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Home is…

April 8, 2013

Considerating the effect post 9/11 security measures and terror talk are having on people’s experience of and creation of home environments, Setha M. Low writes:

Home is defined as a haven in the turbulent seas of urban life (Appleyard 1979). It embodies the familiar, a place where residents are comfortable and feel at ease. Home anchors place identity by providing a locale perceived as ‘‘ours’’ that acts as a symbol of self (Marcus 1976, 1997). Thus, a home is not simply a place to live, but encompasses a wide variety of personal concerns, such as aspirations, motivations and values, as well as physical well-being and lifestyle choices (Hayward 1975, Feldman 1990). The emotions associated with this concept of home are predominantly positive, including feelings of love, warmth, trust and understanding, combined with comfort, relaxation and security. Home, though, is also a defended place, even a fortified castle, where residents retreat from the outside world (Ladd 1977, Fried 1963, 2000).
There are two ways in which home is emotionally rewarded and rewarding. The first is ‘‘proactive’’, and includes the association of love, warmth, trust, comfort and relaxation. The second is ‘‘reactive’’, associated with defensive feelings and a desire to be protected from perceived and imagined dangers. Proactive aspects are generally positive; reactive aspects may also be positive – such as security and safety – but they [-p.] also remind residents of their vulnerability. A useful metaphor is a fort or castle where the interior living quarters represent safety and protection – the proactive aspects of home, while reactive aspects are symbolized by the high wall, the drawbridge gate, and the moat, militaristic elements built to defend the life within. Historically, the meaning of home changes during the 17th and 18th centuries, when it begins to be associated with personal and domestic circumstances rather than one’s native village or birthplace. In Northern Europe during the early Renaissance the house or dwelling became ‘‘domestic architecture’’. With the urbanization of northwestern Europe, the home is separated from the workplace and becomes a stronghold of family living for the upper and middle-classes, while poorer families and lower-class women continue to labour where they live (Janeway 1971). During the 18th century, the house, as the architectural representation of home, emerges based on increasing middle-class wealth, and the demand for more informality and comfort by the ruling class (Holt 1966). For Walter Benjamin (1999) it becomes an interior private space of collected objects without use-value, reaffirming the fantasy of an all-consuming, modern life. Not until the late 19th and early 20th centuries does home life take on the mystique of a sacred space overseen by women who protect family morality from the dangerous public realm of the street (Hayden 2003, 2002, Wright 1981).

Many of the proactive meanings of home such as ‘‘the heart and hearth of moral guidance’’, nurturing, emotional support, and home cooking derive from myths and idealized memories that obscure working women’s hardships and the ennui of middle-class women trapped in isolated living situations. Throughout this epoch, home encompasses associations and feelings dependent on an individual’s experience, physical location and social mobility.
Now, in the late 20th and early 21st century, the proactive and idealized emotions of home are being encroached upon by increased globalization, economic restructuring and political instability that characterize the post-industrial, post-Cold War, and post-9/11 period. Rapid transformations in social, economic and political conditions are producing new structures of feeling, and disrupting local environments in ways that influence people’s experience of home (Williams 1977, Low & Smith 2006). The Bush regime’s war on Iraq, terrorism, and stepped-up media reporting of violence and natural disasters has created a national ethos of paranoia and culture of fear embodied by institutions such as the Homeland Security Administration (Glassner 1999, White 2005). Locally, increasing socioeconomic inequality, cultural diversity, racism, downward mobility and social exclusion reinforce the sense that something is wrong and that the moorings of the middle-class are shifting, reinforcing the salience of reactive feelings and defensive strategies reflected in the everyday discourse of residents (Low 2003, Newman 1993, Young 1999). The feelings of insecurity, fear, paranoia, worry and status anxiety contradict and overwhelm proactive aspects of home as a friendly place where residents feel safe and comfortable. For example, gated community residents say that they are looking for the ‘‘kind of neighbourhood where they grew up, where they knew everyone’’ as a gloss for a homogeneous, White, safe housing development, but find they rarely know their neighbours and are plagued by anxiety based on worry about crime and intruders.” (pp.48-49)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold, mine) Setha M. Low (2008): Fortification of Residential Neighbourhoods and the New Emotions of Home, Housing, Theory and Society, 25:1, 47-65

Reference is to: Benjamin, W. (1999) The Arcades Project (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press).

Feldman, R. M. (1990) Settlement-identity: psychological bonds with home places in a mobile society, Environment and Behavior, 22(2), pp. 183–229

Hayden, D. (2002) Redesigning the American Dream. The Future of Housing, Work and Family (New York: WW Norton and Co.).
Hayden, D. (2003) Building Suburbia. Green Fields and Urban Growth, 1820–2000 (New York: Panetheon).

Holt, E. (1966) From the Classicists to the Impressionists. A Documentary History of Art and Architecture in the Nineteenth Century (New York: Doubleday).

Low, S. & Smith, N. (2006) The Politics of Public Space (New York: Routledge).

Marcus, C. C. (1976) The house as symbol of self, in: W. H. Ittelson, R. G. Rivlin & H. Proshansky (Eds) Environmental Psychology, pp. 435–448 (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston).
Marcus, C. C. (1997) House as a Mirror of Self: Exploring the Deeper Meaning of Home (New York: Conari Press).

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