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List of figures vii
List of contributors viii

  1 Reimagining home in the 21st century 1

Justine Lloyd and Ellie Vasta


  2 Reflections on home and identity in late modernity 21
Norbert Ebert
  3 The migrant ‘stranger’ at home: ‘Australian’ shared values and
the national imaginary 36
Ellie Vasta


  4 The transnational matrifocal home among Cape Verdean
migrant women: The case of Santo Antão island 57
Martina Giuffrè
  5 ‘Country’, ‘community’ and ‘growth town’: Three spatio-
temporal snapshots of Warlpiri experiences of home 72
Yasmine Musharbash
  6 Mobile my spaces: Home in cars, working vehicles and
contrasting dwelling for backpackers in campervans and
homeless car sleepers 87
Sarah Redshaw
  7 Without house or home? Understanding homelessness as
dwelling  102
Adam Stebbing

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vi Reimagining home in the 21st century


  8 At home in public: The work of mobility and anti-racist
mobile witnessing practices 121
Justine Lloyd
  9 Home-making: Youth and urban unrest in multi-ethnic Sweden 135
Aleksandra Ålund, Carl-Ulrik Schierup and Lisa Kings
10 The coming home of postindustrial society 150
Evelyn Honeywill
11 Staying in place: Meanings, practices and the regulation of
publicness in Sydney’s Martin Place 165
Ann Deslandes and Justine Humphry


12 Senses of home 179
Olivia Hamilton
13 Transcultural objects, transcultural homes 192
Ilaria Vanni Accarigi
14 The garage as vernacular museum: Reading contemporary
masculinity through ‘man caves’ 207
Jeff Browitt
15 Kitchen as home: Shifting meanings   224
Sian Supski

Index 239

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Aleksandra Ålund is a professor at REMESO, the Institute for Research on
Migration, Ethnicity and Society, Linköping University. She has published
widely in Swedish, English and other languages on international migration
and ethnicity, identity, culture, gender, youth and social movements.
Jeff Browitt is an associate professor in the School of International Studies at
the University of Technology Sydney, where he specializes in Latin American
literary and cultural studies and translation. Selected publications include:
Contemporary Cultural Theory (Routledge, 2002, with A. Milner); Practising
Theory: Pierre Bourdieu and the Field of Cultural Production (University of
Delaware Press, 2004, with B. Nelson); and The Space of Culture: Critical
Readings in Hispanic Literary and Cultural Studies (University of Delaware
Press, 2004, with S. King); J. Browitt and W. Mackenbach (eds), Rubén
Darío: cosmopolita arraigado (IHN, 2010); a Spanish translation of Martin
Nakata’s Disciplinando a los salvajes, violentando las disciplinas [Disciplining
the Savages, Savaging the Disciplines] (Abya Yala Editores, 2014, with
N. Castrillón); and an English translation of Carlos Monsiváis’s A New
Catechism for Recalcitrant Indians [Nuevo catecismo para indios remisos]
(Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2007, with N. Castrillón).
Ann Deslandes is a writer and researcher in Sydney, who works on
social movements and solidarity, visual culture, feminism, anti-racism and
urbanism. She is the author of ‘Exemplary Amateurism: Thoughts on
Do-it-yourself Urbanism’, Cultural Studies Review, 2013, 19 (1); and, with
Kristian Adamson, ‘Zombie Solidarity’, in Andrew Whelan, Ruth Walker
and Christopher Moore (eds), Zombies in the Academy: Living Death in
Higher Education (Intellect Books, 2013).
Norbert Ebert is a senior lecturer in sociology at Macquarie University.
He is the author of Individualisation at Work (Routledge, 2012). His main
interests are critical social theory and the sociology of work and employ-
ment. He is a member of the editorial board of the Economic and Labour
Relations Review.
Martina Giuffrè is a researcher and lecturer in cultural anthropology at the
University of Parma. For years her research has engaged with migration


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Contributors ­ix

and gender issues as well as oral sources, while more recently she has
focused on Roma issues. She has taught at many universities: La Sapienza
University of Rome, the University of Florence and the University of
Naples L’Orientale. She has conducted extensive fieldwork in Cape Verde,
Australia, Italy, Romania, Spain and Belgium. She has also coordinated a
number of cultural events and national and international projects. Since
2010 she has directed the CISU editorial series ‘Migration’.
Olivia Hamilton is a researcher and writer based in Sydney. In 2013, she
completed a Ph.D. in sociology at Macquarie University, with a study
examining the connections between embodiment and emplacement for
migrants and their descendants in Rome. She is an occasional member of a
queer theory reading group, and is currently undertaking further study in
visual arts and culture. In her current role as researcher at an independent
research organization, WESTIR Ltd, she conducts social research through
Greater Western Sydney and is often found trawling through Census data.
Her research interests include identity, belonging, race/racism, embodi-
ment, place and space, and material culture.
Evelyn Honeywill is a social researcher in the Department of Sociology at
Macquarie University. She researches the characteristics of network socie-
ties from a critical theory perspective.
Justine Humphry is a lecturer in cultural and social analysis at Western
Sydney University. She researches the discourses and practices of digital
and mobile media, with a focus on networked and urban publics, inequali-
ties, racisms/anti-racisms, and digital work and labour. She has published
her research in Sociologic: Analysing Everyday Life and Culture (Oxford
University Press, 2015), Routledge Companion to Mobile Media, Journal
of Media, Culture and Society, M/C Journal and Australian Journal of
Telecommunications and the Digital Economy. She has led research on
homelessness and digital connectivity for the Australian Communications
Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) and for the Young and Well
Cooperative Research Centre.
Lisa Kings is a senior lecturer at Södertörn University. Her research and
publications, nationally and internationally, in Swedish and English, are
focused on issues on urban theory, social movements, social justice, civil
society organization and everyday life.
Justine Lloyd is a senior lecturer in sociology at Macquarie University.
She has published in the areas of feminist cultural history and media
studies, and has a forthcoming book on intimate geographies of media
(Bloomsbury Academic, 2017). She is also the editor with Jeannine

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x Reimagining home in the 21st century

Baker of a special issue of Media International Australia on the theme

of ‘Gendered Labour and Media’ (forthcoming November 2016). She
is a joint editor of the interdisciplinary journal Space and Culture. She
has been a visiting fellow at the Department of Sociology, University of
Lancaster and the Katholische Universität Eichstätt-Ingolstadt.
Yasmine Musharbash (Ph.D. Australian National University, MA Freie
Universität, Berlin) is an ARC future fellow and senior lecturer with
the Department of Anthropology at the University of Sydney. She
is an anthropologist and has been working with Warlpiri people in
Central Australia since the mid-1990s. She has published widely on the
themes of everyday life, sleep, the night, monsters and death, as well as
boredom, the emotions, the senses and embodiment. She is the author of
Yuendumu Everyday: Contemporary Life in Remote Aboriginal Australia
(ASP, 2009), and has co-edited three volumes: Mortality, Mourning and
Mortuary Practices in Indigenous Australia (Ashgate, 2008), Ethnography
and the Production of Anthropological Knowledge (ANU Epress, 2011) and
Monster Anthropology from Australasia and Beyond (Palgrave, 2014).
Sarah Redshaw is a research associate at Charles Sturt University working
with Dr Valerie Ingham on research related to community connections
and resilience. She has developed and conducted research projects for
over 15 years, including as an ARC postdoctoral research fellow with
the Centre for Cultural Research at the University of Western Sydney
on the ARC Linkage Transforming Drivers project, senior researcher
at the Kids Research Institute, Children’s Hospital at Westmead, and
research fellow in sociology at Macquarie University. She has published
a number of papers and a book, In the Company of Cars: Driving as a
Social and Cultural Practice (Ashgate, 2008), from her studies on the social
and cultural aspects of young people’s engagement with cars, and on a
number of health-related projects including Community Connections, B
SAFE, Bereavement Support in Community Nursing, Heartbeads, and
Measuring the Outcomes of Case Managed Community Care.
Carl-Ulrik Schierup is a professor at REMESO, the Institute for Research
on Migration, Ethnicity and Society, Linköping University. His research
and wide range of national and international publications, mainly in
Swedish, Danish and English, concern issues of international migration,
multiculturalism, racism, social reconstruction in post-communist states,
globalization and the precarization of labour.
Adam Stebbing lectures in the Department of Sociology at Macquarie
University. He has a strong interest in the links social inequality has
with social policy and the welfare state. His current research is focused

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Contributors ­xi

on housing policy, generational inequalities, middle-class welfare and

social benefits delivered via the tax system, primarily in Australia but also
Sian Supski is a research fellow in sociology at Monash University and
a research affiliate with the Thesis Eleven Centre for Cultural Sociology
at La Trobe University. She has written two books, A Proper Foundation:
A History of the Lotteries Commission of Western Australia (Black Swan
Press, 2009) and It Was Another Skin: The Kitchen in 1950s Western
Australia (Peter Lang, 2007). She has also written a number of articles on
kitchens in 1950s Australia and on Australian cookbooks and food writing
in Australia. She is a commissioning editor of the journal Thesis Eleven:
Critical Theory and Historical Sociology. She was a visiting scholar at
STIAS, Stellenbosch, South Africa in 2015. She grew up in Perth, Western
Ilaria Vanni Accarigi is a researcher and teacher who focuses on transdis-
ciplinary projects. She works in the School of International Studies at the
University of Technology Sydney. Her broad field of research is in the
histories of material culture, with one focus on urban activism, one on
design practices, in particular permaculture, and one on transculturation
and objects, especially in relation to the Italian diaspora and to colonial
histories. As a teacher she specializes in the development of knowledges
and skills in critical, creative and ethical inquiry and intercultural engage-
ment and communication.
Ellie Vasta is an associate professor in sociology, Macquarie University.
From 2003 until 2009 she was a senior research fellow at the Centre on
Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) at the University of Oxford.
Her research work in Britain and Europe focused on: immigrant work
strategies and networks in London, emphasizing immigrant participa-
tion, identity, community, and irregular migration; racism; and the ideo-
logical shifts in the European models of immigrant inclusion. Her current
research projects in Australia include ‘Italian Migration to Australia: Was
It Worth It?’, using a transnational approach; and she is chief investigator
of an ARC-funded project, ‘Affinities in Multicultural Australia’ (with
Lucy Taksa and Fei Guo). Recent publications include: ‘Do We Need
Social Cohesion in the 21st Century? Multiple Languages of Belonging
in the Metropolis’, Journal of Intercultural Studies, 2013, 34 (2); and ‘The
Politics of Avoidance: The Netherlands in Perspective’, in P. Essed and
I. Hoving (eds), Dutch Racism (Thamyris Publishers, 2014).

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1. Reimagining home in the 21st
Justine Lloyd and Ellie Vasta

The idea of home evokes many layers of meaning, symbolism and emotion.
In many societies, home can refer to the family home, the meaning most
commonly understood, and by extension it can symbolize a place of
warmth and security as well as a place of fear and exploitation. At the
same time, home can mean a locality in which people have close relation-
ships with neighbours and have developed attachment to a neighbourhood
square or to a local football team. Political leaders often evoke the idea of
the nation as the home for all who fulfil certain criteria of birthplace and
Increasingly, many people may have a sense of transnational or trans-
local belonging, making themselves at home in more than one place,
whether by choice or by forced displacement (Hage 2005). The situation
of refugees and migrants complicates definitions of home further when
homelands themselves change, and the displaced are able to return, yet
face further displacement as well as reconciliation (Long and Oxfeld 2004;
Markowitz and Stefansson 2004).
Images of the nation as home have been a central force in nationalism,
designed to create a strong emotional bond. But, for many, the family,
local or transnational home may have a stronger emotional pull than the
idea of the nation as home. The persistence of home within this prolifera-
tion of lifeworlds is the focus of this book. This collection investigates the
social forces that surround home in the 21st century. These forces create
the possibility both of being at home and of feeling estranged from taken-
for-granted structures (Berman 1988). Recent trends in the affordability
of housing in western economies have pushed and pulled at families and
individuals with devastating effects (Mallett et al. 2011). Home can no
longer be seen as a purely self-sufficient concept and place, as it is indeed
these external pressures that make us feel we are at home or not at home.
Increasingly, the presence of ‘others’, challenging a comfortable sense of
belonging, is highlighted by conservative forces to deflect attention from
these pressures. At the same time, many people are struggling collectively

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2 Reimagining home in the 21st century

to imagine new ways of being at home against these hegemonic visions of

This collection builds on ongoing work in sociology and anthropol-
ogy, as well as housing, migration and cultural studies, to historicize and
relativize notions of home (Noble 2002; Mallett 2004; Gorman-Murray
and Dowling 2007). These accounts in turn build on histories of home
that have clearly set out the central, yet often unexamined, role that the
domestic plays in social life. The social reformers of the 19th century
advocated the privacy and self-containment of the detached family home
as an antidote to the perceived ills of communal urban life (Jackson 1985).
The ravages of the Second World War created the desire for a comfort
zone, a space for the individual to be fostered by the nuclear family under
the watchful eye of experts (Lasch 1977). Home was realized as the centre
of the nuclear family in western societies in the post-war years. Although
there were variations, including the extended family home, the dominant
concept of home in the English-speaking world was shaped by the rise of
the nuclear family, as a place where the children lived while they went to
school and were expected to stay until they got married.
Despite this apparent stability, the dramatic changes to the meaning of
home were created during this time. In the era of modernity, linked to pro-
cesses of industrialization of societies in the 19th and 20th centuries, home
and work had become increasingly separate, and the home was the site of
far-reaching transformations of ways of living, which paralleled recon-
figurations in gender relations (Reiger 1985). Gradually through the 1960s
and 1970s, blended families and a new pluralism of definitions began to
appear, although these took a while to become established in the minds
of the broader society (Putnam 1993). It became much more common for
young people to become financially independent and to leave home before
marriage. Through the women’s movement, home became a site of strug-
gle and contestation. Similarly, migrants began to talk about two or more
homes, and to politicize the very notion of home itself (Staeheli and Nagel
Home provides both a spatial and temporal sense of belonging (Blunt
and Dowling 2006) that provides familiarity, a sense of security, comfort,
order and permanence. The term ‘familiarize’ itself, for instance, refers
to the acquisition of deep knowledge and the emergence of a certain
comfort and order in the process. Home is seen as the seat of the nuclear
family in some cultures, while in others the extended family provides
both spatial and temporal belonging. Hence the family home is seen by
many to be the locus of all that is good and safe, a private haven that
should be separate from the outside economic sphere (Hochschild 1997).
Nevertheless, in ‘Authority and the Family’, Horkeimer discusses how the

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Reimagining home in the 21st century ­3

19th- and early-20th-century family provided protection and comfort, but

also oppression and discipline (Horkeimer 2002). Research by sociologists
in Britain in the 1980s acknowledged these traditions, yet questioned per-
ceptions of home as the site of an increasing retreat into privatism on the
one hand and an oppressive institution of gender relations on the other,
thus offering a new, more nuanced agenda for research (Saunders and
Williams 1988). Further enquiries into the meanings of home cut across
class, gender and location, and demonstrated the ‘ontological security’ that
a sense of home provides, and thus the grounding of identity it enables,
thereby allowing people to participate in the public sphere (Saunders


In this book, we question the very possibility in the 21st century of any
concept of a singular and self-sufficient home. The changes to our under-
standing of home have been as profuse as they are diverse. These changes
build on, or deepen, pre-existing contradictions. Recent changes to the
labour market and work recast the domestic sphere as the site of both
consumption and production, a return to the pre-industrial formation of
home as a place of work (Holloway 2007; Pink et al. 2015). The gender-
ing of the home as feminine has been disrupted by new technologies and
new visibilities of domestic labour (Cowan 1983; Lloyd and Johnson
2004; and for a contemporary, ethnographic take on the reconfiguration
of gender roles see Meah and Jackson 2013). The intense marketing of
goods and services to home-based consumers, the commodification of the
family home in overheated real-estate markets built on debt (Tanton et al.
2008), and economic policies directed towards integrating the family and
relational aspects of social life into the market (McDowell 2007) all illus-
trate the ways in which home is increasingly a site of power opened up to
scrutiny and display.
Going beyond the notion of home as a stable, given entity has alerted
us to the exclusions and gaps in the conventional meanings of home. Far
from being a safe and secure anchor of identity, especially for marginalized
groups, the home is simultaneously the focus of neo-liberal market forces
and state interventions (see Musharbash, Chapter 5 in this book). At the
same time, the realities of what constitutes ‘home’, and how people make
their lives at ‘home’, are changing in an age of high rates of geographical
mobility and changing local contexts. Sociologists and anthropologists
have grappled with the implications of these changes, questioning whether
home can be ‘placed’ at all, or whether it is more accurate to understand

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4 Reimagining home in the 21st century

a sense of home as something ‘practised’, a process rather than a stable

‘thing’ (Lloyd 2001: 182–183). By understanding home as practised, we go
beyond previous approaches. Looking at home through an anthropologi-
cal lens, while useful, approaches ‘the home’ as the bounded site of a set
of practices of domesticity, and thus constructs a teleology of settlement
(Cieraad 1999). Increasingly, sociology and other disciplines see home as
a complex interactional achievement between persons, spaces and things
that requires us to constantly ‘make homes’ rather than ever finally ‘be at
home’ (see for example Schillmeier and Heinlein’s 2009 account from this
perspective of the precipitous move of an elderly man into a nursing home
following a stroke). The notion of home as practised, a process and an
event opens up home for new kinds of analysis, as well as offering us a new
set of possibilities to make ourselves at home in relation to others. In this
sense, our home does not ‘belong’ to us; rather we ‘belong’ to home.
By seeing home from this standpoint – as a set of practices which
configure our identities both individual and collective – deep contradic-
tions and complex changes arise, revealing the tensions that exist in the
modern home. For example, there is now a counter-trend to work being
brought into the home as many workers attempt to find what is described
as the work–life balance. On the other hand, as Duyvendak argues in his
analysis of the interrelations between the individual/private and collective/
public spheres of ‘home’ (2011: 112–116) in terms both of the contents
of the work and of the place itself, ‘work’ has become ‘home’ for many
workers. Because people are spending more and more time at work and
less time at home, the workplace and the inescapable social relations that
emerge become home. The constant friction of these changes and associ-
ated movements into the public sphere, however, do not override demands
for home. As Putnam argued in relation to the emergence of a range of
theories that emphasized social displacement and fragmentation during
the 1980s, ‘Those who pondered dislocations in material culture have only
recently come to recognize that they must deal with those who encounter,
enact and envisage “the home” ’ (1993: 152). It is this persistence of home
and its ground-level permutations that this collection speaks to. Rather
than home’s erasure within large-scale social processes, which appear,
on the surface, to run roughshod over attachments to the time-spaces of
home-making, the enduring pull of home is deeply felt.
As with the family home, the national home easily conjures up a sense of
security, comfort, order, permanence and ownership. Feminist and postco-
lonial critiques have warned against the re-emergence of perceptions of the
past homogeneity of the national home. As Honig warns:

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Reimagining home in the 21st century ­5

The dream of home is dangerous, particularly in postcolonial settings, because

it animates and exacerbates the inability of constituted subjects – or nations – to
accept their own internal divisions, and it engenders zealotry, the will to bring
the dream of unitariness or home into being. It leads the subject to project its
internal differences on to external Others and then to rage against them for
standing in the way of its dream – both at home and elsewhere. (1994: 585)

Many western countries are concerned about their historical claim

to geographical territory, as contemporary practices of citizenship in a
multi-cultural society reach beyond the nation-state. The Netherlands, for
example, is experiencing a nostalgia for a perceived ethnically homogene-
ous past, and politicians have made the idea of the national home a policy
matter (Duyvendak 2011: 116). Similarly, politicians make geographical
and historical claims for the nation and empire as home (see Blunt and
Dowling 2006).
This form of liberal nationalism is based on the idea that there are
moral and juridical features of the nation that all citizens should adhere to,
whether colonized or not. This means that, where there are different cul-
tural histories that come from different geographical locations or have been
marginalized within a nation, then liberal nationalists base their desire for
homogeneity on an assumed solidarity of the people of a nation who need
to see themselves as members of a territorially bound and overarching
community (Vasta 2010). Hence, the family home and the national home
are both still seen as the cornerstone of neo-liberal societies.
The multi-level approach taken in this collection offers a new politics of
home. This political stance poses questions: Who can and cannot speak in
the name of home? Who has the power to define and regulate visions of
home that exclude and deny others? Where are the visions of home that
recognize rather than close off difference and diversity? Where is home
practised and by whom? Without this reflexivity, definitions of home are
not adequate to our times. The chapters in this book question hegemonic
visions of the family home and the homogeneous national home, and
inquire into the meanings and effects of home-making in contempo-
rary society. The book contains a set of interrelated chapters, exploring
current conceptions that challenge traditional, convenient and stereo-
typical notions of ‘home’, providing a broad and diverse representation of
home. The book addresses contemporary debates in the study of everyday
life, migration, mobilities, culture and policy. More specifically, the book
brings into play ideas about home with current empirical social science
research. It contributes to national and international discussions on the
changing economic and social meanings of home. It provides an analysis
of areas and locations that are rarely thought of as involved in ‘home-
making’: man caves, the car and public transport. And it analyses shifting

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6 Reimagining home in the 21st century

meanings situated in specific figures, forms and practices, for example

in the domestic kitchen, the migrant citizen/stranger, and transnational
Taking a perspective on home as practised and mobile is unsettling: a
final full stop at any kind of stopping place becomes impossible to achieve.
In the constant repetition of moments of home-making, essential elements
always need to be remade and refigured. However, this unsettling can also
give a breathing space. A home that is never settled requires human inter-
vention, and dimensions of solidarity thus can be formed against totalizing
and claustrophobic definitions of home. A crucial thread that is opened up
by the practice perspective, and thus binds these contributions, is agency.
The chapters, implicitly or explicitly, are concerned with the construction
of innovative and flexible notions of home. The processes of migration,
of displacement and of exclusion require flexible and innovative identities
which intersect with modes of integration and participation in an ever-
changing social, political and economic milieu. The construction of home
and belonging is a subjective phenomenon concerned with self-identities
and attitudes, as well as a structural phenomenon that transforms objective
biographies and life situations. Thus, it is a productive process, embed-
ded in change that entails ‘an interchange between the self and structure’
(Rutherford 1990: 14). In other words, identity is formed through the inter-
play of the subjective self, individual agency and structural positioning (see
also Hall 1991).


The unsettling and provocative framework that underpins the collection

is explored closely by Norbert Ebert (Chapter 2) and Evelyn Honeywill
(Chapter 10). Home and identity for Ebert are anchoring points in strug-
gles for coherence and continuity within and between increasingly prolif-
erating ‘lifeworlds’. Ebert does not offer a nostalgic or recuperative vision
of an originary home to which the late-modern individual can and should
return and hide away from this complexity. Instead he argues, following
the work of the Austrian social scientist Alfred Schütz (1944), that what
we have in common is our pluralized lives, characterized by the experi-
ences ‘of permanently being [both] stranger and homecomer’ (this volume,
p. 32). Understanding the condition of late modernity as one of a blurring
between private, civic and social spheres, Honeywill advances understand-
ings of socio-technological change through her analysis of Daniel Bell’s
(1973) postindustrial society in the context of the home. Honeywill brings
into clear relief many of the ‘invisible’ aspects of everyday life as she

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Reimagining home in the 21st century ­7

considers the home as ‘the “hub” upon which the socio-structural infra-
structure of so-called network societies increasingly relies’ (this volume,
p. 150).
The question of neo-liberal social policies’ impact on home is opened
up in several chapters. Aleksandra Ålund, Carl-Ulrik Schierup and Lisa
Kings (Chapter 9) describe how youth urban justice movements have
responded to the latest riots in Stockholm. They address new ways of
home-making in the context of several youth urban justice movements that
are (re)claiming welfare in their suburban areas, heavily hit by welfare cuts.
Yasmine Musharbash (Chapter 5) provides fine-grained evidence of how
punitive policies in the name of welfare, such as the Northern Territory
Emergency Response (also known as the Northern Territory Intervention),
have disrupted indigenous patterns of home-making and relationships
to country. Adam Stebbing (Chapter 7) examines the need for a critical
approach to definitions of homelessness in the policy context. Generally
policy-makers are only able to understand a framework of ‘housed’ versus
‘houseless’. A critical approach ensures that people experiencing homeless-
ness are not represented as lacking agency in their struggles to be heard by
While some might be unreflective conformists, others develop inno-
vative identities that inhabit rebellious spaces. The process of making
oneself at home in these spaces entails negotiating and manipulating our
identities to suit the context as a way of retaining agency over the process
of home-making. Deslandes and Humphry (Chapter 11), as well as
Lloyd (Chapter 8), investigate how unhomely, anonymous non-places of
transit and commerce are temporarily occupied and tactically transformed
by mediated belongings, as well as protest movements. Deslandes and
Humphry outline a set of actors who have converged on Sydney’s Central
Business District and the home-making practices, and inequalities, that
intertwine in space and time as a result. Lloyd gives an account of everyday
mobilities and how sense of home is challenged by public acts of racism.
Many of the chapters expose everyday forms of agency which are
demanded by these diverse practices of home. There is both local accom-
modation and resistance to power structures as well as to global condi-
tions (Giuffrè, Chapter 4; Redshaw, Chapter 6; Ålund, Schierup and
Kings, Chapter 9). One way of resisting the power of the state’s gaze is by
becoming invisible. On the other hand, a localized construction of home
and belonging develops right there in the localities where people live and
work (Vasta, Chapter 3; Stebbing, Chapter 7; Browitt, Chapter 14). While
this local accommodation and resistance appear to be happening off-stage
(Goffman 1959), they also occur right under the surveillance of the state
(Musharbash, Chapter 5; Lloyd, Chapter 8; Deslandes and Humphry,

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8 Reimagining home in the 21st century

Chapter 11). Agency is not always about a reaction to or some form of

struggle against a more powerful state or social group (Scott 1985, 1998).
There is also a constructive subjectivity occurring that includes the con-
struction of home, identities and belonging as a productive process, embed-
ded in multiple lifeworlds (Vasta, Chapter 3; Hamilton, Chapter 12; Vanni
Accarigi, Chapter 13; Supski, Chapter 15).
The book is divided into four parts which elaborate key themes that
interpret these questions through an important theoretical axis: firstly, the
figure of the stranger; secondly, practices of dwelling; thirdly, conditions
of homeliness and unhomeliness interwoven into public domains; and,
fourthly, the materialities that choreograph our senses of home.


The figure of ‘the stranger’ in classical social theory has acted as a marker
of difference or incommensurability for home subjects (Simmel 1950),
and this is where we start in Part I. In his chapter entitled ‘Reflections on
Home and Identity in Late Modernity’ (Chapter 2), Ebert argues that,
in late modernity, meanings of home become increasingly precarious.
Following Schütz (1944) among others, he suggests that ‘we are simul-
taneously strangers and homecomers in multiple hyper-differentiated
lifeworlds’ (this volume, p. 31). In this situation, Ebert argues, ‘it is not
the normative stability of a lifeworld that can be taken for granted, but its
plurality’ (this volume, p. 32). Ebert’s line of argument provokes us to con-
sider, how, owing to fragmentation of shared experience, ‘it is more dif-
ficult and precarious for individuals to establish identities and a sense of
home on a shared normative basis’ (this volume, p. 32). Thus, one’s sense
of home cannot be derived from a strong sense of sharing. Through his
lens on home through precarity – thereby questioning traditional socio-
logical views of modernity itself as a site of extraordinary progress and
potential as well as the harbinger of humanity’s demise – Ebert uncovers
how home has been shored up as a centre of gravity for modern individu-
als, but only through the profound displacement of shared experience.
The ambivalence that emerges from this loss of home, both a loss of rigid
norms and a gain of freedom, is a paradox that increasingly defines late
Ellie Vasta (Chapter 3) also explores the idea of the stranger, using
Georg Simmel’s ideas on proximity and distance, individuality and com-
munity. Based on research conducted in Sydney, Vasta examines how
migrants negotiate ‘Australian values’ in their quest to construct a new
home. Her work offers a fine-grained analysis, grounded in extensive

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Reimagining home in the 21st century ­9

empirical research in Sydney, to recast debates about cultural conflict into

a more reflexive and critical approach to ‘affinities’.
Vasta deepens her focus on the figure of the stranger with an explora-
tion of the ‘migrant stranger at home’. For the migrant, home is defined
as an ambiguous space, a challenge for the national imaginary where the
migrant is indeterminately an insider and an outsider. Because of their
‘outsider–insider’ position, migrants are able to actively construct ‘home’
from various vantage points, and observe and practise both affinities and
differences with the cultural others surrounding them.
Both Chapters 2 and 3 challenge conventional views of home, one
because of the precariousness of the lifeworld and the other based on the
migrant’s ambivalent position in constructing new identities. While Ebert
explains that the plurality of lifeworlds is ‘not easily reconciled collectively
or individually with notions of home and identity’ (this volume, p. 31),
Vasta shows how migrants construct home in the plurality of lifeworlds
and through the simultaneity of being both integrated and marginalized.
While migrants can fall between the cracks and experience exclusion from
institutions of citizenship and the economy, Vasta’s focus on ‘affinities’
shows that we are all insiders and outsiders at the same time. Ebert extends
this analysis by showing how home is no longer a homogeneous place as a
result of our exposure to multiple lifeworlds.


Part II, on ‘dwelling’, extends our focus on practices of home-making.

The ‘practice turn’ opens up for investigation sites and situations of home-
making that go well beyond the four walls of the house and thus intersects
with a growing body of work within the ‘mobilities’ paradigm. This work
is in part indebted to Martin Heidegger’s essay on ‘Building Dwelling
Thinking’ (1971), which has been taken up by John Urry in his book
Sociology beyond Societies (2000) to explore the ways in which ‘contem-
porary forms of dwelling almost always involve diverse forms of mobility’
(2000: 132).
Giuffrè, in Chapter 4, explores the ruptures of home created in the
process of migration for residents of the West African island republic of
Cape Verde. The home-making practices of the migrating Cape Verdean
women decentre location and recreate boundaries, in a creative and criti-
cal form of dwelling in a society defined by mobility. Via an ethnographic
frame, Giuffrè investigates the challenges that migration poses both
to the physical space of home and to processes of identification. She
describes how established categories of gender are being rewritten in the

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10 Reimagining home in the 21st century

‘transnational matrifocal’ home of Cape Verdean communities, as women

move between the archipelago on the west coast of Africa through emigra-
tion to Italy and Portugal. Her research shows how a shift has occurred
‘from the idea of home as the stable physical centre of the universe, a place
of departure and return, to home as a place of habitual practices and inter-
actions, creating another way of being-in-the-world . . . [M]igrants often
feel at home in transit’ (this volume, p. 57). In Cape Verde, female emigra-
tion has completely renegotiated the meaning of home.
In Chapter 5, Musharbash draws out the complex definition of Warlpiri
home which reflects cosmology and experiences of space–time in mobile
formations: ‘ngurra as a term encapsulates a great number of meanings,
beginning with the most generic idea of shelter to the incorporation of the
Warlpiri cosmos into a single term’ (this volume, p. 77). Further, ‘Home,
from this perspective, is experienced through the interdependence of
domestic structures, social practices of dwelling within them, and values
embodied through such dwelling and within those structures – or a series
of building–dwelling–thinking’ (this volume, p. 72). Historical changes in
settler–colonial policies of management of Aboriginal people are dem-
onstrated to have spatial consequences, and contribute sharply to senses
of displacement and un-belonging for communities under the recent
‘Intervention’. At Yuendumu, community members are increasingly con-
fined to their homes and disciplined to stay within them, under the gaze of
the Northern Territory housing authority. For the Yuendumu people, there
now is a ‘radical and novel split between home as the inside of a house,
where much time is spent, and “the world” ’ (this volume, p. 84).
Redshaw, in Chapter 6, ‘Mobile My Spaces’, explores dwelling as home
and freedom in commuter cars, tradesmen’s vans and utes and backpacker
campervans. Through the work of Paul Virilio, Redshaw shows how tech-
nologies of mobility have created new spatial orders, which in turn require
new practices of home-making within them: ‘The car as a place to dwell
is related to home in the privacy, refuge and “staying with things” ’ (Urry
2000: 291).
These new practices of domestication are creative but ultimately tem-
porary. As Redshaw shows through a series of abject objects, the car
cannot be a secure home. As an ‘alternative’, temporary home to those
who travel long distances, are on holidays or are perhaps testing their rela-
tionship to home, the car-as-home offers liberatory potential that ‘“offers
a domestic(ated) space of intimacy” [Noy 2009: 103] . . . as an extension
of the house that has an intimacy and sociality that was perhaps not built
into it’ (this volume, p. 89). The car as housing, however, tests the limits of
the agency of home-making practices, as such mobile homes are ontologi-
cally vulnerable, are detached from wider networks and, despite providing

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Reimagining home in the 21st century ­11

shelter, render their occupants existentially and practically homeless. In

the end, the car as home detaches building from dwelling and thinking: a
container for one’s possessions, but never a home.
In Chapter 7, ‘Without House or Home?’, Stebbing suggests a new
approach to homelessness. In his exploration of counter-examples of
home-making, Stebbing uses the notion of dwelling via Urry to emphasize
its potential to allow young people experiencing homelessness to articulate
when and how they have ‘home-like’ feelings, and therefore allow a form
of agency to develop. As Stebbing explains, attention to how homelessness
is defined within policy debates is much needed, because such definition
is ‘a political act that separates “the homeless” from “adequately housed”
members of society in political discourse that influences policy choices
and, ultimately, resource allocation. It follows that divisions arising from
definitional debates have the potential to distort the understanding of
homelessness and hinder policy responses’ (this volume, p. 102). Through
critical sociologies of homelessness and qualitative research with young
people, Stebbing, ‘[r]ather than highlighting what homeless people lack’,
shows ‘how homeless individuals express their agency in the midst of sig-
nificant social and spatial constraints’ (this volume, p. 116)
Giuffrè (Chapter 4) has shown how some migrants move between
houses in different locations; for others home is represented by mobility
itself. Musharbash (Chapter 5) uses Heidegger’s essay to demonstrate
the grinding injustices of normalizing indigenous home-making prac-
tices within a neo-colonial framework. While Musharbash does not refer
to Urry’s ‘mobilities’ framework, the ethnographic narrative begins in
nomadic practices of home-making that Warlpiri people have practised for
thousands of years. The accounts that Musharbash gathers demonstrate
the impossibility of extricating being and dwelling, and the ways in which
the built environment is a banal but ultimately devastating means of regu-
lating ways of being together and knowing the world. Redshaw (Chapter
6) engages with Urry’s provocation to think through the intertwining of
mobility and stasis within home-making practices; and Stebbing (Chapter
7) takes up Urry’s notion of dwelling explicitly, in order to recast an
impasse in debates about housing through interviews with people experi-
encing homelessness.


Part III on ‘publicness’ illuminates the ways in which contemporary dimen-

sions of home exceed and trouble conceptions of home as a bounded,
physical place that belongs only to the private sphere. Following on from

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12 Reimagining home in the 21st century

the explorations of dwelling as a potentially mobile practice, the chapters

in this part move home-making into the public sphere.
In Chapter 8, Lloyd examines how home lines are drawn in public
through a set of inclusions and exclusions. She investigates a series of
recent incidents of racism on public transport in Australia to explain how
the ability of some social actors to draw boundaries and exclude others
is related to a sense of belonging which is underpinned by institutions,
such as migration regimes, as well as everyday and mundane practices of
mobility. Home-making is understood as relating to temporary publics-
in-motion which undergo performances of meaning that exclude certain
identities. She argues that ‘It is important to understand the continuities
between feeling “at home” in one’s own home and feeling at home in a
public place in a multi-ethnic and multi-scalar world’ (this volume, p. 123).
For Ålund, Schierup and Kings (Chapter 9), home is a flexible ‘meta-
phor’, which contains multiple layers, therefore needing contextual defi-
nition. Ålund, Schierup and Kings also apply Simmel’s notion of the
stranger, providing his reflections ‘as an analytical notion for unravelling
processes of alterity in the present times of migration’ (this volume, p. 135).
Reporting on research with young people who are second-generation
migrants, Ålund, Schierup and Kings demonstrate that struggles for
home-making (hemmastadiggörande) are related to residency, including
formal citizenship (hemmahörande). In the case of the second-generation
Swedish migrant youth, ‘a shared consciousness of institutionally embed-
ded residential segregation and social subordination creates a sounding
board for claims for social justice’ (this volume, p. 137) among contempo-
rary youth. Framing the right to the city as a home-making practice, urban
activism is shown to bring about the ‘formation of new voices and hybrid
identities’ (this volume, p. 139), related to the ways in which these young
people articulate minority positions that are expansive and inclusive.
Honeywill in Chapter 10, ‘The Coming Home of Postindustrial Society’,
diagnoses home as a mixed zone of public and private, thus a ‘social space
through which private, public and market activities flow’ (this volume,
p. 150). She updates Bell’s (1973) postindustrial thesis to look at the trans-
formations of the domestic in the impact of wide-scale shifts in economic
structures on the role of the home. In doing so, she surveys a range of new
forms of service labour and modes of efficiency that encroach on everyday
life, such as ‘pocket-ready software [that] invites an “efficiency drive” into
our personal lives and home-based activities’. These networked cultural
forms capture ‘aspects of the everyday that had previously escaped the
purview of system logic and r­ ationalization . . . highlight[ing] the ways in
which the home itself [has become] a space of increased complexity’ (this
volume, p. 155).

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Reimagining home in the 21st century ­13

This part concludes with Chapter 11, ‘Staying in Place’, by Deslandes

and Humphry, which investigates the tactical uses of space in a central city
square. Practising home-like activities in public leads to power relations
being transgressed and reinforced. The authors explore ‘the visible and
invisible meanings and practices through which publicness is performed
and legitimized at Martin Place’ in Sydney (this volume, p. 166). They trace
the movements and still moments of mobile workers, Occupy movement
activists, and people experiencing homelessness. Their focus on being-at-
home in public brings together a mobilities paradigm with urban justice
movements, to reconceptualize public space. They highlight the ways that
bureaucracy and corporate power spread out into public space, and the
tactical re-appropriations of public space that are enacted at moments
of political protest and rough sleeping, thus creating a possibility of
‘expanded publicness’ (this volume, p. 172).
The loosening of boundaries between inside and outside, home and
world, while felt in very different ways in each case study, propels com-
munities into the public sphere and constitutes them in very different ways:
the family in relation to technology (Honeywill, Chapter 10; Deslandes
and Humphry, Chapter 11), racialized others in relation to mediated
publics (Lloyd, Chapter 8), and second-generation migrants in relation
to transformations of the welfare state (Ålund, Schierup and Kings,
Chapter 9). The connection between home and public has different stakes
for each group, but within this publicness lies a radical route to finding
spaces to belong.


In Part IV on ‘materiality’, we find precise reflections on the affective

processes of home-making: of feelings of home emerging through the
senses, of home symbolically defined through the material and sensory
qualities of objects. While home is defined through material culture in
migration (Hamilton, Chapter 12; Vanni Accarigi, Chapter 13), it is also a
constructed space (the man cave, the kitchen) that creates a specific iden-
tity (manliness) or attitude to domestic labour (functional or convivial).
The man caves described by Browitt (Chapter 14) and his participants
are delineated by special material objects, for example ‘cars and car parts,
motorcycles, tools, collectibles and memorabilia, musical and gym equip-
ment, televisions, home theatres, alcohol paraphernalia, weapons, books,
games and so forth’ (this volume, p. 207). The changing kitchen designs
encountered by Supski (Chapter 15) reflect the changes in women’s roles as
well as the emergence of new technologies.

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14 Reimagining home in the 21st century

In Chapter 12, Hamilton’s engagement with materiality both defines the

senses as home and defines how the senses embody experiences of home, in
relation to migration and the migrant’s sense of home. Sensory experience
such as sounds, sight or a scent, in other words ‘sensing, and making sense
of, home[,] involves a constant interaction between people, places and
memories’ (this volume, p. 181). Following explorations of embodiment
in the work of Ahmed and Ingold, home here is not limited to a house
where one physically lives. Hamilton’s respondents describe their sense of
home as extending beyond the domestic sphere to include the suburb (see
also Spark 2003), as well as the city, the landscape, and the ground and air,
with which we develop intimate relations through daily interaction, as well
as through shared memories and histories. Using Ahmed’s theorization of
locality, Hamilton shows how place intrudes on to the senses and quotes
Ahmed to describe how ‘the lived experience of being-at-home . . . involves
the enveloping of subjects in a space which is not simply outside them:
being-at-home suggests that the subject and space leak into each other,
inhabit each other’ (Ahmed 1999: 341, emphasis in original).
The site of the home also functions as a repository for complex, inter-
related and at times contradictory socio-cultural ideas and spaces about
people’s relationships with one another, especially with family, places,
spaces and things. The sensory instabilities put in train by processes of
migration are investigated by both Hamilton (Chapter 12) and Vanni
Accarigi (Chapter 13). Vanni Accarigi asks her interviewees to tell their
stories of meaningful objects that have accompanied their owners around
the world, bringing the materiality of home to the fore, and surprising us
with the intimate reflections that treasured possessions provoke. In these
two chapters we find that people adapt, but they find their own way of
doing it within a world of objects and material presences.
In Chapter 13, Vanni Accarigi is curious about how objects and every-
day practices play a role ‘in the uncoupling of the idea of home from
the idea of place’ (this volume, p. 192). Her chapter takes up this ques-
tion in the ‘specific context of transnational mobility, [where home] is
assessed as part of a continuum rather than as a point of departure or
origin . . . or as a point of arrival’ (this volume, p. 192). She argues that
‘the shift from conceptions of belonging to a place to belonging through
a practice is mediated and translated by objects’ (this volume, p. 193) –
‘the materiality and sensory qualities of the objects’ (this volume, p. 194).
These everyday objects (teapot, teacup, books) transport migrants back
to a past, but they also create a present and future. These objects create
home for those who feel out of place. In this aspect, Vanni Accarigi
draws on contemporary feminist and postcolonial scholars’ questioning
of the concept of home as origin, stasis and belonging and documents

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Reimagining home in the 21st century ­15

the ‘creative tensions’ around home that engaging with material practices
can offer.
In Chapter 14, Browitt takes us on a tour of contemporary masculin-
ity through ‘man caves’. He posits the idea of the man cave as a ‘home
within home’, marked by ‘nostalgia for the largely unbounded, pre-marital
freedom from major responsibility that is perceived to disappear with
family making’ (this volume, p. 222). This study thus approaches man caves
through the objects contained therein, including things which might be
considered trivial or ‘kitsch’ by a certain cultured or intellectual gaze but
which may have deep significance for their owners and their idea of home.
Browitt explores the shifts in gendered meanings of home and complex
interplays between social categories and material culture that give rise to
the contemporary man cave phenomenon.
Concluding this part on materiality, and the book as a whole, Supski’s
study of the transformations of ‘kitchen as home’ in Chapter 15 starts
out from the kitchen as underpinning women’s pivotal role in the manage-
ment of home in the 20th century, where they asserted their efficiency and
authority in a modernist paradigm. Interweaving architectural manifestos
and her own kitchen biography, Supski tracks how ‘the design of kitchens
has moved from a greater emphasis on efficiency to one more concerned
with sociality’ (this volume, p. 225). Kitchens are posited as ‘sites of
intersection between work, gender and family relations, and objects’ (this
volume, p. 225). Her account of the history of kitchen design in the western
domestic ideal maps a nostalgia, where the now dominant open-plan
kitchen echoes aspects of the pre-modern sociable and communal kitchen.
Each of the chapters in Part IV offers an innovative way of understand-
ing how, by engaging with the presence of materiality, we deal with the
absences in our lives. In each case, the process of home-making is provoked
by loss: for Hamilton (Chapter 12) and Vanni Accarigi (Chapter 13), in
migration; for Browitt (Chapter 14) and Supski (Chapter 15), in permu-
tations of roles which change the centrality of gender within domestic
arrangements (masculinity retreating to its ‘cave’; women’s culture being
disciplined into efficiency and then a more gender-neutral conviviality).
Following Young (2005), these innovative notions of home provide a sense
of agency to the men and women portrayed in these chapters. They con-
struct and negotiate their sense of self for themselves and in their relations
with others.
Duyvendak (2011) questions why in western democracies ‘feeling at
home’ has become such a dominant theme in public and political debate.
He examines the perceived ‘crisis of home’, taking into consideration both
endogenous and exogenous changes in our construction of ‘home’. He
suggests that, because the traditional notions of home are changing and

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16 Reimagining home in the 21st century

are in a state of flux, there is a growing nostalgia for home, a nostalgia for
the social order of the past. The authors of this book show that an alterna-
tive to the drive for nostalgia also exists. So, while on the one hand there
is a desire, a nostalgia, for the safety of the past, on the other hand there
is a lived reality of multiple lifeworlds. This is the ambivalence that we all
inhabit. Hence, this collection offers a vision of the multiplicities of home,
by examining various practices, tensions and critical debates. The authors
speak to the idea of home from within and across disciplines. Their work
sets out to question home as a static entity and to provoke us to rethink
belonging as a social process in which we are all implicated but which can
never be finalized or settled.


Taken together these analyses advance an interdisciplinary conversation

about the possibilities of home as an analytical category and a founda-
tional space for human identities. Home is much more than domestic
space, as the discussions of migrant and pluralized homes attest: it is also
where we ‘are’.
The editors wish to thank Alison Leitch for her contribution in the
book’s very early stages, and for her intellectual and practical work in
bringing the authors together and discussing the themes as we went along.
We are also grateful to the Faculty of Arts Research Office, Macquarie
University for their support, and a ‘themed workshop’ grant for a meeting
of potential authors that took place in Sydney in September 2013. Many
of the authors attended the workshop, and we greatly appreciate their gen-
erosity in sharing ideas and providing a lively discussion. We would also
like to thank the Department of Sociology, Macquarie University, and our
colleagues for offering a supportive but critical home for this book. We also
would like to mention the generosity and creative spirit of Fintan Magee,
whose work appears on the cover of the book. Finally, we would like to
acknowledge the life and work of Professor John Urry, whose ideas have
been part of the fabric of several of the chapters included in this book, as
well as an inspiration to its central theme of making home within the flows
of contemporary lives.


Ahmed, S. (1999), ‘Home and away: Narratives of migration and estrangement’,

International Journal of Cultural Studies, 2 (3), 329–347.

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Reimagining home in the 21st century ­17

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and T. Fitzmaurice (eds), Cinema and the City: Film and Urban Societies in a
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and new anxieties’, Home Cultures: Journal of Architecture, Design and Domestic
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2. Reflections on home and identity in
late modernity
Norbert Ebert


The purpose of this chapter is to reflect on the notions of ‘home’ and

‘identity’ in late modernity. Both terms carry shared normative meanings
referring to, for example, places, languages, families or ancestry. These
shared norms and values are a vital part of what we call the lifeworld.
Hence, for the purpose of this chapter, home and identity can be defined
as normative concepts embedded and originating in lifeworlds. In late-
modern societies, however, lifeworlds become increasingly precarious, as
they are subject to normative pluralization. We can ‘be’ or are ‘at’ home
in many lifeworlds. We speak multiple languages, change workplaces more
frequently, travel and migrate more often. What stays the same about a
person is inevitably less anchored in one particular lifeworld. The task to
reconcile the various meanings of home into a coherent identity intensi-
fies for the individual. As a consequence, I argue that in late modernity
the individual becomes a unique nodal point of experiences originating in
multiple lifeworlds. The notion of sharing, however, is essential for identity
formation and the development of a sense of home. Individuals’ identities
are increasingly filled with an emphasis on unique individual experiences
originating in multiple lifeworlds. While the socially negotiated meaning
of home is ever more generalized (or romanticized), individuals have to
reconcile meanings from various lifeworlds on their own. What individuals
today share is the struggle to create a sense of home and identity, but not
necessarily the lifeworld and its normative contents. It is from this view-
point that I reflect in this chapter on the late-modern conditions which
might require the redefining of home and identity.


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22 Reimagining home in the 21st century



In 1920 in The Second Coming William Butler Yeats wrote that ‘Things
fall apart; the centre cannot hold.’ Similarly, Walter Benjamin’s angle of
history identifies modern progress as an unfolding ‘catastrophe which
keeps piling up wreckage upon wreckage’, ultimately conceding that we
can no longer ‘make whole what has been smashed’ (1969: 257). These
lines resonate deeply with some of sociology’s core apprehensions about
modern life. All too often modernity is praised as an era of extraordinary
progress, and yet its potential and promised accomplishments remain, if
not unrealized, heavily criticized for leading as much to humanity’s demise
as to its betterment.
Arnold Gehlen’s terms Instinktreduktion (instinct reduction) and
Weltoffenheit (world openness) (1975: 21) refer to nothing less than the fact
that there is no naturally given centre that holds or that could be smashed.
What cannot but be smashed and fall apart throughout the course of
human social history, however, and in particular modernity, is our socially
established normative interpretations of the world. These worldviews help
individuals to overcome the precarity of an instinctually underdetermined
human existence. The stability of lifeworlds and with them identities and a
sense of home relies on a strong logic of sharing. It lets us at least tempo-
rarily forget the fragile space the human condition leaves us in and which
we need to fill with social definitions of reality such as home and identity.
Any social definition of reality, however, is thus precarious. The question is
how our social definitions of reality stack up against the precarity originat-
ing in the human condition.
Addressing the issue of precarious social definitions of reality in a book
chapter titled ‘Searching for a Centre That Holds’, Zygmunt Bauman
writes: ‘The underdetermination, underdefinition of the human being,
robbed of the instincts nature so lavishly bestowed on other species, makes
that being into a “bunch of possibilities” which need to be sorted out so
that some of them might solidify into the reality of existence’ (1995: 141).
The human condition provides an empty canvas on which individual and
social identities not only can, but also have to, be drawn and consistently
redrawn. Hence, as Bauman suggests, the challenge of creating meaning
today is no different to that of any other historical period. In The Homeless
Mind Berger et al. make this point about modernity when they write that
‘modernity has accomplished many far-reaching transformations, but it
has not fundamentally changed the finitude, fragility and mortality of the
human condition. What it has accomplished is to seriously weaken those
definitions of reality that previously made that human condition easier to

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Reflections on home in late modernity ­23

bear’ (1973: 185). It is this deep-seated normative precarity originating in

the human condition which I take as the starting point for my discussion
of the notions of home and identity in late-modern societies. What are the
definitions of reality, of home and identity under late-modern conditions,
and do they provide normative stability which makes the precarity that
comes with the human condition more or less bearable?
Modernity is often depicted as a process of ongoing liberation from
more rigid norms, for example religious traditions or feudalism, and the
reflections on Yeats, Benjamin and Bauman remind us that, within any
social reality, definitions of home and identity are subject to social change.
The human need to feel at home, however, is averse to the idea of social
change, as it has a destabilizing effect and ‘acting on this need is not easy,
and is a source of constant tension and anxiety’ (Bauman 1995: 141).
Notions of uncertainty, pluralization or liquidity all carry a sense of pre-
carity because they point to a loosening of the normative social bearings.
While Yeats and Benjamin emphasize a loss, the loss of a centre that
holds, this simultaneously signals the gain and/or burden of freedom to
negotiate or renegotiate who we as societies and individuals are. In late
modernity this liberation provides us with so many possibilities that we
have ‘no choice but to choose’ (Giddens 1991: 81). The tension between
the need to define reality socially and the relentless striving for freedom
is a ‘source of constant misery, but also of a never fading glory’ (Bauman
1995: 142).
At this point a paradox between the loss of rigid norms and the gain
of freedom emerges. I argue that this paradox increasingly defines late
modernity. As modern autonomous individuals we insistently want the
centre to fall apart; we want barriers to freedom and autonomy to fall, to
be smashed and pushed aside when we argue for equal pay, gender equity,
more political and human rights, the ability to travel the world or free trade,
for example. We feel entitled to a maximum of individual autonomy. The
almost reflex-like claim for more freedoms, however, does not automati-
cally mean that we know how to use them. While the late-modern ‘auto-
pilot’ is firmly set on a course to ever more freedom and self-­realization,
it automatically steers us also into a space of multiple lifeworlds with a
weakened sense of shared experiences, a space of normative precarity that
demands self-definition and self-organization.
The point to stress is that the human condition is unchanged and
reminds us of the precarious nature of any normative definition of reality;
this includes home and identity. As Weigert et al. put it, ‘The human condi-
tion is grounded on a paradox of identity: the best answer anyone can give
to the necessary modern question about self is a contingent and histori-
cally limited reply. It is a typification of self until further notice’ (Weigert

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24 Reimagining home in the 21st century

et al. 2007: 44), requiring redefinition from time to time, in this case under
the conditions of late modernity.


Given the human condition and the resulting normative precarity, how can
we achieve any normative stability? The simple answer is we gain stability
by defining norms collectively and socially. The lifeworld is the term with
which these definitions have been captured, in particular by phenom-
enology from Husserl to Schütz to Habermas and others. The lifeworld
functions as ‘an unquestioned scheme of reference’ (Schütz 1944: 499), a
collection of rules, norms and values with which we define where home
is and who we are. Because of the human condition, as discussed above,
‘the individual needs overarching reality definitions to give meaning to
life as a whole’ (Berger et al. 1973: 15). Home and identity are such defini-
tions. They are part of the taken-for-granted ‘stock of knowledge’ (Schütz
and Luckmann 1973: 7) which ‘supplies members with unproblematic,
common, background convictions that are assumed to be guaranteed’
(Habermas 1985: 125). This taken-for-grantedness is the remedy against
human indeterminacy, normative precarity and a world open to interpre-
tation, and it is anchored in shared lifeworlds. ‘The world of everyday life
is consequently man’s fundamental and paramount reality’ (Schütz and
Luckmann 1973: 3), and the lifeworld is where we are culturally, socially and
personally at home and gain our identities.
The important point in this discussion is the tension between norma-
tive precarity and normative stability. If the lifeworld can be regarded
as the collective bedrock of home and identity against the backdrop of
the human condition, then it is worth asking to what extent late-modern
lifeworlds are normatively stable/unstable, and how these structures affect
our late-modern understanding of home and identity. For this purpose the
next section will discuss the structures and components of the lifeworld in
more detail before we look at how they can be defined in late modernity.



Home and identity are defined and emerge from sharing norms, values
and meanings spatially and temporally within the same lifeworld. ‘Thus
from the outset, my life-world is not my private world but, rather, is
intersubjective; the fundamental structure of its reality is that it is shared

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Reflections on home in late modernity ­25

by us’ (Schütz and Luckmann 1973: 4). It is from the notion of sharing
of everyday situations that identity and home gain their weight. I define
sharing quite simplistically as experiencing life in the same space at
the same time. The goal of this section is to distinguish more precisely
what is shared on the basis of various structural components of the
Jürgen Habermas gives a differentiated account of the structures of the
lifeworld when he writes:

I use the term culture for the stock of knowledge from which participants in
communication supply themselves with interpretations as they come to an
understanding about something in the world. I use the term society for the
legitimate orders through which participants regulate their memberships in
social groups and thereby secure solidarity. By personality I understand the
competences that make a subject capable of speaking and acting, that put him
in a position to take part in processes of reaching understanding and thereby to
assert his own identity . . . The interactions woven into the fabric of everyday
communicative practice constitute the medium through which culture, society,
and person get reproduced. These reproduction processes cover the symbolic
structures of the lifeworld. (1985: 138)

The following discussion focuses on the role of sharing without which

none of the structural components of the lifeworld, and subsequently
home and identity, have any bearing.


It is tempting to equate lifeworlds and their taken-for-granted recipes

merely with culture, but the lifeworld does not refer just to shared cultural
patterns which are also often used to define identities or home. Language,
objects, landscapes, private homes, food and family are amongst the most
common examples, and they are often presented as individual preferences
or tastes or unique traits. My argument here is simply that their meaning
originates in the shared experiences attached to them.
Culture as the everyday stock of knowledge only becomes real and gains
certainty if it is based on shared experiences. Food, prayers, a piece of art,
historic buildings, souvenirs, photos and music often owe their meaning
to moments shared with others in the past, present or future. They gain
their emotional, joyful, painful, reflective and normative stability from
temporarily and spatially shared experiences. Sharing the stories and
objects of the past reproduces their normative meaning in the present and
carries it into the future. These are the stories we tell about family holidays,

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26 Reimagining home in the 21st century

childhood Christmas dinners or last year’s village festival, but it is equally

the case for national holidays or historic incidents of worldwide sig-
nificance like the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Tiananmen Square massacre,
9/11 or the tsunami in Japan. The common ‘Where were you when . . .?’
questions establish exactly this sense of shared experience. The intensity
and strength of these situations lie in the shared reliving of the moment,
allowing us to repeat the norms that matter to each other. These shared
cultural experiences are a big part of what I define as home. Culture can
only provide a sense of home if there is a strong sense of sharing on the
basis of communication and mutual recognition, of being part of shared
experiences being symbolically carried over from the past, being created
or recreated in the present and carried forward into a shared or imagined
normative future.


The notion of sharing norms and values is equally central in the shaping
of personal identities. The following statement by Berger and Luckmann
makes this clear: ‘Man’s self-production is always, and of necessity a social
enterprise’ (1971: 69). Their argument rests in many ways on George
Herbert Mead, who depicted this in greater detail when he argued:

When a self does appear it always involves an experience of another; there could
not be an experience of a self simply by itself . . . when taking the attitude of the
other becomes an essential part in his behaviour – then the individual appears
in his own experience as a self; and until this happens he does not appear as a
self. (1972: 195)

Socialization describes the sharing of an existing normative infrastruc-

ture with new members entering a lifeworld as newborns, migrants, stran-
gers, homecomers or refugees. The fundamental process here is again the
sharing of recipe knowledge with others. By sharing the norms and values
of the lifeworld, new and existing members are continuously socialized
either by being reminded of existing norms and values or by having to
learn them.
Personality, to use Habermas’s term, is socially shaped from the very
moment we are born. Gender, ethnicity, place and kinship, for example,
are arguably some of the most robust shared aspects of identities (Jenkins
2008: 69–70). None of them are individually constituted, but are deeply
anchored in shared experiences based on being in the same space at the
same time.

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Reflections on home in late modernity ­27

Two types or ‘directions’ of sharing have emerged so far from this

brief discussion. On the one hand, all members of a lifeworld draw on an
existing set of daily rules of engaging with each other. By sharing these
taken-for-granted norms we produce and reproduce a normatively stable
lifeworld. This is what we refer to as everyday culture. More pointedly one
could say these shared cultural patterns are external to the individual. On
the other hand, the shaping of individuals, their socialization as the process
of learning exactly those patterns that define home and identity, could be
said to be internal to the individual. These two are linked, and that is what
Habermas refers to as society.


Neither cultures nor personalities are static. Once we are fully integrated
and recognized as full members of a lifeworld we ‘talk back’ and change
norms and values. We sign petitions, boycott products and cast protest
votes. It is here that sharing takes on a more institutionalized role of nego-
tiating the bigger normative landscape of society. We are not just socialized
into a lifeworld, but actively shape it. We are not just drawing on existing
recipes, but change the ingredients with the hope of creating the society we
want to live in and the identity of who we want to be.
Personality and culture, individual identity and feeling culturally at
home are connected through the coordinating mechanisms of society, its
institutions or what Durkheim called ‘intermediary institutions’ (1984). As
examples we can refer to the family, the workplace, education and various
memberships in clubs, social movements, parties, unions or even religions.
The important point here is that society emerges as an institutional land-
scape that provides normative stability in the shape of shared institution-
alized values that are not easily changed. Institutions here function as a
pacemaker of normative change. They are the socially constructed centre
that holds both a sense of home and identity, but they are also the place to
potentially renegotiate shared norms and values. They represent, protect
and enforce shared norms, but equally facilitate their renegotiation. This
kind of sharing is essential for both a sense of personal identity and feeling
at home in a particular lifeworld. It comes back to the paradox between
freedom and a centre that holds. As Habermas writes, ‘an autonomous ego
and an emancipated society reciprocally require one another’ (Habermas
1976: 71).
On the basis of Habermas’s three structural components of the lifeworld
we can develop a more nuanced understanding of the lifeworld as constitu-
tive of personal identities and a sense of home as normative concepts. How

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28 Reimagining home in the 21st century

these three components of the lifeworld are connected is what Habermas

refers to as integration and coordination (society), which requires not a
fixed but a stable institutional order. Integration is successful when indi-
viduals can establish a personal identity on the basis of shared norms and
values; they develop a sense of home when they can participate in and
contribute to the reproduction and negotiation of cultural practices within
an existing institutional landscape. And yet we need to take the notion of
sharing one step further.
For Habermas, the common denominator between the various struc-
tural components of the lifeworld is what he calls communicative action.
He defines it as follows:

Under the functional aspect of mutual understanding, communicative action

serves to transmit and renew cultural knowledge; under the aspect of coordinat-
ing action, it serves social integration and the establishment of solidarity; finally,
under the aspect of socialization, communicative action serves the formation of
personal identities . . . Corresponding to these processes of cultural reproduc-
tion, social integration, and socialization are the structural components of the
lifeworld: culture, society, person. (Habermas 1985: 137–138)

What we can take from these elaborations by Habermas is that home and
identity emerge from the intersubjective flows in and between the three
structural components, that is, culture, society and personality.
The notion of communication has been extended by Axel Honneth to
include not just consensus-driven communication but any kind of inter-
subjectivity based on norms (see Petherbridge 2013). Sharing now does
not mean just agreement but also ongoing conflict over what we recognize
as shared. The topics involved here reach from food to friendship, families
and homes, countries and regions, home towns and holiday places. They
all can convey a sense of joy or pain, memories, gains and losses. Some are
mysteriously puzzling, fantastic and inspiring, grabbing the meaning of
life at its core; some appear imaginary and vague as soon as one attempts
to grasp what they are actually about, but they are based on intersubjectiv-
ity. Sharing experiences spatially and temporally includes a kind of recog-
nition that touches not just on norms but on the core of humanness, as
discussed at the beginning of this chapter, and lends strength and stability
to lifeworlds.
As members of a lifeworld we take the intersubjectively established sense
of home and identity for granted. When we know the appropriate forms of
greetings at particular times of the day, when we know the rituals around
births, weddings, funerals and anniversaries, when we know grandma’s
recipe for the family Christmas dinner, when we regularly meet friends for
coffee and when we know which bureaucracies to engage with to obtain a

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Reflections on home in late modernity ­29

new passport, that is when we have a sense of home and identity. Sharing
objects, places, spaces and time is a crucial anchor and generator of our
individual and social identities. It is this shared sense of belonging, identity
and home that makes the precarity of human existence more bearable.
Their gravity, their meaning, their importance and their sense of anchor-
age stem from a sense of sharing time, space and everyday experiences
within lifeworlds against the backdrop of the human condition.


To reiterate briefly, the human condition has left us with two basic require-
ments that underpin any discussion of the notions of home and identity.
Firstly, it leaves us in a space of normative precarity. Secondly, lifeworlds
provide normative stability in the face of the human condition. But the very
fact that lifeworlds are socially constructed also means they are subject to
social change and hence also precarious. This precarity includes a paradox
between the striving for ever more normative freedom breaking down the
very centre that could hold and the anthropological need for a stable social
order at the same time. After the discussion of normative precarity, norma-
tive stability and the essential role of sharing, the question is: what are the
underlying conditions characterizing home and identity in late modernity?
I argue that fundamental precarity originating in the human condition is
more visible and felt under what I call late-modern conditions of plurali-
zation and fragmentation. Identity and home in late-modern societies are
more precarious or ‘messy, blurred and confused’ (see for example Ahmed
et al. 2003; Nowicka 2006, 2007). What are the reasons for this?
I refer to one of the major characteristics of the late-modern condi-
tion as hyper-differentiation of the institutional landscape. Institutions
are supposed to be a stabilizing factor in any society as the hinge between
well-established norms characterizing the society we live in and norma-
tive change driven by questions about what kind of society we want to
live in. Hence, institutions are major coordinating and integrating forces
in societies. Hyper-differentiation means that their capacities to integrate
and coordinate normative changes are challenged by the pluralization and
increased complexity of existing but also envisaged normative orders.
Although talking about social systems instead of institutions, Niklas
Luhmann suggested that ‘The function of social systems is to capture and
reduce complexity. They help to mediate between the external complexity
of the world and the anthropologically very restricted ability of human
beings to consciously process experiences’ (1974: 116, trans. N. Ebert).
This suggestion leads us to a paradoxical situation that has been pointed

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30 Reimagining home in the 21st century

out by Habermas and which captures hyper-differentiation as one aspect

of the late-modern condition. The reduction of complexity at one point
increases the complexity of the world in another. Hence, reducing complex-
ity also increases complexity (Schimank 1996: 138). This is precisely what
characterizes lifeworlds in late-modern societies: differentiation leads to
further differentiation, resulting in hyper-differentiation or fragmentation.
The second and more important characteristic of the late-modern
condition is the fact that we live in multiple lifeworlds. What exactly this
means is the subject matter of the following section. In the broader context
of a world that was characterized by the upheaval and uprooting of the
Second World War, Alfred Schütz and others, for example Mead, became
concerned with questions of home and identity, of leaving, entering and
returning to lifeworlds. The question presented here is therefore not new
as such. People have always moved in search of a better, more secure liveli-
hood elsewhere, because of human catastrophes, wars, poverty, famines,
human rights violations, employment opportunities or the lack thereof, or
the mere joy of travel.


The point of discussing multiple lifeworlds is not to contrast them against

previous, more homogeneous lifeworlds. No lifeworld is ever homogene-
ous, but late-modern lifeworlds have a heightened degree of plurality
and complexity. Berger et al. therefore speak of ‘the pluralization of the
social lifeworlds’, which describes the late-modern condition of hyper-­
differentiation well:

The pluralistic structures of modern society have made the life of more and
more individuals migratory, ever-changing, mobile. In everyday life the modern
individual continuously alternates between highly discrepant and often con-
tradictory social contexts. In terms of his biography, the individual migrates
through a succession of widely divergent social worlds. Not only are an increas-
ing number of individuals in a modern society uprooted from their original
social milieu, but, in addition, no succeeding milieu succeeds in becoming truly
‘home’ either . . . A world in which everything is in constant motion is a world
in which certainties of any kind are hard to come by. Social mobility has its
correlate in cognitive and normative mobility. What is truth in one context of
the individual’s social life may be error in another. What was considered right
at one stage of the individual’s social career becomes wrong in the next. (Berger
et al., 1973: 184)

Alfred Schütz addressed similar questions in his articles ‘The Stranger’

(1944) and ‘The Homecomer’ (1945). Entering a new lifeworld, a new

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Reflections on home in late modernity ­31

social context with a stock of knowledge and recipes for everyday interac-
tion from another lifeworld is what characterizes the stranger:

The approaching stranger . . . does not share certain basic assumptions which
alone guarantee the functioning of these recipes. He has to place in question
what seems unquestionable to the in-group and cannot even put his trust in a
vague knowledge about the general style of the pattern but needs explicit knowl-
edge of its elements. (Schütz 1944: 499)

What is taken for granted in one lifeworld is quickly brought into question
by entering another lifeworld. Again in Schütz’s words, ‘The discovery
that things in his new surroundings look quite different from what he
expected them to be at home is frequently the first shock to the stranger’s
confidence in the validity of his habitual “thinking as usual” ’ (Schütz
1944: 503). The situation is no different for the homecomer, the person
who returns to a lifeworld she has left for a while: ‘The homecomer . . .
expects to return to an environment of which he always had and – so
he thinks – still has intimate knowledge and which he has just to take
for granted in order to find his bearings within it’ (Schütz 1945: 369).
Under the late-modern condition we are not strangers in one place and
homecomers in another. I argue that we are simultaneously strangers and
homecomers in multiple hyper-differentiated lifeworlds. We do not necessar-
ily physically leave a lifeworld, but live in multiple lifeworlds or a plurality
of lifeworlds that are not easily reconciled collectively or individually with
notions of home and identity. In the words of Ralph and Staehli, home
‘is sedentary and mobile’ (Ralph and Staehli 2011: 520) at the same time,
and being at home in a particular lifeworld does not mean we simply
‘leave behind’ other lifeworlds or homes as, for example, Avtar Brah
(1996) explains. ‘Home’, as Katie Walsh concludes, ‘becomes an explicitly
dynamic process’ (2006: 126). What characterizes this dynamic, so my
argument goes, is that the vital experiences of sharing time, space and
emotions have become so manifold, complex and dynamic that reintegrat-
ing them into a centre that holds on the cultural, personal and social levels
has become a major task for individuals defining their sense of home and
identity. As Berger et al. write in reference to Schütz:

Plurality becomes a basic theme of life. With this pluralization, the creation
of any overarching symbolic universe becomes increasingly more difficult.
Different realities are defined and legitimated in quite discrepant ways, and
the construction of an overarching world view that will embrace all of them
becomes highly problematic. An important characteristic of the construction of
symbolic universes under modern conditions is the sheer number of items that
must be included in such a construct. (Berger et al. 1973: 112–113)

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32 Reimagining home in the 21st century

We live our daily lives as permanent strangers and homecomers. The

sharing of cultural patterns cannot be taken for granted, and the assumption
that every individual with whom we share a particular space at a particular
time also shares the same lifeworld no longer holds. The cultural component
of the lifeworld has multiplied, and the sharing elements are weakened.
Under late-modern conditions it is not the normative stability of a lifeworld
that can be taken for granted, but its plurality. Consequently, it is more dif-
ficult and precarious for individuals to establish identities and a sense of
home on a shared normative basis. Precarious notions of home and identity
under late-modern conditions highlight ongoing and continuously unfin-
ished processes of identification (see Jenkins 2008) where the very notion of
what we share has shifted or expanded. The normative precarity discussed
at the beginning returns here. While we still share a kind of loyalty to a set
of norms and values, we also share the experiences of not sharing, of being
disloyal or uprooted, of permanently being strangers and homecomers.



Socialization as discussed earlier creates a sense of normative loyalty on the

basis of primary identifications to a particular set of norms and values, a
kind of commitment, tie or bind to a particular place, time and people.
The late-modern condition characterized by hyper-differentiation and
multiple lifeworlds highlights questions of normative loyalty. As Schütz
writes in the case of the stranger, ‘The doubtful loyalty of the stranger
is unfortunately very frequently more than a prejudice on the part of the
approached group. This is especially true in cases in which the stranger
proves unwilling or unable to substitute the new cultural pattern entirely
for that of the home group’ (1944: 507). And he continues:

But very frequently the reproach of doubtful loyalty originates in the astonish-
ment of the members of the in-group that the stranger does not accept the total
of its cultural pattern as the natural and appropriate way of life and as the best
of all possible solutions of any problem. The stranger is called ungrateful, since
he refuses to acknowledge that the cultural pattern offered to him grants him
shelter and protection. But these people do not understand that the stranger in
the state of transition does not consider this pattern as a protecting shelter at all
but as a labyrinth in which he has lost all sense of his bearings. (Schütz 1944: 507)

What exactly migrating between multiple lifeworlds means, and how

questions of loyalty emerge, is beautifully described by Mira Crouch in her
book Almost Home: A Memoir of Migration:

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Reflections on home in late modernity ­33

It was difficult to leave Europe and her ghosts. As our ship was put to sea at
Genoa, the splash of the last rope that bound us to her shores was a searing
sight. At that moment, my departure turned into an act of disloyalty to the
person I might have become had I remained on this soil, and I felt hollowed out.
In the void that was the future into which I was about to plunge, I saw myself
acting out someone else’s life. A sense of estrangement from my old – essential,
somehow? – self began to form and traces of it persisted for years afterwards.
(Crouch 2013: 28)

The most striking point here is the question of loyalty and disloyalty to
a self, an identity, a home that is clearly tied to a lifeworld in a particular
place at a particular time. Identity and home under late-modern conditions
of hyper-differentiation are no longer anchored in taken-for-granted life-
worlds, but in permanently being strangers and homecomers who are dis/
loyal to norms from multiple and even unknown lifeworlds and ultimately


One could argue that the late-modern conditions of hyper-differentiation

and multiple lifeworlds do not make it easier to bear the human condition,
but bring about normative precarities. What defines home and identity
under late-modern conditions is the experiences of permanently being
a stranger and homecomer. Identity and home are now defined by con-
stantly reflecting on disloyalties to the person one might have or could
become, reflecting on the risk of feeling hollowed out or acting out a previ-
ously unimagined life where we are strangers and homecomers not just in
multiple lifeworlds but to ourselves.
Since a sense of normative loyalty to one’s lifeworlds, one’s self and one’s
home can not easily be derived from a strong sense of sharing based in
primary socialization, individualized normative loyalties have become the
more or less precarious bedrock of home and identity in late modernity.
Identity and home are now anchored in one’s own reflexivity. It is this very
need to reflect upon one’s own notion of home and identity that can be
shared, but also makes the individual into the unique nodal point for the
formation of home and identity.
The purpose of this chapter was to reflect on the notion of home and
identity in late-modern societies. I have argued that any conception of
home and identity can be understood as making the human condition
of normative precarity more bearable. Relative normative stability stems
from what we call the lifeworld as the infrastructure of societies within
which home and identity as concepts are anchored. Under the late-modern

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34 Reimagining home in the 21st century

condition, which I have defined as hyper-differentiated and increasingly

complex, the lifeworlds we live in and their norms multiply. Living in
multiple lifeworlds brings back a sense of normative precarity. It is in
particular the notion of sharing that provides insights here. The taken-
for-granted sharing of norms in more homogeneous lifeworlds is replaced
with a sharing of the experience of living in multiple lifeworlds. And, while
we can share with each other how we feel about these experiences, we have
not been in them together at the same place, at the same time. This results
in a different sense of home and identity, one where the individual is the
unique nodal point that holds all the experiences. The central challenge for
the individual is what I have described as experiencing normative loyalty/
disloyalty from being unable to be simultaneously physically and tempo-
rally present in multiple lifeworlds. All of this might not mean much more
than us surrendering to the fact that ‘time chisels away at life and an altered
shape of things slowly emerges . . . New habits of action and mind form
and, in due course, settle into a personality much less painfully sensitive to
displacement’ (Crouch 2013: 13). At some point in the future even multiple
lifeworlds might provide a centre that can hold a redefined sense of home
and identity for individuals living under late-modern conditions.

Ahmed, S., C. Castaneda, A.M. Fortier and M. Sheller (2003), Uprootings/
Regroundings: Questions of Home and Migration, Oxford: Berg.
Bauman, Z. (1995), ‘Searching for a centre that holds’, in M. Featherstone, S. Lash
and R. Robertson (eds), Global Modernities, London: Sage, pp. 140–153.
Benjamin, W. (1969), Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, trans. H. Zohn, ed. H.
Arendt, English language edn, New York: Schocken.
Berger, P.L. and T. Luckmann (1971), The Social Construction of Reality: A
Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge, London: Penguin.
Berger, P.L., B. Berger and H. Kellner (1973), The Homeless Mind: Modernization
and Consciousness, New York: Vintage.
Brah, A. (1996), Cartographies of Diaspora: Contesting Identities, London:
Crouch, M. (2013), Almost Home: A Memoir of Migration, Lilyfield, NSW:
Durkheim, E. (1984), The Division of Labor in Society, trans. W.D. Halls,
Basingstoke: Macmillan.
Gehlen, A. (1975), Urmensch und Spätkultur: philosophische Ergebnisse und
Aussagen, Frankfurt am Main: Athenaion.
Giddens, A. (1991), Modernity and Self-identity: Self and Society in the Late
Modern Age, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Habermas, J. (1976), ‘Moral development and ego identity’, Communication and
the Evolution of Society, Boston, MA: Beacon Press, pp. 69–94.

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Reflections on home in late modernity ­35

Habermas, J. (1985), The Theory of Communicative Action: Lifeworld and System:

A Critique of Functionalist Reason, Vol. 2, Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
Jenkins, R. (2008), Social Identity, 3rd edn, London: Routledge.
Luhmann, N. (1974), ‘Soziologie als Theorie sozialer Systeme’, in Soziologische
Aufklärung, Vol. 1, Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, pp. 113–136.
Mead, G.H. (1972), Mind, Self and Society from the Standpoint of a Social
Behaviourist, Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press.
Nowicka, M. (2006), Transnational Professionals and Their Cosmopolitan Universes,
Frankfurt am Main: Campus Verlag.
Nowicka, M. (2007), ‘Mobile locations: Construction of home in a group of
mobile transnational professionals’, Global Networks, 7 (1), 69–86.
Petherbridge, D. (2013), The Critical Theory of Axel Honneth, Plymouth: Lexington
Ralph, D. and L.A. Staehli (2011), ‘Home and migration: Mobilities, belongings
and identities’, Geography Compass, 5 (7), 517–530.
Schimank, U. (1996), Theorien gesellschaftlicher Differenzierung, Opladen: Leske
& Budrich.
Schütz, A. (1944), ‘The stranger: An essay in social psychology’, American Journal
of Sociology, 49 (6), 499–507.
Schütz, A. (1945), ‘The homecomer’, American Journal of Sociology, 50 (5),
Schütz, A. and T. Luckmann (1973), The Structures of the Life-world, London:
Walsh, K. (2006), ‘British expatriate belongings: Mobile homes and transnational
homing’, Home Cultures, 3 (2), 123–144.
Weigert, A.J., J.S. Teitge and D.W. Teitge (2007), Society and Identity: Toward a
Sociological Psychology, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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3. The migrant ‘stranger’ at home:
‘Australian’ shared values and the
national imaginary
Ellie Vasta


An enduring interest in the meaning of home, belonging and community

in migration studies has led to ample research on themes such as: identity,
community and belonging in the process of settlement; the connectivity
and relational character of space and place, shaped by the practices people
engage in (Amin 2002; Massey 2005); the politics of identity and belong-
ing (Parekh 2008); and belonging among immigrant youth (Hussain and
Bagguley 2005; Harris 2013). In Australian immigration research, there
is much on attitudes towards immigrants (Wilson et al. 2005), on racism
towards migrants and on immigrants’ views of their experiences of racism
(Forrest and Dunn 2007), on othering and alienation of immigrants
(Vasta 2004), on the process of settlement, integration and social cohesion
(Markus 2014) and on hybrid identities (Noble et al. 1999; Duffy 2005).
With the new nationalisms in Europe since 1989, and in Western coun-
tries of immigration since 9/11, ‘the framing of the nation as “home” ’
(Duyvendak 2011: 1) is reflected through the discourse of social cohesion
and national belonging. Since the national home is no longer thought to
be homogeneous, these discourses indicate that a society is at its most
cohesive when people share values and share a sense of place, and that the
national home requires shared values to forge a strong national identity.
Duyvendak suggests that the nation-as-home in Western Europe is ideal-
ized ‘to support native majorities who feel overwhelmed by the arrival
of “strange” new neighbours with unknown habits speaking foreign
languages’ (Duyvendak 2011: 2). Never mind that Western Europe and
Australia have had a steady flow of immigrants for the past 60 years, often
to fuel their labour markets.
Today, processes of settlement and integration in many ethnically and
religiously diverse countries of immigration are being deployed through


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The migrant ‘stranger’ at home ­37

a return to the ideology of assimilation similar to Park’s ‘Race Relations

Cycle’ (Park 1950). Park saw assimilation as a naturally occurring process
due to cross-cultural contact. Now, countries of immigration impose
assimilation on immigrants, only this time the mode of delivery is through
the avowal of dominant national values decreed as Australian values or
British values. The nation-as-home is achieved through the assimilation
of these values by migrants. Generally, the ‘common values’ expressed
are those of the settlement society as represented, for example, in the
Australian values statement and citizenship test (Fozdar and Spittles 2010)
or statements about ‘the importance of British values’ publicly noted by
three consecutive British prime ministers since 9/11. Here, highlighting the
importance of Australian or British values reveals an underlying anxiety
expressed as the need to educate some migrant groups and ethnic minori-
ties in the supposedly superior ways of Australian or British traditional
This chapter focuses on the reflections of Australian migrants on their
place in the national imaginary, the national home in which they have
settled. The chapter turns on its head the concern with how migrants settle
and integrate or how different they are, concentrating instead on how
migrants understand and experience the values, traditions and practices
of the society into which they are settling or have settled, and how in the
process they re-configure individual and collective identities. Migrants are
often represented as the ‘other’, and many are marginalized and excluded
from the mainstream society and its institutions, often defined as stran-
gers. In the sociological literature, the stranger is a ‘newcomer’ (Schütz
1944) or a marginal man (Schütz 1944; Park 1950), and we see what the
newcomer does to integrate in the process of cultural contact and adapta-
tion (see Park 1950). Ålund has shown how scientific discourses related to
the intellectual heritage of Schütz have helped to create the “stranger” and
the “non-stranger” ’ and appraises Simmel’s alternative approach (Ålund
2009: 7). In this chapter, I explore Simmel’s ideas about proximity and
distance, individuality and community that will help us understand how
constructing home is experienced or understood by Australians of migrant
background, using pilot research data from the Affinities in Multicultural
Australia project.1


Simmel’s notion of the stranger provides three analytical themes relevant

to the analysis of home, values and belonging explored in this chapter: the
stranger as insider/outsider; subjective objectivity; and the dialectic of a

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38 Reimagining home in the 21st century

third way. Simmel’s stranger can appear through various social positions
and experiences (Levine 1977: 17). Although there are numerous interpre-
tations of Simmel’s account of strangerhood (see Levine 1977; Marotta
2012), his account can be easily associated with the migrant, who is both
integrated and marginalized (Simmel 1910, 1950). The stranger is someone
who is physically close yet socially distant, where ‘distance means that he,
who is close by, is far, and strangeness means that he, who also is far, is
actually near’ (Simmel 1950: 402). In other words, the stranger ‘concerns a
particular social position within a group which involves a certain degree of
inclusion and of exclusion, of being in the group but not of it’ (McLemore
1970: 92). According to Simmel, ‘to be a stranger is naturally a very posi-
tive relation: it is a specific form of interaction’, but it is because ‘he has
not belonged to it from the beginning, that he imports qualities into it,
which do not and cannot stem from the group itself’; thus, ‘[h]is position
as a full-fledged member involves both being outside it and confronting it’
(Simmel 1950: 402). The stranger relationship ‘involves a distinctive blend
of closeness and remoteness: the stranger’s position within a given spatial
circle is fundamentally affected by the fact that he brings qualities into it
that are derived from the outside’ (Levine 1977: 20).
Echoing Simmel, Bauman suggests that the stranger represents in-
between, ‘ambivalent people’ who threaten and challenge the relationship
with the ‘host’ society (Bauman 1990). Being inside and outside, physically
close yet socially distant, and bringing in qualities and resources from the
outside provide us with an understanding of a social process that is clearly
relevant to the position of the migrant. Explaining the in-between position
of the insider/outsider, Marotta (2010: 109) sums up:

[T]he in-between stranger does not have complete access to the cultural and
language code of the host. While this causes anxiety and stress, it also provides
the ground for a different understanding of the host’s world . . . The position of
strangers encourages a critical and ‘objective’ stance towards the host and one’s
own culture.

‘Being in the group but not of it’ places strangers in a position where
they can develop an ‘objective stance’ both towards the culture in which
they have become immersed and towards their own culture. For Simmel,
because strangers come in from the outside, they can approach their new
milieu with a certain type of objectivity. He argues, however, that the
objectivity of the stranger is not context-free, and it is not simply about
‘passivity and detachment’; rather objectivity is characterized by ‘distance
and nearness, indifference and involvement’ (Simmel 1950: 403). But
involvement and participation suggest a subjectivist understanding by

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The migrant ‘stranger’ at home ­39

the stranger. Scholars such as Haraway (1988) and Marotta (2012) have
reflected upon Simmel’s specific meanings of objectivity, raising concern
about standpoint epistemology as it informs identity politics, where sub-
jects analyse social relationships from their point of view. Such an episte-
mology offers new insights into power relations that have been previously
ignored, for example in the marginalization of the position of women
based on universalistic male assumptions.
Marotta provides a nuanced understanding of Simmel’s notion of
subjective objectivity by considering the relationship between objectivity,
subjectivity and the stranger. He suggests that ‘the stranger has a “bird’s
eye view” and is not immersed in particularities of the opposing parties’;
the “bird’s eye view” does not mean that the stranger is not capable of
incorporating the particular views of the parties (Marotta 2012: 684). In
contrast to a positivist conception of objectivity, Simmel shows that the
two types of understanding rely on each other, in a positive and specific
kind of participation, ‘just as the objectivity of a theoretical observation
does not refer to the mind as a passive tabula rasa on which things inscribe
their qualities’ (Simmel 1950: 403). Thus Simmel shows that objectivity
and subjectivity work together and that ‘objectivity is an illusion because
the idea of objectivism relies on the incorporation of the subjective’
(Marotta 2012: 685). Strangers can, like everyone, have a subjectivist view,
but they can also take up an objective stance of their other, simply because
they are not fully immersed in the culture of the settlement society. There
remains a degree of unfamiliarity which provides them with more objective
or ‘distant’ insights.
The objective stance of the insider/outsider allows the stranger to
develop the idea of a ‘third type of consciousness’ by allowing ‘the con-
struction of hybrid knowledge’ (Marotta 2012). In other words, detach-
ment and involvement not only allow for an objective stance but also allow
the construction of hybrid knowledge and understandings. This third type
of consciousness is significant because it indicates an ability to identify
affinities and shared interests. However, Marotta questions whether it is
possible for the stranger to have a middle or common ground position,
arguing that the in-between standpoint runs the risk of collapsing into
another standpoint, thus succumbing to the fallacy of the middle ground
(2012: 687–688).
Marotta is right to question whether the ‘in-between’ stranger can find a
middle ground or develop hybrid knowledge, because being an in-between
or ambivalent stranger (Bauman 1990) can mean being positioned between
the cracks. But not all strangers ‘fall’ in between the cracks. Nor does the
hybrid stranger necessarily adopt the middle ground. Hybridity is not in
between but a coming together of different aspects of one’s knowledge and

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40 Reimagining home in the 21st century

experience. In fact, the stranger might develop some hybrid knowledge

based on his/her strangerhood, but may also single out other knowledge
as impenetrable or simply as unacceptable. Thus, the stranger may be suf-
ficiently detached to identify both affinities and differences in a construc-
tive way. Based on that very insider/outsider position, the stranger can
be at times in between while developing hybrid knowledge across various
contexts. There may be some blending in some contexts, while separation
or distinctness remains in others. This gives us a better frame in which to
understand how migrants construct home.
Engaging with these three themes provides us with the possibility of a
more nuanced definition of affinities, which we define as the condition of
being alike, based on qualities such as values, histories or circumstances
that are comparable. This does not necessarily mean people are the same,
but that they find aspects of their lives which identify commonalities such
as comparable experiences, circumstances and histories. Values also play
an important role as guiding mechanisms for people’s behaviours and
actions. And engaging with affinities through a process of objective sub-
jectivity can lead to a blending or hybridity that opens up the process of
engaging with difference.


The pilot project on Affinities in Multicultural Australia was conducted

in Sydney between 2011 and 2012. We conducted 51 interviews with both
women and men from Australians of Chinese, Ghanaian, Indian, Italian,
Lebanese, South Sudanese, Sudanese and Anglo-Celtic background. We
asked respondents to talk about the values or ideas that guide their lives
and to discuss those they think are significant to them and their ethnic
communities. Secondly, we asked them to consider to what extent their
values are similar to or different from those of other ethnic groups.
Specifically we asked respondents to discuss with us what they consider
to be the main Australian values, and the similarities and differences to
their own values and those of their ethnic community. Finally, we asked
them to think about what they can learn from other ethnic group values,
in reflecting upon their own traditions and world views. In order to avoid
stereotyping of other ethnic groups and their cultures we asked them to
explain their lived experiences of other groups’ values through a discussion
of the characteristics of the values and how they have experienced them in

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The migrant ‘stranger’ at home ­41


In countries like Australia and Great Britain, liberal nationalism or civic

nationalism is the most popular form of liberalism, where newcomers
are expected to assimilate into the values and identity of the nation state.
Liberal nationalism assumes that members of a nation are territorially
bound and within an overarching community where there is a commitment
to social justice and the common good and where the nation’s citizens need
to have a shared sense of belonging to each other even if it does not come
from common history, language and culture (see Williams 2007). This
means that, where there are different cultural histories that come from dif-
ferent geographical locations within a nation, this position leans towards a
desire for assimilation of newcomers into the cultural values and practices
of the dominant cultural majority (Vasta 2013).
With the rise of multiculturalism, new conceptions of diversity have
gone ‘far beyond the assumptions of classical liberal thought’, which have
‘crystallized into post-liberal anxieties’ where racism and anti-racism, tol-
erance and indifference are not too far apart in the quest for understand-
ing ‘who the We is’ (Delanty 2004: 47). In practice, multiculturalism in
liberal democracies has introduced an ambivalence between the desire for
assimilation of newcomers into the national home and the current concern
with values in neo-liberal economies arising from the idea that liberal
democracies should practise ‘tolerance’, which can range from indifference
to disdain or repugnance (Delanty 2004). The promotion of Australian
values, through such strategies as the Australian values statement2 and the
citizenship test, continues to control migrant traditions and practices as
well as ‘reassuring the “mainstream” population that the “Australian way
of life” will prevail’ (Chisari 2013: 1).
In 2005, then prime minister John Howard reminded people of migrant
background that the conferral of citizenship has always been ‘a privi-
lege granted to the migrant’ (Howard 2006). The Howard government’s
response to the London bombings was a new strategy to address extrem-
ism, Living in Australia: A National Action Plan to Build on Social
Cohesion, Harmony and Security (DIAC 2005). Its main objective was to
target Australian Muslims to remind them about their responsibilities to
the Australian community. In 2006, in his ‘Sense of Balance’ address to the
National Press Club, Howard (2006) argued that in Australia the ‘domi-
nant pattern comprises Judeo-Christian ethics, the progressive spirit of the
Enlightenment and the institutions and values of British political culture.
Its democratic and egalitarian temper also bears the imprint of distinct
Irish and non-conformist traditions.’
Howard’s diversity is based on the fixed categories of liberalism with

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42 Reimagining home in the 21st century

its ideas of homogeneous societies and cultural totalities. It ignores that

‘groups overlap and there are multiple loyalties in an age of permanent
mobilities . . . [where] multiculturalism can mean quite different things
depending on the conception of diversity that is invoked’ (Delanty 2004:
49). Johnson states that ‘Howard’s “values” legitimate his views on how
others should be “integrated” into Australian identity, establishing a citizen
norm that justifies forms of ethnic, religious and ideological ­assimilation
. . . His emphasis on a unified national identity potentially marginalizes
those Australians who construct themselves with hybrid “hyphenated”
identities’ (2007: 205).


Simmel’s notion of the stranger, the person who is in the group but not
of the group, the person who is involved in that distinctive blend of close-
ness and remoteness, and the migrant who confronts it, provides us with
a unique insight into what I call ‘the migrant stranger at home’. Home
becomes an ambiguous space, a paradox for the national imaginary where
migrants are both insiders and outsiders, though they can also be only one
or the other. While the stranger can be in between, as neither friend nor
foe (Bauman 1990), I suggest that the migrant at home in Australia is both
friend and foe and has both insider and outsider status. Being a citizen pro-
vides legal insider status, but in a hegemonic sense insider status is defined
as, for example, having friends outside of one’s own ethnic group or going
to school in Australia, thus giving the migrant stranger at home access to
the settlement society’s values and world view.
What emerges is the construction of hybrid knowledge and identities,
while at the same time critically reflecting on and dealing with those parts
of Australian culture that are perplexing and at times inaccessible. Hence a
hybrid status does not necessarily rule out an outsider status. Hybridity is
a coming together of different aspects of one’s knowledge and experience,
which can include marginalization. As outsiders and insiders, migrants are
able to actively construct ‘home’ from various vantage points, and observe
and practise both affinities and differences with the cultural others sur-
rounding them. In different contexts, we might find that the outsider status
dominates experience and knowledge; in other contexts, the insider status
might prevail. Insider and outsider knowledge and the subjective objective
knowledge of values are not necessarily in conflict. This knowledge can
work in parallel or lead to a blending of values. In this way, the migrant
home constructed in the social space of the national Australian imaginary
is assembled from imported and local cultural qualities and characteristics

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The migrant ‘stranger’ at home ­43

created through ‘distance and nearness, indifference and involvement’

(Simmel 1950: 403).

The Ambiguous Space of Home as Insider/Outsider

Notably, humour inhabits an ambiguous space when engaging with

the world views of others. It becomes clear below that a shared sense of
humour is embedded in the values or the ‘cultural stuff’ of ethnic groups.
The embeddedness of humour can create cultural boundaries for many a
migrant, making Australian culture a little bewildering and inaccessible:

It is the difference between languages and cultures. You will never fully under-
stand their culture. Okay, it’s like, they tell a joke, you fully understood the
words, but then I simply did not find it funny . . . When everyone else finds it
funny but you do not, you will never be one of them . . . Our expressions are
very Chinese, so there will be gaps in our mutual ability to understand each
other . . . It’s not [about them not] accepting. They simply aren’t interested in
your culture. (Chinese-Australian woman 2023)

A different sense of humour exists among innumerable social groups in

any society and is experienced without question as a form of difference.
But the different sense of humour is not just about inaccessibility; it is also
about the insignificance of the outsider.
In Australia, for people of migrant background who are creating a sense
of home, social cohesion is called for based on knowledge of the citizen-
ship test and Australian value statements. As the respondent below claims,
‘if you think differently, you will have trouble integrating’. But there are
different types of insider/outsider experiences. In the following two cases,
the respondents clearly indicate that, while they have such characteristics
of insidership or national belonging such as citizenship, they are con-
stantly situated as outsiders, best expressed by one respondent as ‘They
accept you, but they don’t’:

For example, I can come to visit you but I cannot easily become a part of your
family. To do so I will need to stay for a long time, and that is not considering
language difference . . . Well, I believe people here are very fair. They will accept
you. But well, okay . . . the right-wingers will dislike you based on your skin
colour; they won’t accept you because they don’t like your ethnicity. But . . .
there are many ethnic Chinese here in high positions, which I think is a form of
acceptance . . . Yes, if you think differently, you will have trouble integrating.
(Chinese-Australian man 253)


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44 Reimagining home in the 21st century

Back in 2004, when I worked here, I had a lot of Aussies working with me . . .
One of the Australians asked me, ‘Who do you support?’ And I asked them one
question: ‘How do you address me? As an Australian or as an Indian?’ He said,
‘You’re an Indian.’ Then who shall I support? I will definitely support India, all
right? Look, even if I say that, I have an Australian passport and I have a decent
job, an Australian job, but even then society won’t accept me as a hundred
percent Australian, all right? They would say, ‘Oh, you’re an Indian.’ All right?
I don’t care . . . [but] that’s the whole thing; a passport is not enough to say that
you’re Australian. I mean, I would like to keep my identity as an Indian, because
even if I say to someone ‘I’m Australian’ they will say ‘Definitely you are not an
Australian.’ (Indian-Australian man 451)

The ambiguous space of the insider/outsider is clearly explained above

where the insider is the migrant who is accepted on economic grounds, who
works with ‘Aussies’, but marked as an outsider through physical and lan-
guage differences. Here we see how the process of insider/outsider works
in parallel: economic integration and citizenship constitute the insider;
racialization constructs the outsider. Migrants, as the stories above attest,
struggle with and move between insider and outsider positions.

Hybrid Knowledge – Shared Values and Their Differences

Hybrid identities and values come together from a blending of different

aspects of one’s knowledge and experience. As noted earlier, the migrant
stranger at home may be sufficiently detached to identify both affinities
and differences in a constructive way while developing hybrid knowledges
across various contexts. We find that some respondents are tentatively
building a hybrid knowledge that consists of a mixture of ‘Australian’ and
‘ethnic’ values.
The importance or value of the ‘family’ is repeatedly highlighted, seen as
a universal value that comes in ‘different shapes and sizes’. Our respond-
ents compared and contrasted their notions of family and family practices
with what they thought these meant to other ethnic groups. Various ethnic
groups with whom they think they may have much in common were
mentioned; for example, a young Lebanese Muslim woman claims that
Christian Lebanese, Greeks and Italians are similar to Muslim Lebanese.
Having met some Macedonian-Australians, for example, she discovered
they have similar values in child-rearing practices in that they don’t expect
their school children to earn pocket money, or pay rent once they are
working while living at home (Lebanese-Australian Muslim woman 300).
The sharing of knowledge, the ‘critical conversation between self and
other’, not only reveals an understanding of shared values but may reveal
that these child-rearing practices are observed by a number of ethnic

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The migrant ‘stranger’ at home ­45

groups. Thus the outsider, through her differing child-rearing practices,

becomes an insider, revealing that the insider/outsider process is never
fixed. These commonalities, shared through comparable experiences, cir-
cumstances and histories, reveal the breadth of Australian values, under-
mining the belief in homogeneous Australian values.
Significantly, for many, Australian values are a hybrid of their cultural/
ethnic values and those they incorporate into their lives in Australia.
Respect for diversity is highlighted by this young Indian-Australian man,
who emphatically states his Australian values:

So, Australian values – it’s the same values I’ve described before about myself
and my community, because I’m an Australian. So I actually get a bit annoyed
. . . [with] these commercials for lamb where he talks about how you have to eat
lamb on Australia Day, and he really annoys me because I’m an Australian and
I’m vegetarian . . . I’ll tell you how I would like to define [Australian values]. I’d
like them to be defined by being a multicultural society of people being vegetar-
ian or going to a temple or going to a mosque or going to the beach or going for
a walk . . . That’s the sort of Australian values that I hold. I think it’s about the
freedom of doing whatever you want. But for some reason I feel like in society,
if you want to be Australian, you’re supposed to go to the beach and you’re sup-
posed to drink a lot of beer! So my Australian values are very strong in the sense
that I guess I’m pro-multiculturalism, I’m pro-enjoying life, and that’s really my
Australian values . . . And if you feel like you’re an Australian then you are. That’s
it! (Indian-Australian man 450)

This respondent also highlights the subjective objectivity of the insider/

outsider. Significantly, his statement is not just about respect for diver-
sity. The subtlety of cultural artefacts such as eating lamb on Australia
Day situates the vegetarian as non-Australian. He specifically rejects
a ­conservative/nationalist view of Australian values by reconstructing
Australian values within a multicultural framework.
Australian values are no longer just Anglo-Celtic values, which may have
their own variants according to class, gender and region. Australian values
include the values migrants bring with them. In the sharing of their lives,
their values can become hybridized. Respect for diversity, for multicultur-
alism, is a value many migrants hold in high regard. Australia’s cultural
diversity provides the basis for sharing values, learning from each other
and forming hybrid or ‘mixed values’:

Especially diversity. We, as humans, we have to live together . . . it is a mul-

ticultural country . . . I don’t think that I have to interact only with Africans
because I am African, no . . . To me, diversity means just being yourself. Respect
where you come from, your background – but at the same time having the skills
and ability to be friends with Australians, or with Italians or with Chinese or
Vietnamese. Because that is how we share our values together. That is how

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46 Reimagining home in the 21st century

we learn from each other. That is how we maybe change how we think about
everything. And so what I want for my son is for him to have my values but at
the same time to have the Australian values . . . like helping others, respecting
others’ privacy, having the right to do whatever you want, but in a respectful
way. So I want him to have mixed values, of my original values like from Africa
and also this country. (Sudanese-Australian Muslim woman 600)

The quotes above illustrate a different notion of home from that which
appears in the national imaginary of Australian values. Whilst embrac-
ing ‘Australian values’, migrants construct their own Australian values by
bringing freedom and home-making to a new hybridized experience. In
this instance, bringing Sudanese and Australian values together occurs in
that ambivalent space, the hybridized meeting of affinities and differences.



Particularly for first-generation immigrants, that distinctive blend of the

insider/outsider social positioning which can be experienced as a sense of
closeness and remoteness might provide them with what Simmel calls a
‘specific attitude of “objectivity” composed of distance and involvement’
(Simmel 1950: 403), where the stranger is also able to reflect upon and re-
evaluate his/her own ethnic group’s traditions and world view.
When talking about values, we asked our respondents to concentrate
on their experience of other ethnic cultures. This allowed for a more in-
depth critical reflection of similarities, differences and ‘what we can learn
from others’. What follows is a sample of critical reflections on Australian
customs and values and an openness to how they can contribute to empa-
thies within ethnic cultures in Australia:

I know that Australia has very good values. First thing – the Australian people
are willing to help whenever they can and they have good heart and good
intentions. Also they are very simple, and this reminds me of what the Quran
said about people living together peacefully . . . Also Australia gives people the
freedom of speech, freedom of rights and so on. Also in this country people
always encourage you to learn to go to school and to work, and those are the
values that I wish to have in my culture and to teach to my children. (Sudanese-
Australian Muslim woman 601)

The Australian way of life is frequently described as laid-back, where

Anglo-Australians are often thought to have a healthy respect for leisure
time: ‘I guess more important is living life and not being kept down, and
travelling and having holidays and eating nice food at nice restaurants,

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The migrant ‘stranger’ at home ­47

and that sort of stuff, I find’ (Indian-Australian man 450). When asked
‘What can we learn from others?’, one Chinese-Australian man believes
that Australians can learn from the Chinese spirit of striving through hard
work to make something of yourself:

I think . . . first, the diligence and effort that Chinese people apply to succeed.
There are times where people supersede their natural abilities – they work
harder to overcome them. For example, you are clearly someone who cannot
get into uni, but you will push hard, to work to all ends [to get into uni]. They
are reaching for something that is over and above their natural abilities . . . And
what Australians can learn from us. Chinese people will work hard even when
there is enough to eat. (Chinese-Australian man 251)

But here the individual of liberalism is the main definition, and compari-
son suggests that the Chinese can learn from this:

In this country, there is less ethnic and racial tension. I remember that, when I
first arrived in Australia, someone said this to me, which I feel is quite true: this
place is defiantly free; they will not intrude on the individual. This aspect I think
we can learn from. In China . . . how do I put this, it is very hard to find this
balance [between] freedom and law and order. (Chinese-Australian man 250)

As a counterpoint to the importance of the individual, one frequent

observation and experience mentioned by migrants is the importance of
community for migrants:

I did grow up in a very traditional [extended] family, and I’ve also had the
opportunity to live in the Western societies where it’s more of a nuclear family.
But, having experienced both, I think the traditional family makes more sense to
me . . . because there are more people to support you, more people to help you
with their ideas, their experiences, which you probably cannot just get from a
small family . . . Let me give an example. In Australia, we have Centrelink, which
basically is a social system that has been put in place by the government to take
care of people. Where I come from, your Centrelink is your family. Your family
takes care of you when you don’t have a job, you don’t have a place to go, you
don’t have food to eat, you don’t have money in your pocket. In Ghana, when
we say ‘community’, we mean everybody: your father’s friend, your father’s
work colleague sees you on the street and, you know, takes responsibility for
you by virtue of the fact that they just know your father . . . And friends also
help – that is your social capital, as we call it. (Ghanaian-Australian man 750)

Finally, some respondents are objectively aware of gender differences

in the cultural practices of their ethnic communities. When asked about
which groups they have experienced differences in values with, one woman

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48 Reimagining home in the 21st century

I’m probably gonna say Asians just because I don’t know that much about them
and I see that they’re very different in the ways that they bring up their kids
. . . I think it all goes back to values. You know, actually, maybe they are similar
because they do value their boys a lot more than the girls. (Lebanese-Australian
Muslim woman 300)

In Australia and other Western democracies, the value of gender equality,

which appears in the Australian values statement, is denoted as if referring
to an ancient value that has always been practised. Those ethnic commu-
nities that missed out on women’s movements are now seen as backward.
Egalitarianism is seen as one of the hallowed Australian values, yet it was
not so long ago that women’s movements in Western democracies strug-
gled to bring women’s equality on to the political agenda.

Individualism and Self-expression

One of the central hypotheses about the transition from traditional societies
to modernity is that, as societies advance economically and technologically,
patterns of systematic changes in values will occur (Inglehart 2003). The
societies’ values will increasingly shift towards an ethos of the individual’s
sense of identity and sense of self, the pursuit of self-actualization and per-
sonal happiness (Arts and Halman 2004: 27): ‘One of the consequences of
individualization is that people are increasingly developing their own pat-
terns of values and norms that tend increasingly to differ from institution-
alized value systems.’ More specifically, Beck and Beck-Gernsheim suggest
that on the one hand it means the disintegration of previous social forms
such as the family, class, gender roles and so on. And on the other hand the
new controls and demands of society have compelled people to look after
themselves, thus creating the ‘do-it-yourself biography’ (Beck and Beck-
Gernsheim 2001). But the process of individualization has also been linked
to ‘amoral familism’ where ‘economic relationships structured by the new
welfare paradigm contribute to a society less concerned with solidarity and
more concerned with self and family’ (Rodger 2003: 416). The following
example about freedom of the individual, where the individual’s needs reign
supreme, is explained in relation to communality of the family:

Western values, it’s very individualistic. It’s about yourself and you. And, even
though I have seen a lot of my Western friends care dearly about their families,
it’s sort of secondary to what they want or what they need . . . I know that, when
we first moved to Melbourne, my sister had an Australian white friend, and we
called her mother and her grandmother over! And Donny said, ‘Oh, it’s so nice
to have a sit-down dinner!’ . . . I think, for a lot of my friends, it was also going
to family events, so like, you know, going to temples or going to community-
organized things as a family – it was very important. (Indian female 400)

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The migrant ‘stranger’ at home ­49

The communal and family self of Ghanaian-Australians and Indian-

Australians appears in contrast to the purported individualism of the
post-modern (Anglo-)Australian family. This raises a contentious issue in
that Anglo-Australians have strong expectations of state support through
the welfare system, thus relying less on community resources and support
(Vasta 2000). While this might evoke a sense of binary construction of ‘us
and them’, in reality most respondents reveal a clear awareness that their
insider/outsider status challenges any fixed notions they might have about
their own world view, that of the ethnic group to which they belong and of
other ethnic groups. As noted in the quotes above, many are aware of the
importance of learning from other people’s values.
A more nuanced perspective is provided in the next quote, where indi-
vidualism is linked to being ‘laid-back’, and individual ethos overrides
family and community. Yet, despite the seemingly individual ‘selfishness’,
the volunteering community spirit stands out:

Well, certainly the egalitarianism, and certainly there is something very laid-
back about Australians that they don’t particularly worry too much about other
people. Not in a bad way, but they are not overly concerned about what other
people’s opinions of them are. So I think Australians value freedom quite a lot
– individual freedom as well as social freedom, community freedom. And [they]
have a real sense of personal identity, individual identity, which I think over-
rides the family and community. But at the same time Australians are I think
just great at the whole coming together, the volunteering thing; it’s very strong
in Australia. I don’t know as a value; maybe that is community spirit. (Italian
male 550)

From this quote we note that freedom of the individual and concern for the
common good can endure together. They are not necessarily oppositional
values. Thus Simmel’s ‘third possibility’ provides a shift away from the logic
of opposites, in which a dialectic provides a more satisfactory explanation
than the binary form of opposites. The narratives presented here indicate
that the third possibility endures in many of the world views discussed in
this chapter. Finally, in reflecting upon the values of the majority members
of the settlement society, migrants are reflecting upon their own cultural
traditions and practices and the changes they are party to.



Migrants feel a sense of loss on arrival, and many attempt to re-create

the home they know. They do this by reproducing the cultural traditions
and artefacts familiar to them. In time, as the formation of inter-ethnic

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50 Reimagining home in the 21st century

knowledge and ties provides them with a cultural framework within local
and national social contexts, they construct hybrid knowledge, a sense of
home, from which they manage their insider/outsider status and identi-
ties. By engaging with our differences, in both formal and informal ways,
at the micro and macro levels, we are likely to achieve mutual recogni-
tion of both our affinities and our differences (Vasta 2015). Different
values are put to the test through dialogue where a collective language
can emerge. The likely outcome is a change in societal structures, institu-
tions and identities based on a process of engaging with difference. As
Sennett suggests, ‘this view of the communal “we” is far deeper than the
often superficial sharing of common values . . . Strong bonding between
people means engaging over time with their differences’ (Sennett 1999:
Australians of migrant background have offered critical reflections on
the values, customs and practices of the majority non-migrant Anglo-
Australian, and on other migrant cultures and values as well as on their
own. Their insider/outsider narratives remove the binary notion of being
one or the other, providing a rich tapestry of what constitutes Australian
values and how we engage with difference.
We have seen how ‘migrant strangers’ are positioned as outsiders, be
it through an inability to understand Australian humour, problems with
language communication, or various forms of racism such as being identi-
fied as non-Australian based on skin colour. But at the same time migrant
strangers negotiate home-making rituals and traditions, at both the per-
sonal and the national level, through a sense of engagement, a process of
subjectivity and objectivity applied to the society and communities around
them. They may be sufficiently detached to identify both affinities and dif-
ferences in a constructive way.
Insidership occurs through relationships with others of migrant
background, which provides a solid space for the creation of blended
Australian values. Similarly, they exercise their insider status to analyse
both Australian and their own ethnic group values and consider what each
of the cultures can learn from the other. This research also shows that
people can hold contradictory values. Based on that very insider/outsider
position, the migrant stranger can be at times in between while developing
hybrid knowledges across various contexts. In other words, there may be
some blending in some contexts, while separation or distinctness remains
in others.
To conclude, the insider/outsider constructs Australian values and a
sense of home that do not fit squarely with a homogeneous national iden-
tity that often rationalizes various forms of ethnic, religious and ideologi-
cal assimilation. Based on the drive for a unified national imaginary, the

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The migrant ‘stranger’ at home ­51

migrant stranger at home continues to unsettle the fixed categories of



1. This project was funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC) for 2014–16,
conducted with Professor Lucy Taksa and Associate Professor Fei Guo, Macquarie
University. In this chapter I report only the results of the pilot study.
2. See ‘Australian Values Statement’ on the Department of Immigration and Border
Protection website, http://www.immi.gov.au/living-in-australia/values/statement/long/.
3. The interview transcripts of each respondent are given an identity number to ensure the
anonymity of the respondents.


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Vasta, E. (2013), ‘Do we need social cohesion in the 21st century? Multiple lan-
guages of belonging in the metropolis’, Journal of Intercultural Studies, 34 (2),

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Vasta, Ellie (2015), ‘Generations and change: Affinities old and new’, in S. Castles,
D. Ozkul and M. Arias (eds), Social Transformations and Migration: National and
Local Experiences in South Korea, Turkey, Mexico and Australia, Basingstoke:
Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 283–298.
Williams, Melissa S. (2007), ‘Nonterritorial boundaries of citizenship’, in Seyla
Benhabib, Ian Shapiro and Danilo Petranovic (eds), Identities, Affiliations, and
Allegiances, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 226–256.
Wilson, Shaun, Gabrielle Meagher, Rachel Gibson, David Denemark and
Mark Western (2005), Australian Social Attributes: The First Report, Sydney:
University of New South Wales Press.

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12.  Senses of home
Olivia Hamilton


Once, my grandmother showed me her passport from the 1940s, the one
she used to travel to Australia from Italy. She came by aeroplane, at a time
when most people came by boat, but her journey still took eight days.
As we flick through the faded pages of her passport, each stamp recalls
another moment to her mind: she describes the hunger she felt when they
landed in Athens and were told to travel on to Cyprus if they wanted food;
she recalls the rough ground of the landing strip in Calcutta, and the col-
ourful clothing, strange to the eyes of someone who had recently left her
small, southern Italian town for the first time. She recalls the Australian
desert, that vast expanse, and her arrival in Sydney, which was to become
her home.
In another story about arrival, this time by a woman who migrated from
El Salvador to Rome with her family in the early 2000s, I was told:

The fatigue [stanchezza] when I arrived here, it’s a fatigue not of the legs, not of
the arms, it’s a fatigue of . . . what do I have to understand, what do I have to
learn, what is this person saying, what is that person saying? You know that I feel
a great sense of peace [una grande tranquilità] when I hear someone in the street
speaking in Spanish? Oh, God, when someone speaks Spanish – ­immediately,
immediately! I think, ‘Ah, how lovely to hear it’, because that . . . I try at least, I
try to make myself understood, or I try to . . . to understand others, you know?
But it’s a horrible thing that I don’t know, I truly don’t know, why we do this.
(Interview, 15 November 2009)

These two descriptions of migration, undertaken half a century apart,

share a common sense of the embodied experience of the journey. The
first uses an object – an old passport – to evoke memories of the embodied
experience of the journey from one place to another. The second, in con-
trast, describes the feeling of fatigue caused by the constant stream of new
experiences and, in particular, the new language that the woman struggles
to use. Both are examples of how places and times interact in processes
of home-making, where the journey is remembered long after it is over, or


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180 Reimagining home in the 21st century

the new language sits strangely in the migrant’s mouth, reminding both of
these women that they are far from their childhood homes.
Home, then, is about more than a physical structure in which a person
lives. Home is a lived space, a geographical location imbued with meaning
and materiality (Miller 2001; Pink 2004; Blunt and Dowling 2006).
Migration (both voluntary and involuntary) complicates notions of home
further, as the word comes to reference multiple places and times, carrying
with it nostalgia for what was lost as well as a grounding in the here-and-
now (Seremetakis 1996; Ang and Symonds 1997; Hage 1997; Baldassar
2001; Korac 2009). Notions of ‘home’ thus extend beyond one’s dwelling
place to include transnational as well as translocal senses of belonging and
struggles for recognition (Hedetoft and Hjort 2002; Brickell and Datta
2011). For migrants, and often for their descendants, home-making pushes
against hegemonic categorizations of belonging based on ‘pure’ ideas of
local identity, and introduces new possibilities for imagining that identity,
since ‘being at home and the work of home-building is intimately bound up
with the idea of home . . . Making home is about creating both pasts and
futures through inhabiting the grounds of the present’ (Ahmed et al. 2003:
9, emphasis in original). Of course, it is important to take into account the
impacts of power relations, which may make it difficult to establish any
sense of harmony with the outside world. This is especially relevant for
those who are targets of discrimination or harassment, or who are denied
access to legal residency. At the same time, the idea of the domestic sphere
as haven is troubled by the experiences of, for example, victims of domestic
violence. Nonetheless, in stories of migration it is clear that people seek out
ways to establish an intimacy with the place in which they live.
Another important aspect in making sense of home is the impact of
time as well as place: in order to feel at home in a new place, the migrant
needs time to learn its streets, its sights, sounds and smells, its rhythms and
its seasons. The concept of home is dependent on the particular combina-
tion of elements – buildings, streets, technologies, animals, food products,
people, rocks and stones, and trees – that have been thrown together
(Massey 2005) in a particular time and at a particular location. Home,
thus, is not static. This is most easily recognizable, perhaps, for those who
move from one location to another, though it also comes through for those
who remain in one place and observe it changing around them. Home
involves particular combinations of people, objects, ideas and sensory
experiences that combine in the place in which one lives: ‘The boundaries
of home seemingly extend beyond its walls to the neighbourhood, even
the suburb, town or city. Home is place but it is also a space inhabited by
family, people, things and belongings – a familiar, if not comfortable space
where particular activities and relationships are lived’ (Mallett 2004: 63).

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Senses of home ­181

At the same time, the embodied nature of human experience must be

taken into account. The sensory landscape of our cities, towns and regions
is particular, and certain sounds, smells or sights can conjure up distant
places. Lisa Law examines exactly this effect through a discussion of the
Filipina domestic workers’ Sunday gathering at the Central terminal in
Hong Kong, where the author’s ‘visual consumption of Central Hong
Kong [and] the aural recognition of Little Manila’ lead her to argue that
the senses ‘are a situated practice that can shed light on the way bodies
experience different spaces of culture’ (Law 2001: 266). Sarah Ahmed
argues that ‘the lived experience of being-at-home . . . involves the envel-
oping of subjects in a space which is not simply outside them: being-at-
home suggests that the subject and space leak into each other, inhabit
each other’ (Ahmed 1999: 341, emphasis in original). In a similar vein,
Tim Ingold explores the imbrication of bodies and places in his work on
walking, knowing and dwelling. As he puts it, ‘inhabitants are wayfarers:
they move through the world rather than across its outer surface. And
their knowledge . . . is not built up but grows along the paths they take,
both on the ground and in the air’ (Ingold 2010: S134). Thus, home could
be understood as the place in which one spends the most time, where the
intrusion of the locality into the senses leaves the most lasting impression;
migration, as described in the two opening passages, involves a break from
the enveloped sense of intimacy with one place and an effort to develop a
sense of intimacy with another.
In this chapter, I explore the senses as home, through a discussion of the
sensory, embodied experiences of home and migration. Taking account of
the senses in discussions of home makes sense, since it allows us to avoid
the dichotomy between mind and body, instead recognizing that ‘the mind
is necessarily embodied and the body mindful’ (Howes 2005: 7). Sensory
experiences locate us in the world: a sight, a sound, a scent can leave us
feeling intimately connected to the place in which we find ourselves, or
startlingly out of place as we recall the sensations of places distant in
space and time. In this way, sensing, and making sense of, home involves a
constant interaction between people, places and memories. The chapter is
inspired by my own family’s experiences of migration and travel between
Italy and Australia, an ongoing connection that led me to live in Italy for
a time, first in 2004–05, and again in 2009. I also draw on interviews that
I conducted with immigrants and their descendants in Rome in 2009, as
part of a doctoral research project, which focused on the interplay between
embodied and narrative socio-spatial identification amongst immigrants
and their descendants in Rome.
In using both self-reflective passages and quotes collected during a
period of ethnographic fieldwork, I seek to acknowledge the importance

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182 Reimagining home in the 21st century

of my family’s history in informing my research interests, as well as affect-

ing the relationship between myself and my research participants, since ‘it
is at least in part through our own routes and pathways (Ingold 2010) that
we are entangled in place-making processes (rather than attributing these
solely to our research participants)’ (Pink 2008: 179). This chapter devel-
ops my earlier analyses of embodiment and emplacement (Hamilton 2010,
2012), focusing on the moments when sensory experiences break through
narratives of self, migration and place, in a move towards a ‘sensual schol-
arship’ that explores ‘the multifaceted textures of memory, which can
profoundly humanize our reconstructions of the past’ (Stoller 1997: 47)
and, indeed, of home. The chapter attempts to tune into the senses and
to explore how inhabiting, or making sense of, home is at once embodied,
emplaced and temporal.


But the part [of Brazil] where I was born is very organized, you know, things
work very well, people are very willing to help, understand? Here in Rome
though I had problems. I came with the mentality . . . that things worked, the
public transport . . . But here, my gosh, it was a total confusion in my head to
understand how it all worked! (Interview, 24 November 2009)

It’s fairly dirty . . . It seems to me that people don’t care much about it, about
the res publica . . . That is, the street doesn’t really belong to anyone, when . . . in
other cities at least, before throwing a piece of rubbish on the street, you think
‘Wait, but this is my city.’ Whereas here if you’re inside a house it’s a completely
different thing, but you walk out through the door of your home and it seems
like you can do what you want, you know? (Interview, 10 October 2009)

I know all the streets of Rome . . . I prefer [to live] in Rome or near Rome. Like
I’m doing at the moment . . . I do it for the benefit of my son, who at least grows
up with cleaner air, because here in Rome there’s a lot of smog . . . Rome is a
chaotic city. (Interview, 24 September 2009)

What does it mean to have a ‘sense of home’? In this seemingly com-

mon-sense phrase, ‘home’ is ‘sensed’ – made sense of, as well as sensually
­experienced – as the place and time where one belongs or feels one belongs.
But this raises more questions than it answers: what then is ‘belonging’,
especially in an age of mass migration and multiple or hybrid identifica-
tions? The three quotes presented above are from three interviews con-
ducted with residents of Rome in 2009. All were provided in response to a
question about whether or not the interviewees liked living in Rome, and
whether or not they wanted to stay there. Two of the quotes come from

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Senses of home ­183

people who migrated to Rome as students, while the third is from a romano
de Roma (a ‘Roman from Rome’, to use the interviewee’s own descrip-
tion). The chaos of Rome is described variously as dirtiness, confusion, a
lack of care for public spaces, and a lack of functioning public transport.
However, this chaos is not necessarily negative: the third respondent uses
this description to identify Rome as different to other cities, as special,
somewhere he wants to remain close to even if he does not live in the city.
These three descriptions of Rome point to some interesting ways of
understanding the concept of home. In the first quote, home extends
beyond the house: the city is described as something that takes time to get
used to, leaving the respondent with ‘a total confusion in [her] head’. In the
second quote, home extends beyond the individual, and beyond the house,
to incorporate the entire city: the speaker differentiates between the home-
space of the house, which people keep clean, and the home-space of the
city, which in this account is described as dirty, not belonging to anyone.
In the third quote, the ‘sense of home’ that the respondent describes
involves knowing, intimately, all the streets of Rome, in understanding
that particular chaos that characterizes the city in all three accounts. That
‘chaos’ is a part of Rome’s rhythms, its particular ‘diurnal pace’ in which
‘the activities and interactions of numerous social actors intersect . . .
collectively constitut[ing] space through their rhythmic and arrhythmic
practices’ (Edensor 2011: 191). The ‘environmental image’ (Lynch 1960: 4)
that a person develops over time, the person’s relationship with the place
in which he or she lives, has a major impact on whether or not the person
feels ‘at home’.
For other people I interviewed in Rome, ‘chaos’ is not so important. One
woman, originally from Kabul, Afghanistan, indeed sees Rome’s traffic as
relatively orderly. However, she emphasizes missing the family connections
that she remembered from her early years in Afghanistan. In response to a
question about whether she misses Afghani food, she responds:

No, the food no [I don’t miss it], because I can eat it even here. It’s what I cook.
I find almost everything. Maybe some ingredients I don’t find, but that’s fine.
It’s not that it makes me . . . it’s not that I miss it. What I do miss is my family.
For example, for us it’s . . . families are big. There are at least 10, 12 people in
a house. They live together. Then in the morning they eat breakfast together,
lunch, dinner. Then during the day they take tea. They tell stories. They chat.
That I miss. The rest no, not so much. (Interview 21 November 2009)

This woman describes missing that sense of home she had when she
was surrounded by family members, all sharing meals and stories. As she
describes this domestic scene, I imagine hearing the sound of many voices,
smelling the aromas of the food cooking, tasting the warm tea in my

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184 Reimagining home in the 21st century

mouth. It is a description of home that is rich in sensory detail, though the

speaker herself does not emphasize the sensory elements, focusing instead
on the absence she feels, in Rome, of her large family. There is a poign-
ant sense of loss in her voice when she compares the busy home life of
Kabul, made up of interactions with extended family, with her lonely life
in Rome, where she lives in a small nuclear family, since most of her rela-
tives remained in Afghanistan or neighbouring Pakistan. Food is central
in this account, as the interviewee recalls her family coming together at
mealtimes and, in between, sharing not only food but also companionship,
something she longs for and feels is lacking in her present life. Food, in
this example, ‘provides a sensuous and a social space for drawing on the
past to construct the present and imagine the future’ (Janowski 2012: 183).
A question about cooking Afghani food in Rome invites a recollection of
family, indicating the close connections between food, the domestic sphere
and concepts of home.


Growing up on Sydney’s lower north shore, close to the bushland that

has remained scattered through the suburban landscape, I spent many
hours as a child climbing gum (eucalyptus) trees, collecting cicada shells,
and watching for the cockatoos and kookaburras whose distinctive calls
crowded the air. Entwined within these memories of distinctly Australian
sensations are the sounds of the Italian dialect spoken by my mother’s
family, and the smells and tastes of pasta, tomatoes, olive oil and basil.
On cold winter nights, we roasted chestnuts and burnt our fingers peeling
them, eating them gathered around the kitchen table while we listened to
my grandmother’s stories about her birthplace. These were the things that,
for us as children, stood for Italy: the only sensory experiences we had of
that imagined faraway land – until I travelled there.
Suddenly, after stepping off the plane in Rome that first time when I
was 17, Italy had depth. It was noise – the cacophony of Rome’s Termini
station; it was stench – the toilets exuding smells of sweat and faeces in that
combination of travelling and homeless bodies that seems so ubiquitous at
central train stations in the world’s major cities. Italy took on flavour, too:
the fresh crispness of the bread, sharpened by a hunk of parmesan cheese,
and the rich tomato sugo with the pasta, and the olives. These were flavours
that I already knew, but all of a sudden they had context. A whole country
unfolded around them, waiting to be discovered.
Over time, Italy gained shape, texture, colour and sound. I felt myself
entering into the place, and the place entering into me. I learnt how to role

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my rs when I spoke the language, something I had never been able to do

before, since my tongue, in Sydney, would not make that shape. I drank
my coffee, short and black, standing up at the bar; I stopped smiling at
shop assistants and started looking people in the eye when I passed them
on the street. New knowledges and practices became things I no longer
need to think about, as the places where I lived in Italy became ‘homes’
as well. Still, I missed the sensations from my ‘home’ in Sydney: visitors
brought vegemite, an offering from home; while walking the streets I heard
the absence of the noisy birds of south-eastern Australia. There was no
laughing kookaburra welcoming the dusk, no screeching cockatoo chat-
tering through the bright summer days. In a beautiful passage mourning
her inability to find a particular variety of peach that she remembers from
childhood, Nadia Seremetakis argues: ‘It was as if when something leaves,
it only goes externally, for its body persists within persons’ (Seremetakis
1996: 2). We could as easily change that formulation to argue that it is as if
when I leave I only leave externally, for places persist within persons. And,
by persisting, places leave their traces, inhabiting us as much as we inhabit
In a reflection on the role of food in her family’s life in Britain, Parvathi
Raman says that food mediated between her family’s past and present lives,
helping to ‘repair spatial and temporal ruptures . . . making visible untidy,
unstable relationships, and subjecting them to ongoing interrogation and
interpretation’ (Raman 2011: 166). For this family, eating Indian food in
England became a way of expressing an Indian identity that had not been
available to them before emigrating, since they had struggled against the
expectations of parents and friends in India. Speaking of her father’s expe-
riences of migration, Raman writes:

In England, drinking whiskey and eating meat literally made him a new man.
He saw himself as someone who was at home in the world, wherever he might
be. But his craving for the food of South India never left him, and remained
a visceral tie to the homeland he tried so hard to discard. Chili and spice are
addictions that are not easy to leave behind. Once in control of your pallet [sic],
they remain with you for life. (Raman 2011: 168)

This quote illustrates the importance of sensory experiences in identity

construction: through eating meat and drinking whiskey, Raman’s father
seeks a connection to the England he has migrated to, and seeks to identify
himself as a world citizen. But, despite these efforts, the foods and flavours
of India leave their traces, a sense of place and identity that remains in the
taste buds long after migration.
Food, thus, becomes loaded with meaning. In Rome, an interviewee
described her arrival in Italy from El Salvador as a shock to the system.

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186 Reimagining home in the 21st century

At first, her stomach rebelled at how little people ate for breakfast: ‘That
little cup of coffee, you can add milk, and two biscuits. That’s breakfast.
This is breakfast . . . mamma mia! But you learn’ (interview, 15 November
2009). Indeed, she learnt so well that her stomach adjusted to the small
portions of an Italian breakfast. On a return visit to El Salvador, she had
to force herself to eat the breakfast provided by her sister-in-law: ‘She
made me breakfast, a heap of breakfast, platano . . . beans, egg, tortillas,
eh . . . bread . . . I said “How much? I can’t eat!” “But no, you have to eat!”
Afterwards, because we have to eat it all, OK, I tried to eat it all to not . . .
for my sister-in-law’ (interview, 15 November 2009).
In another case, the art of cooking was acquired in the interviewee’s
adopted home, and it was not until her sister also migrated to Italy that she
learnt Brazilian recipes: ‘It’s easy [to cook Italian food] because I learnt to
cook here, with my sister-in-law . . . After 15 years of marriage my friends
were asking for something Brazilian, and I tried to make something . . . In
fact, I had to learn after my sister arrived, the one who is really Brazilian’
(interview, 12 November 2009). Here, the interviewee identifies her sister
as ‘really’ Brazilian because she knows how to cook Brazilian food. Both
women use food, and eating, to demonstrate both their sense of longing for
their homelands and their belonging in Rome.
Writing on the senses throughout western history, Mark M. Smith

The preservation and elaboration of ethnic and national identity through food,
cooking, and the use of particular ingredients might well apply to every group
that has migrated throughout history . . . and attention to the historical impor-
tance to taste in this context could help us better understand how the senses
have informed modern ideas about ethnicity and national identity. (Smith 2007:

Sensory experiences are contextually specific, since they involve the

intermingling of an individual with other bodies, objects, and imagined
or remembered pasts. That is, ‘bodies themselves are sites of cultural
change, where history, politics and social meaning are interwoven through
bodily exchange’ (Wise and Chapman 2005: 2). For migrants and their
descendants, those sensory experiences necessarily evoke identification
with multiple potential ‘homes’. The introduction of sensations from one
place into the sense-scape of another, like the smell of roasting chestnuts
in suburban Sydney, the different size of breakfast in Italy and El Salvador,
or the Brazilian recipes learnt to satisfy the curiosity of friends, is evidence
of the ways that migrants, and their descendants, are able to actively create
a home that feels like home.

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According to Ahmed, migration involves ‘a spatial reconfiguration of an

embodied self: a transformation in the very skin through which the body is
embodied’ (Ahmed 1999: 342). She writes:

To some extent we can think of the lived experience of being at home in terms
of inhabiting a second skin, a skin which does not simply contain the homely
subject, but which allows the subject to be touched and touch the world that is
neither simply in the home or away from the home. The home as skin suggests
the boundary between self and home is permeable, but also that the boundary
between home and away is permeable as well. Here, movement away is also
movement within the constitution of home as such. That is, movement away is
always affective: it affects how ‘homely’ one might feel and fail to feel. (Ahmed
1999: 341)

The skin, here, is a boundary between self and world that does not sepa-
rate self from world, but rather invites the world in. Similarly, in writing of
the interplay between self and world, Ingold argues:

If the medium is a condition of interaction, then it follows that the quality of

that interaction will be tempered by what is going on in the medium, that is,
by the weather. Such, indeed, is our experience. With its twin connotations of
mixing or blending and fine-tuning, the verb to temper captures perfectly the
way the fluxes of the medium comprise the ever-present undercurrent for our
actions as we go along in the world. By way of our immersion in the medium,
we are constituted not as hybrid but as temperate (and temperamental) beings.
(Ingold 2010: S133)

Emotion and weather are intimately bound in us, as we experience the

world we live in, learn from it and ‘go along’ in it. When the weather
changes, so, too, do we.
My grandmother, when describing the home she left behind in Italy at
the age of 24, would always talk of the clean mountain air and the view out
over the plains, beyond which, invisible but still somehow present, lay the
sea. The tastes of the sea would make it to her village once a week, as people
from the fishing villages below travelled up the mountain to sell their fish.
The landscape and weather of the place she grew up in contrasted sharply
with the flat plains of western Sydney where she arrived. After almost 70
years in Australia, these remain some of the strongest sensory images in
her descriptions of that place that she still thinks of as her home town,
that place that has receded from her in both time and space. Likewise, in
the interviews I conducted in Rome, people would describe themselves as
feeling ‘at home’ or ‘out of place’ depending on how they responded to the

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188 Reimagining home in the 21st century

particular combination of weather and landscape in the places where they

had lived throughout their lives.
One interviewee, for example, speaks of feeling comfortable in Rome
because of a familiarity with the ‘city’ in general as a way of life: here,
there is a distinction made between stereotypical images of Brazilians who
spend all their time at the beach, and the speaker, who is from a part of
Brazil with a cooler climate: ‘The place where I’m from has all the seasons,
and I always liked winter. I’m not a Brazilian who’s gone to the beach all
the time. I lived a lot in the city . . . It was a place close to the mountains
. . . different . . . closer to the culture [of the city]’ (interview, 24 November
2009). In her account, she has experienced an easy transition to inhabiting
Rome because it is also a city, close to the mountains, where the seasons are
felt through changing weather, easier perhaps than other Brazilians who
had lived closer to the beaches. Of the weather in Rome, she says, ‘Yes, yes,
I like it. It’s not too humid . . . I like the heat too but I miss/long for [mi
manca] the winter’ (interview, 24 November 2009).
In contrast, another interviewee reveals a disjuncture between himself
and London, the place he had migrated to before moving to Rome, saying,
‘I lived in London for almost a year . . . Really, in London I suffered a little
from questions of climate . . . This thing of greyness, constantly’ (inter-
view, 10 October 2009). Here, the speaker feels the ‘greyness’ of London as
a constant reminder of his embodied discomfort in that place. Greyness,
in this sense, is not only a visual element but is felt as heavy, pressing down
on the speaker, making him ‘suffer from questions of climate’. As Ingold
argues, ‘the experience of weather lies at the root of our moods and motiva-
tions; indeed it is the very temperament of our being’ (Ingold 2010: S122).
Weather affects our ability to feel happy or sad, at home or out of place.
Weather seeps under the skin, a mingling of body and ground and air that
reminds us irrevocably that we are in place and that place is in us.
This intermingling of self and place is echoed in another respondent’s
description of living in the north of England:

I didn’t like the way . . . because in the cold weather, of . . . very cold, which we
didn’t have . . . How can I say, I felt already the pain in my bones, some muscular
pain, for the cold . . . The main thing was the nostalgia, being alone there, to
stay alone. Maybe if my wife was there. (Interview, 20 November 2009)

The recording of our conversation is full of pauses as this interviewee

searches for a way to express in words the coldness he felt in his bones. The
coldness is not only described as physical; the respondent connects that
sensation to the loneliness and nostalgia of missing his wife. In fact, after
leaving England for Italy he was joined by his wife in Rome, a number of

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Senses of home ­189

years before we met. No mention of the cold seeping into his bones is made
when he speaks about Rome.
In a study of transnational relationships between Italian parents and
their emigrant children, Loretta Baldassar argues: ‘While virtual and proxy
forms of co-presence are highly valued, it is generally felt that longing,
missing and nostalgia are best resolved through physical co-presence; actu-
ally being bodily present with the longed for person or in the longed for
place so as to experience them fully, with all five senses’ (Baldassar 2008:
In the interview quoted above, the pauses when recounting the part
of his life spent in northern England are an embodied expression of the
interviewee’s memory of the constant cold; the pain in his bones and the
pain of loneliness are intertwined, associated in the speaker’s memory with
northern England itself, and affecting him in the moment of recounting
that place and time. The absence of any mention of such sensory depriva-
tion in his account of life in Rome is, perhaps, evidence of the resolution
of nostalgia through the physical co-presence of his wife as much as it is
about the warmer Italian climate. This difference between experiences of
weather in Rome and in northern England speaks not only to weather’s
materiality, then, but also to the meanings attached to weather, where the
cold in northern England symbolizes absence. Indeed, as Vannini et al.
argue, ‘“weather” is produced as much as it is experienced, and the pro-
cesses of how weather is produced are inseparable from how it is experi-
enced’ (Vannini et al. 2012: 364).


In this chapter, I have approached ‘home’ as a word that describes the

intermingling of bodies and places that occurs over time as we inhabit
places and places inhabit us. Home, in this sense, does not denote a specific
house or location but a way of being in the world that requires an ongoing
relationship. When that relationship is interrupted, such as through migra-
tion, we have to learn how to inhabit the new place and to be ourselves in it,
re-inhabiting our senses-as-home as the new place becomes familiar over
time. There may be many sensory cues that assist us, like familiar scents
or sounds that bring us relief from the bodily tension that can arise from
attempts to insert ourselves into new places. Similarly, we may take time
to adapt to the rhythms of the place we move to, as in the descriptions of
Rome as a ‘chaotic city’: the city requires time to decipher, time for our
senses to make sense of the rhythms, sights, sounds, tastes and scents, the
feel of daily life.

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190 Reimagining home in the 21st century

At the same time, landscape, or features more closely related to the

natural rather than the social world, impact on us in irrevocable ways.
Weather has the power to affect our mood, to become synonymous with
the pain of absence. Our reactions to the weather in the places we live
remind us that we are feeling, breathing, living beings. If ‘being at home
and the work of home-building is intimately bound up with the idea of
home’ (Ahmed et al. 2003: 9, emphasis in original), it is also intimately
sensed: tasted, touched, scented, heard, seen, ingested and seeping into our
skin. Home, perhaps, is best described as an intimate mingling of bodies,
places and times such that the boundaries between our selves and our envi-
ronments break down, albeit in incomplete and contested ways.

Ahmed, S. (1999), ‘Home and away: Narratives of migration and estrangement’,
International Journal of Cultural Studies, 2 (3), 329–347.
Ahmed, S., C. Castaneda, A.M. Fortier and M. Sheller (2003), Uprootings/
Regroundings: Questions of Home and Migration, Oxford: Berg.
Ang, I. and M. Symonds (1997), Home, Displacement, Belonging, Kingswood,
NSW: University of Western Sydney.
Baldassar, L. (2001), Visits Home: Migration Experiences between Italy and
Australia, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.
Baldassar, L. (2008), ‘Missing kin and longing to be together: Emotions and
the construction of co-presence in transnational relationships’, Journal of
Intercultural Studies, 29 (3), 247–266.
Blunt, A. and R. Dowling (2006), Home, London: Routledge.
Brickell, K. and A. Datta (eds) (2011), Translocal Geographies: Spaces, Places,
Connections, Farnham: Ashgate.
Edensor, T. (2011), ‘Commuter: Mobility, rhythm and commuting’, in Tim
Cresswell and Peter Merriman (eds), Geographies of Mobilities: Practices,
Spaces, Subjects, Farnham: Ashgate, pp. 189–204.
Hage, G. (1997), ‘At home in the entrails of the west: Multiculturalism, “ethnic food”
and migrant home-building’, in H. Grace, G. Hage, L. Johnson, J. Langsworth
and M. Symonds, Home/World: Space, Community and Marginality in Sydney’s
West, Annandale, NSW: Pluto Press, pp. 99–153.
Hamilton, O. (2010), ‘Conversation as research: Collecting life stories, creating
places’, International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, 5 (6), 43–50.
Hamilton, O. (2012), Another(’s) Rome: Difference and Belonging in a Twenty-first
Century City, North Ryde, NSW: Macquarie University.
Hedetoft, U. and M. Hjort (2002), The Postnational Self: Belonging and Identity,
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Howes, D. (2005), Empire of the Senses: The Sensual Culture Reader, Oxford: Berg.
Ingold, T. (2010), ‘Footprints through the weather-world: Walking, breath-
ing, knowing’, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N.S.), 16 (s1),
Janowski, M. (2012), ‘Introduction: Consuming memories of home in constructing

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Senses of home ­191

the past and remembering the future’, Food and Foodways: Explorations in the
History and Culture of Human Nourishment, 20 (3–4), 175–186.
Korac, M. (2009), Remaking Home: Experiences of Reconstructing Life, Place and
Identity in Rome and Amsterdam, Oxford: Berghahn Books.
Law, L. (2001), ‘Home cooking: Filipino women and geographies of the senses in
Hong Kong’, Ecumene (subsequently Cultural Geographies), 8 (3), 264–283.
Lynch, K. (1960), The Image of the City, Cambridge, MA: Technology Press.
Mallett, S. (2004), ‘Understanding home: A critical review of the literature’,
Sociological Review, 52 (1), 62–89.
Massey, D. (2005), For Space, London: Sage.
Miller, D. (2001), Home Possessions: Material Culture behind Closed Doors,
Oxford: Berg.
Pink, S. (2004), Home Truths: Gender, Domestic Objects and Everyday Life, Oxford:
Pink, S. (2008), ‘An urban tour: The sensory sociality of ethnographic place-mak-
ing’, Ethnography, 9 (2), 175–196.
Raman, P. (2011), ‘“Me in place, and the place in me”: A migrant’s tale of food,
home and belonging’, Food, Culture and Society, 14 (2), 165–180.
Seremetakis, N. (1996), The Senses Still: Perception and Memory as Material
Culture in Modernity, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Smith, M.M. (2007), Sensory History, Oxford: Berg.
Stoller, P. (1997), Sensuous Scholarship, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania
Vannini, P., D. Waskul, S. Gottschalk and T. Ellis-Newstead, T. (2012), ‘Making
sense of the weather: Dwelling and weathering on Canada’s Rain Coast’, Space
and Culture, 15 (4), 361–380.
Wise, A. and A. Chapman (2005), ‘Introduction: Migration, affect and the senses’,
Journal of Intercultural Studies, 26 (1), 1–3.

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13. Transcultural objects, transcultural
Ilaria Vanni Accarigi

Home is something that you practise and create every day. (Yunomi 2013)


This chapter considers the idea of home as a continuous process, which,

as the quotation at the beginning of this chapter suggests, includes the role
of objects and everyday practices in the uncoupling of the idea of home
from the idea of place. Contemporary senses of belonging are multiple,
transnational and translocal. Homing processes are here explored in the
specific context of transnational mobility, and home is assessed as part of
a continuum rather than as a point of departure or origin (the ‘back home’
popping up in many migrant conversations) or as a point of arrival. In the
process, this chapter draws on contemporary feminist and postcolonial
scholars’ questioning of the concept of home as origin, stasis and belong-
ing, and of the concurrent romanticization of mobility as change (see
Hage 1997; Ahmed et al. 2003: 1). Home is understood by these scholars
as a continuous process, which includes movement and mobility and leads
to a production/reproduction of domestic space and domesticity through
affective labour. Both home and migration, according to these authors, are
enacted affectively, materially and symbolically, in relation to one another,
as uprootings and regroundings (Ahmed et al. 2003: 2). Similarly home is
thought of as processes of homing, and thus we should ‘avoid assuming
that home has an essential meaning, in advance of its making’ (Ahmed et
al. 2003: 8).
Drawing on this literature, I argue that the sense of ‘being at home’ or
of belonging to somewhere, in the context of transnational mobility, is dis-
sociated from a geographical location and replaced by belonging through
specific everyday practices. Lloyd and Vasta outline a similar set of con-
cerns in Chapter 1 of this volume, questioning if home can be understood
as place, and offering that instead home can be understood as practised,


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and as something that we make rather than be at. In my study, these prac-
tices are both shaped by and shape transnational flows of bodies, sensoria,
capital, work, aesthetics, commodities and ideas. Certain everyday prac-
tices, for instance, produce particular trade routes of goods that recreate
specific aesthetic sensibilities and sensoria. These practices are made pos-
sible by and affect transnational circulation and trade via different scales
of economy from international import/export firms to retail, as well as
logistics, labour, and carbon footprints. In this process economic, social
and political networks across different societies are maintained (Al-Ali and
Koser 2002: 8) and niche markets created.
Considering the centrality of cultural practices in transnational homing
processes, I argue that the shift from conceptions of belonging to a place
to belonging through a practice is mediated and translated by objects. For
instance, using certain implements to prepare food, or certain objects to
decorate the house, or tools to cultivate the garden engenders a particular
sense of belonging by providing a continuity of practices. Continuity in
this context is not intended as repetition of the same, but rather as the
ongoing translation of a practice into different circumstances. The objects
narrated in this chapter act as translators, shifting the terms of uprooting
and regrounding, moving between different orders, locations, sensoria and
histories. Building on the idea of the processual and translational (rather
than geographically bound) nature of home, these narratives attend to
the entanglements of the material, sensory and affective in home-making,
highlighting the role played by objects. This chapter therefore asks: What
do objects do when they migrate? How do they translate cultural and
­everyday practices?


To answer these questions, I follow the interrelated and nuanced stories

of objects, senses of belonging, mobility and home of a group of profes-
sional women who travel regularly between Australia and other places, of
origins or otherwise. Although from different cultural backgrounds, these
women are part of the transnational flows of cognitive capitalism, and, as
one of them pointed out, the imaginary conjured up by their status is not
one of migrancy but of ‘the middle class living abroad’ (Teapot 2014).1 As
outlined by Lloyd and Vasta in Chapter 1 of this volume, recent changes
in the labour market recast and blur the relationship between workplace
and domestic space. In search of work–life balance, for instance, work
is increasingly performed from home, while conversely the workplace
(understood relationally as well as in terms of a physical location) becomes

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194 Reimagining home in the 21st century

a sort of home (Duyvendak 2011: 112–116). In the life stories of objects I

collected in this chapter, home emerges both in the sense of domestic set-
tings, as practices of homing and belonging, and in the often interrelated
broader meaning of cultural homelands. These stories about objects also
disrupt the boundaries of what home may or may not be in relation to the
workplace, while pointing to the blurring of the distinction between work
and non-work under cognitive capitalism.
This chapter is based on conversations conducted with objects and their
owners around ideas of material culture and home. Alessandro Portelli has
described oral history as a ‘collaborative generation of knowledge’ (2005:
150) and as ‘work of relationships’ between past and present, memory and
narrative, interviewer and interviewee, and orality and written or recorded
narrative (2009: 21). I would like to add the third element of objects and
their materiality to these pairs.
The questions I asked were concerned with the materiality and sensory
qualities of the objects, their histories, the associations they evoked, the
use of the objects in different countries, and what the objects did in the
participants’ lives in Australia. When I started researching domestic
material cultures in relation to mobility and home I thought I was fol-
lowing in the tradition of oral historians who use objects to stimulate
deep layers of memory and storytelling (Wilton 2008). I realized in the
interviewing process that objects escaped this ancillary role as stimuli
and claimed centre stage by ‘co-authoring’ the knowledge produced in
interviews through their material and affective presence and the memory
inscribed in their material characteristics. During interviews, for instance,
objects interrupted the flow of conversation with their materiality: stains,
cracks, colours, patterns, shapes and bulk that go unnoticed in everyday
life seemed to become prominent, and to produce insights into particular
stories. While talking and holding a teacup, for instance, one of the partici-
pants observed: ‘I didn’t know these cracks were here. I am so interested in
seeing how it changes. Objects are not static. They are a living thing. They
change; otherwise they wouldn’t be’ (Yunomi 2013).


Continuities and disjunctures occur between home as a physical structure,

as an idealized place and as everyday experience. They also introduce ideas
of home as familiarization and homeliness and, as its opposite, unhomeli-
ness. The tension between familiar and unfamiliar is also present in my
reflection on what happens when objects cross borders.
To go back to my initial questions, of what objects do in the process

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of uprooting and regrounding, and how they work as vessels to translate

practices from a set of circumstances to another, this chapter brings to
the discussion ideas developed by the Italian philosopher, historian of
religions, anthropologist and folklorist Ernesto De Martino (1908–65)
(Vanni 2013, 2014). De Martino studied phenomenology (Husserl in par-
ticular), Heideggerian existentialism, psychoanalysis and Gramsci’s politi-
cal theory, which led him to write the ethnographies of subaltern groups,
including the healing cult of the tarantula spider bite, which constitutes
the only translation of his work in English as The Land of Remorse (2005).
In his later work, published as collected notes in a posthumous book, La
Fine Del Mondo [The End of the World], De Martino (1977) considered,
among other topics, the role of objects in mediating and bringing together
words, knowledge, habits and everyday practices in a cultural blueprint,
which he called la patria culturale dell’agire [the cultural homeland of
agency] (1964, 1977).2 This cultural homeland of agency is linked in De
Martino’s work with the notion of appaesamento/spaesamento, which can
be translated in English as to feel at home/not to feel at home, or homely/
unhomely. Spaesamento is explained by De Martino as the loss of domes-
ticity and of a domestic horizon. This domestic horizon is disrupted by
what De Martino terms a ‘cultural apocalypse’, or a crisis that leads to the
perception of the end of a known world or of a historical period. Cultural
apocalypses are not necessarily collective movements, and they can be the
concern of one individual ‘who within the frame of certain environmental
circumstances, opens up or renews a particular cultural sensibility to the
end of the world’ (1964: 103). Similarly a cultural apocalypse does not need
to be manifested in events, but it can influence the mood, inclination and
direction of thoughts and affects of a group or a person (1964: 105). Here
a cultural apocalypse refers to the change in given lifeworlds (intended as
everyday, culturally bound experiences of the world as something over
which we have control and of which we understand its meanings; see
Habermas 1984, 1987) as result of mobility between countries, and to the
subsequent process of ‘uprooting and regrounding’ (Ahmed et al. 2003).
In the interviews that I have collected here from 2013 and 2014 these shifts
take place at different times: some are recent; some are old. In all cases the
objects described play a central role in the uprooting–regrounding con-
tinuum that is constituent of homing practices.
As a result of the loss of domesticity brought about by a change or
crisis, De Martino (1964) goes on, objects become unmoored from the
normal frame of reference governed by tight relationships between every-
day gestures and practices, as well as other objects, names, words, latent
memories, habits, usage and places.
This assemblage is, according to De Martino, the result of every

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196 Reimagining home in the 21st century

individual’s particular cultural and historical biography and shapes the

cultural blueprint through which we see and act in the world. A crisis, such
as the crisis of relocating in a different country, disrupts the habitual flows
of the intersubjective relationships that form our cultural blueprint and
that make it possible for us to operate in the world, letting things function
without the need of conscious thinking or translations (De Martino 1964:
137–138). Everyday things such as climate, language, shopping, eating and
moving around are no longer obvious with the experience of migration.
According to De Martino, as a consequence of this disruption, objects
lose their familiar connections to meaning and words and become spaesati,
without a home, unhomely.


The objects described in the interviews are: a doll, a teacup, a teapot (the
last two unrelated) and a library. They are all objects that, together with
their owners, have gone through the experience, more or less traumatic, of
migration. These objects have at first lost their domesticity, the background
web of everyday practices and relations between things, actions, words and
cultural memories that anchored each object to a specific lifeworld and
made its presence and usage ‘obvious’. Having been uprooted, objects
have lost, as De Martino writes, il calore segreto (the secret warmth) that
comes from being embedded in the cultural memories and the obviousness
of the everyday (1964: 130–131). Paradoxically these objects also become
the means to recreate new relations in a different lifeworld: to translate,
‘moving terms around, linking and changing them’ (Law 2009: 144),
thus contributing to a regrounding. Silvia Spitta, writing about private
collecting practices of objects that constitute an ‘identity kit’, such as
those brought back from places of origin or acquired during travels and
transculturation, makes a similar point, noticing how ‘the objects with
which we surround ourselves and which we cherish, serve to anchor the
self to the place we call home’ (2009: 164). The following objects and the
narratives they activate offer four different scenarios to answer my initial
question, and illustrate four ways to anchor the self to ‘home’.

Home One – Domestic Horizons

A doll, La Negrita del Batey (the little black girl from the community
group), is described as initially enmeshed in her cultural and social
grammar, in her obviousness as a toy that crossed racial and class divides,
in Cuba:

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There is something that I like very much about her. She is kind of the equalizer.
She equalizes the whole black–white–mulatto, wealthy–poor. Certainly from my
experience from talking to people about La Negrita del Batey, I feel that she
straddled it all: this means for me the absolute essence of the best of Cubanness.
She was every little girl’s doll, and the fact that she was black was irrelevant. She
is what you had when you were a little Cuban girl.

The capacity of the doll to straddle and shift the terms of a situation in
order to translate different lifeworlds, or, borrowing from Spitta (2009: 6–7),
to move between different orders of things, emerges with the continuation
of her story, which in itself extends across macro-historical events, such as
the Cuban revolution and the subsequent Cuban diaspora in Miami: ‘In a
sense I think of her as having been through all of that and holding on to
those things that were really important about my childhood’ (La Negrita
del Batey 2013). This doll is not the ‘original’ childhood toy, which was left
behind in Cuba when the family, living in a precarious situation after the
1959 revolution, finally, and with no warning, moved to Miami, where the
father and another family had already gone. This doll was bought in an art
and crafts shop for tourists during the first trip back to Cuba after 36 years.
This acquisition marks the beginning of remembering, ‘the loving and
laborious art of recollection of the past entailed by the work of memory’,
which, as Spitta argues, ‘invariably entails re-collecting, cherishing, and
remembering objects inscripted by the care and attention of the loved one
in the past’ (2009: 164). This act of remembering is also an act of defiance
of the family, who refused to have any contact with post-revolution Cuba.
Back in Cuba the landscape has altered. The grandmother’s house,
theatre of many childhood memories, is now in a neighbourhood that has
changed so much that recognizing the house is not possible. Art and crafts
shops are full of Negritas del Batey. The doll in this story operates like a
metonym, standing for all the other Negritas del Batey, but also for Cuban
childhood, as ‘she was a lot of little girls’ doll. It didn’t matter your race.
It didn’t matter your class. She was just a Cuban girl’s doll’ (La Negrita
del Batey 2013). The doll does so in traversing countries – Cuba, the USA,
Australia – and collapsing different times and historical periods together.
La Negrita del Batey also moves across three periods: the ‘before’, the
time of childhood, interrupted abruptly on 1 January 1959 by the Cuban
revolution, when the father leaves for Miami and the family in Cuba goes
into hiding; Miami, where eventually the family moves in 1960; and finally
Canberra and Sydney.
The doll’s arrival in Miami, after the first trip back to Cuba, illustrates
well how when objects move from one country to another they disturb
the affective geography of home. After a cold reception at the airport, La
Negrita del Batey goes to visit an elderly aunt for a few days:

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My aunt knew I had gone. She too was very resentful. I had gone to visit her
beach house and I had brought her stories and even an avocado that one of the
custodians of the place had given to me to give to her, having remembered her
all these years. And there was this blanket rejection of my stories, this blanket
rejection of the avocado . . . One day I was sitting in the guest room in my aunt’s
house, and she [the doll] was still lying in the suitcase. My aunt saw her, and
grabbed her, and hugged her and sat her in the middle of her sofa, like guest of
honour. She said: ‘Oh my God! La Negrita del Batey. Where did you get her?’
It was almost like there was only one and I got the only one and there were not
thousands more around. And I told her the story, and I said ‘I don’t understand.
You closed me down in so many ways, for so many interesting stories I had to
tell you, and you welcomed her like that.’
And she replied: ‘Because as soon as I saw her I was a little girl again. As soon
as I saw her it was my childhood she reminded me of, not all the terrible things I
went through as an adult in Communist Cuba.’ Suddenly I realized she was my
means to hold other conversations with members of my family. (La Negrita del
Batey 2013)

La Negrita del Batey is a ‘childhood memory made present by the con-

crete object’ (Spitta 2009: 164). If the link between objects and memory,
and the capacity of objects to evoke and revoke memories of the past, is
a common experience, what sets La Negrita del Batey apart is her ability
to function as a metonym of cross-generational Cuban childhood, and in
the given context of a time outside the historical becoming brought about
by the revolution. By virtue of this ability La Negrita del Batey can enable
conversations, and recreate home as a web of affective relations. These
take another turn when, in a further step, La Negrita del Batey recreates
new domestic horizons, becoming a ‘family’ and a ‘community’ in her own

She is my talking family. Being a Cuban in Australia is a highly isolating experi-

ence. There isn’t a Cuba[n] community. There are clusters of Cubans, but every-
body looks at each other with suspicion because of the political divide. I have no
family, no community. It creates a huge hole, but it allows a lot of freedom and
space to create your own Cubanness. There is no model. There is none to tell
me this is how we did it at home. It’s a bubble, and she and I are in this bubble
together. (La Negrita del Batey 2013)

Home Two – Sensoryscapes

A yunomi, a ‘container for drinking hot water’ or teacup in Japanese, sits

on a piano in a Sydney apartment. Each morning, coffee is brewed and
poured in the cup, and then it is offered to the late father:

I am using it for coffee. But it is for Japanese green tea. I changed its function.
My father used it for tea. We don’t drink coffee from the same cup as we use

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for tea. We drink tea after every meal, and this was his cup. For coffee he had a
morning mug. (Yunomi 2013)

The description of this morning routine occurs around a red, green and
yellow teacup, a combination of colours immediately recognizable in
Japan as Kutani ware. This particular cup is:

A bit old, and there are cracks here. This was given to my dad from his cousin.
In Japan you have your dedicated teacup, rice spoon and chopsticks, so when
you have lunch or dinner you take your own cup and plate and chopsticks. So
my father had been using this as his teacup. This type of teacup comes in two
sizes, a bigger one for the husband and a smaller one for the wife, so my mum
and dad were given the cup by his cousin, 30 or 40 years ago. (Yunomi 2013)

The Japanese practice of eating using personal dishes and drinking from
personal cups is complicated by a cosmopolitan taste for coffee, for its
flavour and aroma:

But see, my father loved fresh coffee, and he used to brew coffee. So it was the
last thing he had before he died. We bought the best coffee we could buy, then,
because it had to be freshly brewed. We asked the hospital coffee shop down-
stairs to make the coffee and then we brought it up, so the last thing he had, it
was coffee, because he loved the aroma. (Yunomi 2013)

The teacup was brought to Australia during the writing of a Ph.D.

thesis, and made possible a regrounding practice:

When I was doing my Ph.D. I developed this ritual: every morning I would offer
him coffee. I still do it. If I don’t offer him coffee in this cup my day doesn’t
start . . . I was doing my Ph.D. partially because of my father, because he was
an academic. He died at the age of 50 and couldn’t develop some of his ideas in
molecular biology and genetics. So when I started my Ph.D. I needed to make
my father part of it. When I went back to Japan I thought: I need to bring
something back. Then I saw this in my mum’s cupboard so I took it. I have been
using this for the past ten years . . . My ritual has changed my everyday and my
mindset, because my father came back to my everyday life, so it changed my way
of thinking. Ritual is an ordering practice, so not doing this disrupts the order.
Not doing it triggers disruption. (Yunomi 2013)

Relocating the teacup from Japan to Australia, and changing its func-
tion from a cup used every day to drink green tea to a cup used as part of
a morning ritual involving coffee, makes possible the creation of a different
sensibility of ‘being at home’. The change in function in this case signifies
first a displacement (or spaesamento) of the original ‘knot’ (Howes 2005: 9)
of interconnected senses: the smell and taste of green tea of the cup during

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200 Reimagining home in the 21st century

its life in Japan, coupled with the memory of the aroma of coffee so loved
by the interviewee’s late father. This displacement turns into a homing
practice when the cup is reinscribed in the everyday ritual of coffee offer-
ing, ‘not just in the doing, but in the feeling, smelling and talking about it
too’ (Yunomi 2013).
The intersensoriality described above in relation to the feeling of home is
captured by David Howes, who writes specifically about a form of embodi-
ment that exceeds the duopoly body–mind to bring in the senses. Howes
explains this as the emerging paradigm of emplacement, a ‘sensuous inter-
relationship of body–mind–environment’ where environment is under-
stood as ‘a bundle of sensory and social values contained in the feeling
of “home” ’ (2005: 7). The opposite of emplacement, Howes continues, is
displacement, intended as a feeling of being homeless, disconnected from
one’s physical and social environment (2005: 7).
This teacup-turned-coffee-cup moves between displacement and
emplacement, translating and collapsing together two different time-
spaces. In the process it activates the idea and narrative of home as an
everyday practice. The cup is central to the construction of a chronotope
of ‘home’, in which the here and now of Australia flows together with the
there and then of Japan. According to Bakhtin, chronotopes make certain
kinds of events possible; they are ‘the ground essential for the represent-
ability of events . . . the chronotope is the place where knots of narratives
are tied and untied’ (1981: 250). Similarly the teacup becomes the ground
for the representability of home:

This is my home now. [Places the cup on a table] It’s not the space I am in now,
but what I am doing with this cup that makes it home. Nostalgia is part of it
too. This is not just about doing this now, but it has got all this history, and
trajectories, and it is not just my trajectory. Everything is combined in this here
and now. It is linked to there and then. All these connections are remade, which
is part of home too. Home is the future, but it always contains the present and
past too. (Yunomi 2013)

Home Three – Aesthetic Registers

A teapot arrives in Sydney in a suitcase. It started its life as a mass-­

produced teapot in Japan in the 1940s, was then exported to Southern
Italy, where it was given as an aspirational middle-class wedding gift, and
stayed with an owner until her death. It then became an ‘antique’ and was
sold in an antique market, before travelling to Australia. In Australia it
becomes a metonym for a lifestyle and for cultural capital.
This process of reconfiguration of meaning of an object, which is dis-
cussed by De Martino first in terms of loss and then of recovery of the

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Transcultural objects, transcultural homes ­201

‘domestic horizons’ of objects (1977: 86–92), is also taken up by Spitta,

who observes how with migration ‘objects become detached from the
spaces and memories to which they are and were anchored . . . Having lost
some of their meaning, they are reconfigured in new spaces and acquire
different meanings’ (2009: 16–17).
The sense of being uprooted on arrival in a new city because of the loss
of the domestic horizons put into place by everyday objects becomes a
quest to find a teapot: a common object, of which the interviewee has a
whole collection in another country, and which in Sydney turns out to be
impossible to acquire. An appropriate teapot cannot be found:

Here I wasn’t really able to go and buy things. I had troubles in identifying
where to go, because when you move to another continent you have so many
emergencies – bureaucratic, work-related, economic – and you need to rebuild
the web of social relations. And the urban landscape here is so fragmented. You
can’t go to the city centre knowing that in a few streets you will find the shops
you are looking for, like in Italy. So you need to learn a new urban geography.
(Teapot 2014)

The teapot, which finally arrives as a gift from Italy, becomes the means
through which the sense of estrangement and displacement of being in
another country is finally domesticated:

This teapot made an enormous difference: it made me feel less of a refugee. It

is a superfluous object, and when one leaves only packs the essentials. But you
have something like this because you like it, and you cannot really buy it again
here, because things are generic . . . This teapot arrived a few months after we
arrived, but I had seen it before, when we went on holidays in Italy and my
mother-in-law showed me this teapot, that she had originally bought for my
mother. I really liked it! So when she came to visit us in Sydney she brought the
whole set with her. (Teapot 2014)

While there are affective ties to objects, such as the ones given as gifts
by loved ones as in this case, objects also recreate an affective dimension
of home through the regrounding of specific sensoria. If, as Spitta argues,
‘every new cultural configuration and therefore every new subject posi-
tion depends upon transcultural processes’ (2009: 21), objects as part of
this process are transcultural also because translating a sensorium implies
translating particular cultural sensibilities. As Howes and Classen argue,
‘Perception is informed not only by a particular meaning a sensation has
for us, but also by the social values it carries’ (2013: 1). In the process of
moving countries, things, and the everyday sensorium things generate, do
not have an equivalent and need to be learnt again. A taste for tea in the
Italian context, for instance, has different implications of cultural and

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202 Reimagining home in the 21st century

social capital from the implications of a taste for tea in Australia, where tea
is a common and homely hot drink:

I started to drink tea in the afternoon when I was in high school, and at the
beginning it was something exotic, all’inglese [British style]: in Tuscany you
drink tea only when you are sick. I used to like Earl Grey and fruity teas. Now
I prefer dry ones. I liked tea because it is a pause, and because it was different
from what you would normally do in Italy . . . I travelled a lot: I drank tea in
North Africa, and it is different; I drank tea in the Middle East, and again it
is different; I drank tea in Asia, and it is different. Now I associate tea with a
cosmopolitan dimension that is not the dimension of a migrant. It is the middle
class living abroad. (Teapot 2014)

This teapot, therefore, carries a particular aesthetic history: domes-

tic objects define both identity and cultural capital through the objects’
sensory characteristics, such as the smoothness of the material, the colours
and the patterns, and through the knowledge required to appreciate them:

I like this teapot because it is porcelain and because it is not new. It is from the
1940s. I like its smoothness and its roundness. I find the colour combination of
greens, pinks and whites very calming, like the tea itself: tea is reassuring. It is
warm, it is light, and it is not coffee. This is not a luxury object. It was produced
for everyday usage. It was bought in an antique market: these tea sets were made
in Japan, and imported to Italy, where they were given as wedding gifts or were
part of wedding dowries of women who are now passing away. That is why this
kind of tea set is now common in antique markets.

The aesthetic practices described above, the appreciation of colour, mate-

rial and tactility, are shaped by cultural and social values, which in the
context of mobility and in the process of regrounding become the aesthetic
register of home.

Home Four – The Order of Things

Entangled with cultural capital, class, taste and part of a specific social
and cultural grammar, objects act like vessels to navigate and cross into a
different cultural grammar:

When I first arrived I was overstimulated. All my antennae were up for a year.
The smells, everything smelled different, and the sounds! I couldn’t tell the birds!
We literally could not cope with processing any more information . . . The first
thing I did in the first few weeks was to buy the Herald and then a women[’s]
magazine, and I did my anally retentive thing, which was to underline designer
names and shop names because I am so in my bourgeois cultural capital, and
obviously being bourgeois coming from a working-class background I have

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learnt how to accumulate capital around certain names, and I know what’s
a ridiculous thing to wear. So I had to quickly figure out how this works in
Australia. (Books 2014)

The above excerpt illuminates well how uprooting is perceived as a

‘radical undoing’ (Spitta 2009: 21) of the cultural order, and as a disorder-
ing of the senses. Everyday things suddenly lose their known meaning,
because their new sensory and social aspects are confusing. Connections
between things, their sensory qualities, their ‘obviousness’ and operabil-
ity (De Martino 1977: 80–82), the cultural capital they bring about, and
words as a way of understanding all need to be established again. This
loss of connections is described as a disturbance of the order of things (to
borrow the expression from Foucault 1994): a smell does not connect to
any previous knowledge of a thing; a birdsong does not link to a specific
bird; clothes acquire a whole new language. This disconnection of things
from their cultural blueprint is what De Martino throughout The End of
the World (1977) called spaesamento, the feeling of bewilderment, of being
out of place. Objects offer the material solidity to uproot and displace, as
well as to reground and emplace. In this case they literally undo and recre-
ate domestic space:

I think one of the reason[s] why I brought so many books is that I wanted to
leave England. I wanted to bring the most important things with me and I
wanted to bring so many because I didn’t want to go back, so I brought that
weight and that volume and that many to say: ‘I am serious I am coming.’ For
the first three months the books were not here. I just had my suitcase. When
the stuff arrived I was very disappointed and wanted to send them back . . .
I enjoyed living with very little. My life seemed less encumbered. But I wasn’t
disappointed with the books. I was very glad to see them. One of the interesting
things is that there are so many that, you know, they change the space immedi-
ately. They invade the space. I have book avalanches. They hit people, and there
is something about their weight that is important to me that I don’t understand.
(Books 2014)

The arrival of books marks in this story the beginning of the emplace-
ment, the mind–body–environment connection described by Howes (2005:
7), in Australia:

On opening crates I would see the first book and say ‘Oh, yes, so it’s you. I
know you lot.’ Some boxes were tail ends, which I found annoying, because
books didn’t belong, so I had to theme again, at home and at work. Where I
was living there were not enough bookshelves, never enough, so I piled them up,
then piled them up in the fireplace, and I could see them, and it was fantastic.
(Books 2014)

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204 Reimagining home in the 21st century

In the continuum of uprooting and regrounding and of emplacement

and displacement, objects through their material, sensory and cultural
presence have effects and the ability to make a difference to the feeling of
home. Books for instance occasion not only a particular affective dimen-
sion, but also particular ways of being in the home and moving:

They are one wall. There is solidity in them. They surround me – it’s like I built
a big swan nest. The way they make the space around me: they fill up the space.
They make me walk in a particular way. When one falls then a number will fall
and I have to find a new place for them to go . . . They have a life with me that
I like. I like how they invade my life. I like how they surprise me. Sometimes I
would be looking for one book, and then find another. They have this dynamic
quality that you wouldn’t imagine from a line of books. I get into them in differ-
ent ways. Sometimes I need to find a book, and I will be on my hands and knees
and I try to tunnel through, and one would go ‘I am here. You forgot about me.’
It is that serendipity thing. They have a dynamism, their visuality moves back-
ward and forward. Things get foregrounded. They might be lined out equally,
but somehow they call out and they make themselves known to me. And others
are quiet. They are this assemblage that goes back in time, and whilst they don’t
have memories like food or musical instruments they are connected, like tenta-
cles, back to the past. They are ‘a library’: it’s not just a whole lot of books. It’s
a collection. (Books 2014)

Once these emplaced books are described as ‘wilful’, this wilfulness

manifests itself in the ability of books to blur boundaries of the idea
of home: between what is proper – an ordering system – and improper;
between what is expected – tidiness – and not expected; between what is
within an accepted cultural and social grammar – a neat display of a suit-
able number of books – and what, literally, falls outside it: ‘I have book
avalanches’ (Books 2014). The books’ wilfulness disturbs ideas about what
is tasteful and appropriate for a woman and for home-making intended
as housekeeping: the correct way to classify, order and display them; the
acceptable quantity; the division between living and working space and


This chapter has explored what home may mean in the context of con-
temporary forms of mobility that include migration but also recurrent
and prolonged periods of travel (to the country of origin or otherwise).
It began with the definition of home as a process and a practice, starting
from the finding that what makes home is a continuity of practices and
that these practices are entangled and enacted with the help of certain

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Transcultural objects, transcultural homes ­205

objects. This idea follows De Martino’s study (1964, 1977) on the role of
objects in moments of historical or personal change, and Spitta’s research
(2009) on how objects that travel from one culture into another create a rift
in the cultural understanding of the receiving culture. These homing prac-
tices have been analysed following four different scenarios, based on four
oral histories: home intended as objects that recreate domestic horizons
through the memories they carry; home evoked through rituals that put
into place a sensorium; home as a particular aesthetic register; and home
as an ordering or disordering of things.
It is important to stress how transcultural objects, such as those narrated
here, are not simply carriers of memories: they have a material impact that
generates particular sensory worlds. Objects in the context of mobility help
to adjust what we perceive with the senses, and to anchor us in a sensory
and aesthetic lifeworld that makes us feel at home. Feeling at home is a
matter of alignment between the aesthetic and sensory qualities around us
and the aesthetic grammar we carry in the form of sensory understand-
ings, memories and cultural capital. Feeling at home means also emplacing
small, everyday gestures and practices that are small acts of resistance to
assimilation into another culture and interruptions of its order of things.


1. The pseudonyms used to reference the oral histories are the names of the objects chosen
and analysed in the interviews: a yunomi is a Japanese type of tea drinking vessel; La
Negrita del Batey is a stuffed doll.
2. All De Martino’s translations are by the author.


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Books, 8 February 2014.

La Negrita del Batey, 27 August 2013.
Teapot, 13 July 2014.
Yunomi, 4 September 2013.

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