Posts Tagged ‘Geopolitics’

(In)Securities of Home at the RGS-IBG Annual Conference 2012

6 July 2012

Image of (In)Securities of Home at the RGS-IBG Annual Conference 2012

Home emerged as a central theme woven through the RGS-IBG Annual Conference 2012 programme.  That home became positioned as so, is testament to the growth and dynamism of scholarship on critical geographies of home and feminist geopolitics in particular. The latter field, for example, has spear headed analytical moves towards the intersection of geopolitical concerns with those of everyday life. As conference Chair, Chris Philo (2012) indeed notes, ‘It is all too easy for ‘big-S’ Security concerns to crowd out seemingly more mundane matters of ‘small-s’ security, despite the fact that these two facets of S/security cannot but be closely inter-linked’. These entangled geographies are the focus of this blog post, which aims to provide tentative and impressionistic highlights. My review is not exhaustive and I’m sorry I didn’t manage to see all papers identified and listed at the end of this blog on home (a clash between Rachel Pain’s lecture on ‘Bringing terrorism home’ and the Women in Geography Study Group AGM providing a maddening example). Whilst I suggest three main themes which surfaced at AC2012, further ideas are developed in my article ‘Geopolitics of Home’ which is at the proofing stage for Geography Compass.

Home, (in)security and gender: Showcased throughout AC2012, but particularly evident in the Gender, Justice and Security and Home Unmaking sessions, a range of gendered vulnerabilities were exposed, from domestic violence (Bowstead) to home dispossession linked to marital breakdown (Brickell). Kicking off the conference however was Jennifer Fluri’s paper on ‘Citizenship, civilians and scaling the security state: the gendering of civilian sites of (in)securities’. Highlighting US Female Engagement Teams (FETS) in Afghanistan, Jennifer showed the heightened role of female Marines in operationalising access into the ‘private’ terrains of the War on Terror. The presentation explained how the escalation of women’s once denied combat roles had become framed as a step forward in equality as their ‘hidden talents’ were revealed. Described as ‘pioneers’ by Jill Biden (wife of Vice President Joe Biden), the analyses provided stemmed from a White House promotional video:

Watching the film again, despite the rhetorical ‘big step’ forward narrated, the FETs are essentially re-harnessed within a cult of domesticity in which their biology becomes determinate of their public value to the US military. Able to cross sexual boundaries of ‘public’ and ‘private’ wired into Afghan society, uncritical notions of global sisterhood are drawn upon to emphasise natural affinity and shared connections on the basis of gender. Jennifer’s engaging plenary talk, alongside rich work in other sessions, conveys a growing dynamism between critical geographies of home literature and that of political geography broadly defined.

Home, temporality and materiality: Material and ontological security being contingent on different temporalities and temporal moments was a second overarching idea that arose in AC2012. In the first (of two) sessions I convened with Richard Baxter on Home Unmaking, diverse ideas about temporality or ‘churn’ as Jane Jacobs phrased it in question time, could be traced across papers. In her paper on ‘Unmaking Red Road’ (in addition to wider sessions on the demise of the Glasgow estate), Jane carefully documented the gradual hollowing out of the towers earmarked for destruction, from the removal of its inhabitants, to its internal stripping of asbestos. Framed around the material wasting of the building, the paper went on to foreground acute temporal moments that shaped its un-doing, with the death of an ideology of mass housing realised through the spectacle of demolition in June 2012.

Red Road demolition June 2012 (Source: Urban Realm)

From the apocalyptic to the mundane, Richard Baxter’s paper, also on high-rise housing, considered finer grained experiences of the unhomely. Faced with hundreds of cockroaches greeting him, Mr Dobbins’ inability to make home (as pests had) was vividly described as his frequent efforts for permanence were thwarted by a long-standing and ever worsening decline in the exterior integrity of the housing block. Mara Ferreri’s work on property guardians living in Camelot managed UK commercial and residential premises, on the other hand, showed how degradation and temporality can be something that is potential embraced and can even lead to a sense of creative liberation. While glamorised in print magazines and newspapers, Mara sensitively documented what has become central to analyses in the geographies of home literature – the ambiguity of experience – in which inspirational living can come to coexist with stress and anxiety given the lack of occupiers rights in such properties.

Home economics and care: Interpenetrations of home and insecurity were revealed in two particular presentations in which the hard edge of the economy took centre stage. For many years, Susan Smith (2008) has been urging more understanding of the ‘flows of credit and cash which crystallize into (and increasingly seep out of) these structures’. In her lecture at AC2012, this important issue was squarely present as she detailed the growing increase in mortgage debt in the Western world and its intimate relationship to serial equity borrowing by homeowners. The lecture continued to detail the growing insecurity in the housing market with deregulation and families’ growing reliance on such equity withdrawal to bolster incomes and deal with bouts of unemployment, scars of divorce, and the effects of a diminished welfare state.

These circumstances, Susan argues, have rendered home particularly vulnerable to the actions of distanced bankers despite householders’ financial and affective investments in home as a storage cupboard of security. It is this assumed security – and a desire to provision it at whatever cost – that has fuelled, and arguably been exploited by, financiers whose dubious ethics have compounded the vulnerability of those whose are forced to use their tangible assets to off-set the growing economic unsustainability of peoples’ everyday lives. The demand that Susan makes at the end of the lecture for virtuosity and care to be instilled into market innovations is one that was also echoed in Kathy Burrell’s paper on low-income communities of Leicester whose lives have become increasingly under the control of private landlords. Calling for a dedicated focus on these under-studied domestic actors, Kathy shows on a very personal level the lengths that tenants go to circumvent the poor quality of housing they have to contend with due to uncaring landlords. Like Susan, she highlights the constraints that households face, moves to better housing curtailed by unemployment and/or strict tenancy agreements. The presentation also brought to the fore the overlooked question of population turnover as a part of neighbourhood experience and it’s perceived relationship to the unhomely. Again emphasising the significance of temporality, Kathy described how tenants often re-arrange the layout of their homes by moving the living room to the back of their properties so as to distance themselves from the disturbances of the street – children, noise, smell, anti-social behaviour – and a lack of community cohesion which stifles home making. The presentations by Susan and Kathy were particularly complimentary; paving the way for more interlinking between issues pertained to in housing studies and in studies of home.

Beyond AC2012: Overall AC2012 has for me, at least, been a valuable forum for discussing home matters and for emphasising that home matters. As Paula Meth voiced in her paper on the state-led upgrading of informal housing in South Africa, whilst housing stories are not always negative, a focus on insecurities necessitates a political impetuous to fix what is broken. Geographers’ have a role to play in aiding analysis of the security/insecurity nexus so as to politicise claims to justice in, and beyond, the home.

AC2012 papers on home (if I have missed any out please add in the ‘leave a reply’ box below):

Brickell, Katherine – ‘Plates in a basket will rattle’: Marital dissolution and home ‘unmaking’ in contemporary Cambodia.

Baxter, Richard – Unmaking home making? Thinking through unmaking via the domestic high rise in London. Session 119.

Bowstead, Janet – Seeking security/seeking: women’s journeys in response to domestic violence. Session 11.

Burrell, Kathy – The destabilisation of the post-industrial urban home: everyday life in a transient area of Leicester. Session 119.

Carlsson-Hyslop, Anna – Space heating and leisure in the post-war British home. Session 167.

Cohen, Nir & Margalit, Talia – We’re insecure in our own homes: spaces of (sub)urban citizenship in Southern Tel Aviv. Session 197.

Daya, Shari & Wilkins, Nicola  – The body, the shelter, and the shebeen: Affective geographies of homelessness in South Africa. Session 79.

Endres, Marcel – ‘Home is wherever I am’: Dwelling under conditions of extreme mobility. Session 121.

Ferreri, Mara – Security by occupation: home (un)making experiences of precarious live-in guardians. Session 119.

Fluri, Jennifer – Citizenship, civilians and scaling the security state: the gendering of civilian sites of (in)securities. Session 1.

Gilbert, Hannah – Haunting houses, healing hearts: Space, place and the presence of the dead. Session 254.

Humes, Nicholas & Tweed, Christopher – Field study of how consumer use of new heating technologies has affected comfort in the home. Session 126.

Jervis-Reed, Cressida – Home/house/hearth: Narratives of home unmaking in a slum clearance neighbourhood in Delhi. Session 142.

Klaasens, Mirjam & Merijering, Louise – The search for home within an institutional setting: Participatory approach within a healthcare institution in the Netherlands. Session 154.

Jacobs, Jane; Cairns, Stephen & Strebel, Ignaz – Unmaking Red Road. Session 119.

Meth, Paula – No place for binaries? Conceptualising home making and unmaking. Session 142.

Neven, Louis; Walker, Gordon & Brown, Sam – Care, comfort and collective living spaces: the use and impact of sustainable heating technologies in care homes. Session 126.

Pain, Rachel – Bringing terrorism home: fear, security and domestic violence. Session 181.

Raven-Ellison, Menah – Home beyond detention. Session 11.

Saunders, Angharad – Violating the domestic: unmaking the home in Edwardian fiction. Session 142.

Smith, Susan J – Security and insecurity at home: A spatial financial paradox. Session 3.

Stocks-Rankin, Catherine-Rose – Mapping relationships: An exploration of contracting for care homes in Scotland. Session 65.


Geopolitics of Home: Public Domesticity in Hong Kong and London

4 June 2012

Image of Geopolitics of Home: Public Domesticity in Hong Kong and London

This is the first of a series of blogs I will be writing this year on what I call ‘geopolitics of home’. Given recent controversy over the prospect of Londoner’s homes being used as army missile launch pads during the 2012 London Olympics, it feels timely to look at the intimate relationship between home and geopolitics. However, this first post does not begin in my home city of London, but in Hong Kong.

En route to Cambodia recently, I stopped for a few hours in the former British colony. It was a Sunday, the day of the week when public displays of domesticity fill the streets of the central business district. Under HSBC headquarters, the bowels of corporate Asia, I came across two groups of geopolitical actors –Filipino domestic workers and Occupy activists.

Whilst pushed to the periphery of the shaded area under HSBC by Occupy Hong Kong, Filipino maids remain definitive figures in the global political economy of migration. On Sundays, Filipinos largely engaged in domestic work routinely colonize the space of the central business district after attending church. As Lisa Law detailed in her 2001 research, every week the area becomes ‘a home from home for migrant women, a place of remembering and forgetting, and a lively place full of laughter, songs and home cooking’. Defying domestic disappearance, these gatherings are also, according to Law, sites of political agency where migrants form hometown associations that engage in philanthropy and political action at home and support internal migration within the Philippines. Momentarily leaving their home-based working lives, the women domesticate ‘unhomely’ urban space through eating and dancing together.

Dancing in Hong Kong, April 2012 (Source: Katherine Brickell)

Taking root in October 2011, Occupy Hong Kong has also domesticated public/private urban space through the presence of all the paraphernalia of a home away from home. Cooking takes place in makeshift kitchens, flowers are arranged on living room sideboards, bodies relax on sofas placed around the invisible walls of a living room. This public display of domesticity indicates how the materiality of home literally and metaphorically furnishes the legitimacy of the camp’s existence through the creation of a homely space in the face of mounting dissatisfaction with the unaffordability of housing in the city. The tents of Hong Kong are thus a communal expression of dismay, discontent and dispossession in a city which has some of the most expensive property prices in the world. The BBC reports that it is newly affluent mainland Chinese snapping up this property and pushing up prices.

Sunday in Hong Kong under HSBC, April 2012 (Source: Katherine Brickell)

Occupy Hong Kong camp, April 2012 (Source: Katherine Brickell)

Occupy Hong Kong (Source: Remko Tanis)

Returning back to London, there is also the opportunity to think further about these domestication tactics and the politics of inhabitation. In London, this politics settled on the private spaces installed in the St. Paul’s and Finsbury Square camp and the UK media claiming that they were in fact ‘un occupied’ at night. Under such scrutiny, the purported lack of embodied presence overnight undermined the protestors’ legitimacy and commitment. Yet photojournalism catalogues some of the communal and private traces of activity and inhabitance in the tents which according to Ben Roberts ‘serve as a document of the intense utilization of a limited space by a large number of both permanent and temporary residents’. Future studies could thus productively explore how private spaces of political protest can be used to strategically destabilise meanings of public space by highlighting intimate (visual) narratives of domestication. Both the example of Filipino domestic workers and Occupy movements are thus fascinating displays of ‘intimate geopolitics’.

Occupied Spaces, London (Source: Ben Roberts)