SIEF2017 13th Congress: Göttingen, Germany
26-30 March 2017

Habitat in the making: between expert mediations and the poetics of daily life
Location VG 3.107
Date and Start Time 27 March, 2017 at 08:30
Sessions 2


  • Francisco Cruces (UNED) email
  • Fabio Dei (University of Pisa) email

Mail All Convenors

Chair Ben Highmore (University of Sussex)

Short Abstract

This panel examines processes and outcomes of the encounter between expert mediations and dwellers in the habitat. By focusing on devices, practices and narratives of home-making as objects of cultural analysis, we seek to capture their entanglement and the domestic imaginaries involved.

Long Abstract

With its more than 200 million copies, IKEA's catalogue is the book with the largest print run of the world. "Better Homes & Gardens" and "Good Housekeeping" are two of the world's five best-selling magazines. These features indicate to what extent contemporary domestic interiors are fascinating concretions of expert systems mediations in everyday life (Martín-Barbero, 1987; Giddens, 1990). Architects, furniture retailers, lifestyle channels, shelter publications, savoir-vivre treatises and domestic advice books pour out values and advice either incorporated in home-narratives or embodied in household spaces and goods.

Nevertheless, the very idea of "habitat" implies a purposeful involvement on the part of the dwellers: an active search for individual and collective identity through practices of appropriation and signature of the intimate space -a home of one's own.

The aim of this proposal is to examine the processes and outcomes of such encounter. We call for empirical cases documenting domestic negotiations (McElroy, 2006), interactions, and/or contestations between experts and lays in the making of the habitat. How to capture ethnographically their entanglement (Löfgren, 2014)? How can it be theoretically rendered beyond the commonplace metanarratives of consumerism vs. expertise? What dialectics emerge between invention and tradition, standardization and personalization, autonomy and hegemony?

Contributions may focus on concrete domestic devices and arrangements; on practices of house-building, home-improvement and customization; on narratives of the self and the home.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Ordinary things, ubiquitous tastes, patterns of feeling

Author: Ben Highmore (University of Sussex)  email

Short Abstract

In this introduction to the panel, I will consider some of the recent issues and opportunities facing scholars researching domesticity and the material circumstances of home.

Long Abstract

In this paper I will consider some of the recent issues and opportunities facing scholars researching domesticity and the material circumstances of home. I will particularly focus on the relationship between a concern with the material objects of the home (including many that we “use” without noticing) and a renewed interest in affect and the senses. In the light of these interests I argue for a new understanding of taste that shifts it out of the dominant register of symbolic value and into a more experiential realm of feeling.

Ambiguous objects, negotiated relationships. An ethnography about the materiality of the house in the city of Haedo, Buenos Aires

Author: María Florencia Blanco Esmoris (CIS, IDES, CONICET)  email

Short Abstract

This paper presents some preliminary elaborations of a fieldwork at Gloria´s house located in Haedo, Greater Buenos Aires. I intent to think through the concept of assemblages the ambiguous ways in which objects and social relations are (re)updated.

Long Abstract

This contribution proposes an ethnographic experience that seeks to think the assemblages (Deleuze y Guattari, 1980) between social relations and material culture in everyday life. In this regard, point out the several ways in which social agency is materialized.

The first part of the paper outlines ethnographic remnants about Gloria's house in the town of Haedo and the production of the space through objects. The second section lays out various courses of action in which subjectivities are shaped at Gloria´s house in their daily lives. The third section replenishes practical and discursively evoked forms of time and spatial organization. I conclude that the relevant question to make is not what the house and objects as material delimitation mean but what they allow in terms of social agency, forms of making and possibility.

Modern furniture, still lives and daydream: unfolding the domestic universe of Nuevo Estilo

Author: Romina Magdalena Colombo (Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (UNED))  email

Short Abstract

Our aim is to approach the first decade of the magazine Nuevo Estilo from a cultural history perspective. Combining interviews to contributors and readers with archive work, we try to unfold the multiple layers of meaning and practice underlying the shifts in modern dwelling’s structures of feeling.

Long Abstract

From its birth in 1977, the Spanish décor magazine Nuevo Estilo wound very different professionals in a heterogeneous yet coherent yarn of home-making "experts". Decorators, textile specialists, gardeners, furniture retailers, architects and restorers, among others, were brought together to weave the wickers of the "new" -as the title itself stated- in matters of domestic culture as a (narrated and practiced) whole. It offered a representation of the house and the life within, both in their materiality and performativity. But this status (that of a representation) has somehow rendered opaque its very nature of cultural object, inscribed in production and reception dialectics. An approach from cultural history and ethnography, based on archive work and interviews both to contributors and readers, is revealing overlapped layers of unexpected meaning and practice articulated by the magazine. The one corresponding to the exhorted or exorcized ways of knowing and enacting modern dwelling, with its textual and visual rhetorics: the level of discourse so to say. The one of its production, where we find with perplexity that many contributors were not concerned about "decoration" at first instance, but rather about "still lives", for they were committed with the image, not the space (of home). The layer of its reception, where the empiric audience remits to a reading which, far beyond of collecting ideas for decorating, accounts dimensions of pleasure and pain deeply embedded in the sensory and symbolic experience of domestic life and the intimate sphere.

A house that smells like home

Author: Sigrún Hanna Þorgrímsdóttir (University of Iceland)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores narratives of moving house in contemporary Iceland. It focuses on ideas about homely atmosphere and the experience of home in the making. The process of moving house is examined and in particular the importance of smell in the re-making of a home in a new place.

Long Abstract

This paper explores narratives of moving house in contemporary Iceland. It focuses on home experience and the smellscape of home. The homemaking process requires involvement of numerous entangled actors, human and non-human. This process is not always noticeable but becomes especially apparent when moving house. At that point everything becomes upended and the dweller needs to recreate a homely atmosphere in an unfamiliar space. The senses and emotions are very important in this respect and smells become rather tangible and persistent during this transition.

Scent is a crucial factor in the creation of home in a new place. The lingering smell of others results in a feeling of uncanniness, the scent of former habitants must go and "our signature smell" needs to become part of the intimate space. The smell is part of the dwellers identity and a means to make the new place more familiar. Particular scents are considered important aspects of interior design, they are produced and sold as commodities and they are said to make the home personal, welcoming and cosy. The smellscape of home draws forth the encounter of the personal home, cultural ideals and standardisation. It is not always enough to unpack and put everything in place, light a scented candle and you are one step closer to a warm and loving home.

Resettlement of displaced slum habitats: a case study of 'Savda Ghevra' resettlement colony in Delhi

Author: Divya Priyadarshini (Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi, Delhi)  email

Short Abstract

The paper examines as to how the new built in environment of the slum dwellers in new resettlement colony is modified over and utilised to the maximum. It is apparent to understand that displaced households are rebuilt again with lots of efforts and unskilled expertise to make it home again.

Long Abstract

The study on resettling of the displaced families in a new resettlement colony becomes imperative to understand development of the slum dwellers. The present work also explains the immediate needs of the displaced family who have to make a roof over their heads as the housing and shelter form the initial aspect of rebuilding after evictions. The idea of being able to start a new life germinates with the assurance of being able to build a home again in the new resettlement colony. The struggles and negotiations that the displaced slum-dwellers make in order to house themselves in the new colony have also been detailed in this work. For this purpose 'Savda Gherva' resettlement colony of Delhi, India has been taken as a case study for the ethnographic research. The housing of the displaced slum-dwellers are intertwined with the formal rules resulting in difference in the perceptions as it was imagined by the planners. The unskilled yet expert modifications that the slum dwellers adopt to make the space provided habitable provides for an understanding of the everyday 'tactical' practices.

Between design and museal projects: intimate memories shared with the ethnographer

Author: Véronique Dassié (IDEMEC CNRS Aix Marseille University)  email

Short Abstract

Material memories invite designers and curators to consider artefacts as the participants involved in a circular relation between collective cultural considerations and individual practices of the habitant, relation in witch the ethnographer is supposed to embody a form of expert valuation.

Long Abstract

This proposal aims to explore how the ethnographer can be involved in domestic keepsake exhibition to redefine a collective memory and a cultural identity.

Domestic space is the place were personal memory is preserved. These material memories suppose practices of appropriation and signature of the intimate space that seems to be very personal and difficult to share with unknown people. Nevertheless, such an appropriation can appear as a common social practice that museums and designers pay attention to. This paper will explore two different experiences in which the ethnographer became a mediator between material culture and professionals of it. In both cases, its knowledge is request for designer's or museal projects. In the first case, keepsake can be considered as the paroxystical poorly design object. In the second case, it can appear as characteristic of particular lifestyle. But considering the stories produced about it invites the professional to think its place differently in its practice.

This paper will consider domestic artefacts not simply as a lifestyle exhibition resulting of the interaction between production and consummation but as the participants involved in a circular relation between collective cultural considerations and individual practices of the habitant, relation in witch the ethnographer is supposed to embody a form of expert valuation.

Poetics of daily life: signature, displacement and closure

Author: Francisco Cruces (UNED)  email

Short Abstract

Habitat-making is open to a variety of conceptualizations. The ethnographies in this panel show “encounters” between expert and dweller’s practices with a broad range of material, affective, sensorial and poetic implications. I will further elaborate on three features of the poetics of daily life, namely: signature, displacement and closure.

Long Abstract

As a concluding comment on the whole panel, I will reflect on ways of figuring “home making”, both at the empirical level –that of the dweller’s practices- and at the meta-level of expert strategies and analysis (where anthropological reflexivity can be placed). More specifically, I will focus on (a) different conceptualizations of the nature of the “encounter” (or “negotiation” or “contact”) between the knowledge, power and narratives embedded in expert and dweller’s practices that stem from the papers presented; (b) the poetic nature of daily life as production of meaning --through practical displacements of signifiers, as well as through discursive and cognitive resources of closure, of which the key notion of “signature” (Szendy) stands as a main instance; (c) the contrast between some of the dominant contemporary tropes for figuring the intimate sphere: the (posthuman) Sinecdotical Body vs. the (classical, humanistic) Holistic Self.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.