemporary nation-state.

Indeed, the next couple of papers focus on the vexed issue of building a sense home and belonging at the scale of the nation-state for non-indigenous Australians. Lisa Slater’s powerful autobiographical reflection considers how non-indigenous Australians might find a sense of home and belonging while recognising prior indigenous ownership of the land. She critically reflects upon “how non-indigenous subjects are positioned in relation to the original owners not through migrancy but through possession”. Slater urges us to “know our place” – we need not despair, but use such remorse in a productive manner to remake our sense of home in Australia – a sense of home sensitive to and respectful of indigenous rights. Nahid Kabir also provides an evocative and powerful autobiographical narrative about finding a sense of home and belonging in Australia for another group ‘beyond the pale’ – Muslim Australians. Hers is a first-hand account of learning to ‘feel at home’ in Australia. She asks some tough questions of both Muslim and non-Muslim Australians about how to accommodate difference in this country. Moreover, her account shows the homing processes of diasporic subjects – transnational homemaking practices which span several countries, and which enable individuals and social groups to generate senses of belonging which cross multiple borders simultaneously.

Our final paper also contemplates the homing desires of diasporic subjects and the call of homelands – at the same time bringing our attention back to home at the scales of the house, neighbourhood, city and nation. As such, Wendy Varney’s paper brings us full circle, lucidly invoking home as a multi-scalar spatial imaginary by exploring the diverse and complex themes of home in popular music. Given the prevalence of yearnings about home in music, it is surprising so little work has explored the powerful conceptions of home disseminated in and through this widespread and highly mobile media form. Varney’s analysis thus makes an important contribution to our understandings of home presented in media discourses in the contemporary world, and its multi-scalar range is a fitting way to bring this issue to a close.

Finally, we want to draw attention to the cover art by Rohan Tate that opens our issue. A Sydney-based photographer, Tate is interested in the design of house, home and the domestic form, both in terms of exteriors and interiors. This image from suburban Sydney captures the shifting styles of home in suburban Australia, giving us a crisp juxtaposition between modern and (re-valued) traditional housing forms.

Bringing this issue together has been quite a task. We received 60 high quality submissions, and selecting the final 14 papers was a difficult process. Due to limits on the size of the issue, several good papers were left out. We thank the reviewers for taking the time to provide such thorough and useful reports, and encourage those authors who did not make it into this issue to keep seeking outlets for their work. The number of excellent submissions shows that home continues to be a growing and engaging theme in social and cultural inquiry. As editors, we hope that this issue of M/C Journal will make a vital contribution to this important range of scholarship, bringing together 14 new and innovative perspectives on the experience, location, creation and meaning of home in the contemporary world.

Author Biographies

Andrew Gorman-Murray


Robyn Dowling