Paolo Boccagni will give a keynote next 5 May at the ‘Haunted by homes’ Symposium, convened by Amina El Halawani at ICI Berlin – Institute for Cultural Inquiry.
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AS IF IT WERE HOME: Exploring Home as a Metaphor to Approach Social Reality
This presentation invites looking at home as a metaphor to approach social reality and make sense of it. So far, the bulk of research on home across social sciences has addressed it primarily as a special place, potentially on multiple scales, with its own material and symbolic infrastructures; and more recently, as a set of emplaced emotions, relations and routines, with a focus on the social practices that may turn a generic or impersonal place into one worth calling home. There is, however, another conceptual dimension of home that is relatively under-appreciated. This involves its discursive currency as a category of practice, or a word in use, with its own elusive emotional, moral and political subtexts. The metaphorical ones, in this optic, are as or more revealing than the literal or material ones. All that home does as a word – the stances and claims it is instrumental to, in interpersonal and group relations – is hardly less significant than what home is as a place or a social relationship with it.
Home operates as a category of reference for people to approach certain social circumstances that do not overlap with home in a literal sense, or in a normatively positive one, and yet have something to do with it. Home is an evocative catchword for all that people see, feel, think or claim as especially “theirs”, on different grounds: their origins (in the past), their dwelling and living circumstances (at present), or ideal life conditions of full security, familiarity and control (in the present, or at least in the future). There is a remarkable potential in unveiling how one approaches new significant settings and people as if they were home, based on a perceived similarity, resonance or functional equivalence with “what” – dear ones, special places, or significant events – was, meant, or felt like home in the past or should be(come) home in the future.
Whether home operates as a metaphor stricto sensu, a simile or a functional equivalence with something else, researching it along these lines is critical to fully value its heuristic potential and its phenomenological experience, both in applied research domains (e.g. housing, social welfare, urban studies) and in representational fields such as humanities and in the arts.
Following this argument, I discuss the potential and pitfalls of using home as a metaphor – that is, a category to approach a social setting that is not home, but bears some resemblance with what(ever) home is expected or desired to be like. In doing so, I borrow from my fieldwork in migration and refugee studies within the ERC HOMInG project. By engaging in critical dialogue with interdisciplinary scholarship on home making and unmaking, I eventually outline a conceptual and research agenda on the meanings, functions and implications of home as a metaphor in and of social life.