This post opens a series in which the members of the HOMInG research team will analyze the substantive, methodological and ethical implications of doing research on home and migration, in times of global pandemic. After this piece by L.E. Pérez Murcia, more contributions will come from S. Bonfanti, S. Toma, B. Bertolani, I. Vari-Lavoisier and P. Boccagni.

Stay at ‘home’ vs. stay ‘indoors’

By Luis Eduardo Pérez Murcia

‘Home’, nowadays, is likely one of the most frequently used words. For scholars working on ideas of home it is fascinating to see how home has been receiving considerable attention in international media and to appreciate the very different ways in which home seems to matter for human beings. Home has become the place for everything and as so it would probably no longer be perceived ‘just’ as a place where people start and end their day. Between waking up and going to bed, many things happen in the place some of us may experience as home. Besides our daily routines of cleaning, washing, cooking and food sharing, home has become a place for work and study. This includes, for some people, endless skype/zoom calls where ‘intruders’ are now allowed to ‘go inside’ and even comment and question about the ways we organise our supposed personal and intimate space. The scene of a British politician explaining to the media the reasons he has a particular book in his bookshelf is just an eye-opening example of how our ‘homes’ are much more exposed to the public eye.

But do we really mean home when we use this word in our everyday life, and when we see the word being consistently repeated by politicians and journalists in international media? Perhaps not, perhaps we only mean indoors for those lucky enough to have a physical place for sheltering during a lockdown. Perhaps this space is not experienced as home for those who are victims of abuse and violence in their domestic space and who are forced to ‘stay at home’ with those who abuse them. This could be also the case for those who have been struggling to find something to eat or to make themselves comfortable when sleeping, cooking, eating, studying and working in a single room. We cannot take for granted that conflict-induced displaced people living in shanty towns or refugee camps, where social distance rules are often difficult to follow, experience those places as homes. They are probably indoors but not necessarily at home. The meanings and experiences of home for all these people cannot simply be assumed but rather empirically explored in all the different contexts they are socially immersed or perhaps socially excluded.

The pandemic and lockdown regulations open new research venues for those interested in the idea of home and particularly for those interested in the home-migration nexus – that is, the experiences of those who moved and those who wanted but could not because they were trapped in a lockdown. It is also a moment in which we all need to be much more aware about the risks of over-using the word ‘home’ to replace words such as house, shelter, dwelling, or simply ‘indoors’. The widespread and often uncritical and de-contextualised ways in which the word home is used in the media may be detrimental to the value of home as a concept and as a framework to say something about how individuals and communities experience what Arendt calls one’s ‘place in the world’ – or perhaps, better to say our search for it.