HOMInG’s Paolo Boccagni will participate in the Uppsala conference of the European Network for Housing Research (ENHR) next June 26-29 (http://www.enhr2018.com). His presentation will be a part of the “Housing and Refugees” Workshop (Session 3, June 28, 11-12.30).

The programme of the workshop is available at this link: http://www.enhr2018.com/digitalAssets/689/c_689982-l_1-k_ws-07-housing-and-refugees.pdf

See the title and abstract of his presentation below.

Reception facilities as home-like spaces? Lures and pitfalls of “beautification” in public housing for asylum seekers and refugees 

Paolo Boccagni (University of Trento)

This paper aims to reconceptualize the debate on housing for asylum seekers and refugees in Europe, cutting across realms of research and practice such as architecture, social welfare, migration, material culture and home studies. It revisits some case studies of new reception initiatives for asylum seekers, building also on the preliminary findings of ERC StG HOMInG – a comparative study of home views, feelings and practices.

Recent literature in housing studies has emphasized, first, the importance of cultural competence in the ways in which housing spaces for refugees are designed, adapted and used; second, the contribution of reception and housing facilities to refugees’ recovery of a sense of home, or at least of domesticity. Their new dwellings can recollect (and reconnect them with) some aspects of their past homes, both materially and symbolically. The use and division between semi-public and private space, the interface between inside and outside, and the possibility to decorate space along identity-meaningful lines (e.g. ethnic or religious ones) have been particularly emphasized. The same holds for their possibility to live with family members and other people with the same ethnonational, language or cultural background.

While these studies do reflect a number of good practices, they are still in need of better elaboration. This is not only because progressive and inclusive housing arrangements seem far from widespread, particularly in Southern Europe. Besides this, two fundamental issues are at stake.

First, there may be a contradiction between the orientation to make housing facilities more home-like (whatever the underlying views and moralities of home, or the socio-cultural variation in its meanings); and the provisionality associated with housing at the early stage of reception and under uncertain legal conditions. In the second place, the assumption that housing should enable refugee clients to feel at home there over-emphasizes the private aspects of the home experience itself.

Having a good shelter and feeling secure and in control there is constitutive of what a burgeoning interdisciplinary literature qualifies as home. At the same time, such a materiality-bound understanding of home neglects both its social and its public side, whereby feeling at home in an alien context means also gaining suitable recognition, rights and abilities to navigate through it. As important, following the literature on homemaking and homing, the focus should be not only on the home-evoking potential of housing infrastructures and affordances, but also on the capability of people-as-dwellers to make the most out of them. The potential of housing facilities as home-makers has not to do only with infrastructural aspects, but also with their contribution to the homemaking capabilities of clients themselves.

To conclude, housing facilities for refugees should be more reflexive and open to the interface between architecture and housing studies, on the one hand, and social welfare and home studies, on the other. The possibility to reproduce a sense of home on the move (and attach it to specific place) matters as, or more than, the abstract and disembodied home-like features of the built environment.