Working papers

HOMInG working paper no. 15_22


Reception centres for asylum seekers, and “camps” more broadly, are a subject of increasing interest in refugee, housing and border studies. Only a fraction of the literature, however, draws on proper ethnographic fieldwork within these infrastructures. A case in point, which this working paper revisits, is my study of everyday life of residents in an asylum centre in northern Italy. My research focus was on the lived experience of the built environment and on the spatial and temporal boundary-making among residents, and between the latter and service providers. Within rooms and shared kitchens that operate as proxies of a domestic space, people do not simply “wait”. They engage in forms of space appropriation (and to a lesser extent, attachment) that illustrate the significance of homemaking in temporary and unhomely settings. Moreover, the social and material inner space of an asylum centre is far from homogeneous. Against accounts of undifferentiated ghettos or non-places, the chapter illustrates the thresholds and layers of domesticity that refugees as guests negotiate, and that an ethnographer as their guest can capture. Without dismissing the attendant dilemmas, I show the contribution of a “being in” approach to co-produce knowledge on inner domestic routines and cultures, on the ways to (re)present oneself, on the traces of past dwelling. A refugee room gives little of an external view, as long as one gets stuck in. Yet, it provides a uniquely internal view on his everyday life experience and prospects.

HOMInG working paper no. 14_22
Boccagni P., Echeverria G. (2022), Whose homes? Approaching the lived experience of ‘remittance houses’ from within
This working paper revisits the emerging literature on so-called remittance houses along conceptual, methodological and self-reflexive lines. Building on our visits and stays in migrant houses in Ecuador over the last fifteen years, we discuss what “entering home(s)” means and what it enables a researcher-as-guest to understand, whenever a house embodies migrants’ efforts to visibly improve their life conditions and prospects in their countries of origin. By comparing visits into five different household and migration arrangements, we discuss questions of hospitality, of (in)visibilization of the absent ones through material culture, and of family and housing obligations being negotiated in a dual – local and transnational – framework. In all these respects, being in makes a critical difference. It also reveals the existence of a fundamental parallel between the life course of migrant families and of their remittance houses. The latter are like a palimpsest to reconstruct the former. Furthermore, our fieldwork opens up to further issues and dilemmas, moving “out” of the houses and “beyond” them. These include the tension between migrant exceptionalism and non-migrant normality and autonomy, as well as the significance of what these houses “do” in any circumstances, to illustrate the promise of further comparative research into transnational housing and migration. 

HOMInG Working paper no. 13_2021
My lost Lithuanian home: An autobiographical essay on belonging and not belonging
Robin Cohen
‘Home’ is often thought of as the place where one belongs. However, what if one wants to belong somewhere, but a great weight of painful history has separated you from your old home? In this paper, the author interleaves the history of his family in Lithuania with the momentous events that occurred there, especially during the Second World War. The invasion of the country by the Nazis, the horrific massacre of the Lithuanian Jews and the occupation of the country by the Soviet Union, punctuate the stories of emigration, destruction and the attempt to build a free independent country. There are some heroes in this narrative and quite a few villains, including a prominent Lithuanian whose misdeeds have been excruciatingly exposed by his granddaughter in a new biography. Those who stood by are depicted in an unusually sympathetic way. The author concludes that Lithuanians will have to face up to the unsavoury parts of their past to create a wholesome future.

HOMInG Working paper no. 12_2021
Bernardo Armanni
Mapping the meanings of home through art: A large-scale exploratory analysis of art exhibitions on home

This Working Paper contributes to the literature on home with a large-scale exploration
of the ways in which home is represented and translated into art. An extended primary
dataset (N=846) was produced for this purpose, considering art exhibitions held
worldwide from 2007 to 2020. The data were gathered through a query on the website, involving the following keywords: Home, House, Dwell and Domestic. Art
exhibitions are charted along lines of space, time, artistic forms, and main thematic
cores. Key findings can be summed up as follows: artists and exhibition curators have
increasingly been oriented to inquire the meanings of home and the home-migration
nexus; thematizations of home are remarkably different across geographic areas; art
forms are employed differently to materialize and perform different home-related themes.
Last, co-occurrence semantic networks are used to visualize the main connections
between home-related themes drawn by artists and curators in the production of

HOMInG Working paper no. 11_2020
Paolo Boccagni

Advancing transnational migration studies through home: a conceptual inquiry

This Working Paper1 provides a conceptual overview of the social experience of home and of its
significance for transnational migration studies. Home, as a material setting, a special relationship
with place or a source of distinctive emotions and social practices, is significantly affected by
human mobility across borders. It is also a unique research venue to investigate and compare the
transnational side of migrant everyday lives. Much transnational literature argues for migrants’
unprecedented connectedness with home (societies), or for their novel scope to retain a sense of
home across borders or to emplace it in several locations simultaneously. However, these
evocative claims are often disconnected from empirical research. The very notion of home has
been subject to relatively little elaboration in a transnational optic. Yet, there is a remarkable
potential in using home, literally and metaphorically, as a prism to investigate migrant ability to
retain, circulate and emplace significant aspects of the “other worlds” they are connected to, while
being physically away from them. The typical dilemmas of migrant transnationalism and some
new conceptual developments out of a homemaking lens are eventually discussed.
Keywords: Transnationalism – Home – Calling home – Feeling at home – Making home –
Emplacing home – Portability – Materiality

HOMInG WP 10_2020
Paolo Boccagni


This new HOMInG working paper aims to reconceptualize the debate on the lived experience of accommodation for asylum seekers, as a matter of home and homemaking. Several studies have recently emphasized the influence of housing quality on the ways in which asylum reception centres are experienced, and possibly re-adapted, by the residents. Reception facilities can indeed facilitate the cultivation of some sense of home, at least intermittently, primarily as a grassroots and spontaneous process. However this effort is not without contradictions, including that of being in tension with asylum seekers’ legal and existential precarity. Moreover, feeling at home in an alien context would require also gaining recognition, rights and the ability to navigate through the public sphere. The home-evoking potential of housing infrastructures and affordances is closely interdependent with the capability of people-as-dwellers to make the most out of them. Enhancing clients’ ability to reproduce a sense of home on the move and attach it to specific places matters as, or more than, the abstract and disembodied home-like features of any built environment.

HOMInG WP 9_2020
Stefania Toma

The microcosm of migration and return: identity, space and home in Romania

This HOMInG Working Paper presents the main directions of research in Romania as regards the migration of Romanian citizens and their remittance houses. It provides an overview on ‘pride houses’ and ‘Gypsy palaces’, two types of remittance buildings that gained attention in the public opinion. Both are attractions – ‘touristic’ and ‘professional’ ones. However, this bias towards the visible, exotic, or conspicuous might obscure some underlying processes of residential transformation due to migration and remittances. After (1) a short overview of the houses built by the ethnic Romanian returnees in particular areas of Romania, the Working paper presents (2) the literature on Gypsy palaces and their interpretation by the majority and their owners. It continues with (3) a brief overview of the literature of residential patterns of the Roma community and ends with (4) an outline of the broader effects of migration and return on the architecture and residential patterns of Roma settlements. Finally, a selected bibliography is presented along thematic lines, following the main sections of the text.

HOMInG WP 8_2020
Barbara Bertolani

Gurdwaras and the domestication of urban space

Peoples’ views, emotions and practices of home may concern not only the domestic space but also neighborhoods or some specific places inside them. Gurdwaras can be interpreted as semi-public spaces whereby an ethnic-religious minority – the Sikhs – try to enact a spatial, social and political appropriation over the local urban environment, hence to recreate a sense of home in it. This process can be referred to as ‘domestication’, as a multidirectional and multidimensional progression through which a highly diverse community tries to control, modify and possibly render the external environment homely, in a number of respects: spatial, political, social and cultural ones. As they do so, they are simultaneously conditioned by it. In this process, gurdwaras play a crucial role. Starting from this insight, I present a typology of Sikh gurdwaras and explore the concept of domestication, based on a case study in Southall, West London.

HOMInG WP 7_2020
Stefania Yapo and Paolo Boccagni

On the uses, functions and meanings of homing in the literature. An interdisciplinary analysis over time

A wide literature exists on the genealogy and the conceptual career of home in social sciences, and beyond. The same does not hold for its derivative term homing, though. Despite its circulation in a diverse and multidisciplinary literature over time, no systematization has been done yet of the conceptual, disciplinary and temporal patterns in the usage of homing. This is not irrelevant, since this notion has some circulation in a variety of disciplines. This paper is based on a dedicated and preliminary exploration through two academic databases, with a view to retrieving the main ways to use homing and its associations with specific concepts in different disciplines from 1885 to 2019. This called for a bridging act between natural sciences, where the bulk of the usages of homing lies, and selected sub-areas in social sciences. As a result, a new conceptual map is proposed on the predominant understandings of homing, each of them producing its own insights on home and mobilities.

HOMInG WP 6_2019
Paolo Boccagni and Willem Duyvendak

On the “scaling up” of home in majority-minority relations. A conceptual inquiry and a research agenda

This working paper investigates homemaking and home-related feelings and claims at the roots of majority-minority relations in the public urban domain. Who is entitled and legitimated to claim a public space as “home” under circumstances of deep and multifaceted diversity? What does this imply for inter-group relations and categorizations? Such questions call for original and comparative analysis across ethnic, urban and housing studies. While the notion of home has traditionally been understood as a private and domestic matter, it also has a major public significance – it “scales up”, as a matter of (public) space-related emotions, practices, and claims. In this perspective, home works out as a discursive and emotional resource for contentious politics around several divides, including (but not limited to) the one between natives, or long-term residents, and immigrants and their descendants. Several forms of domestication of the public sphere, of mutual interaction between the public and private life realm, and of claims-making between groups can be fruitfully revisited along these lines. A research agenda on the ways of framing, feeling and claiming public space as home is advanced accordingly.

HOMInG WP 5_2019
Daniela Giudici

Homemaking and forced migration: A bibliography

The literature on forced migration, particularly to Europe, has exponentially grown in the past few years. Indeed following the so called 2015 European “refugee crisis”, issues of refugees and asylum politics have been met with renewed interest, in scholarly as well as in public debate. Yet, it is important to underline that forced migration in Europe and beyond, far from being something radically new, stands out as an entrenched social reality embedded in specific historical and political contexts. Those continuities have been addressed by a number of research studies, which started exploring refugees’ lived experiences much before the mediatized beginning of the European “refugee crisis”.
Within this extensive research field this selective bibliography – based on the relevance of the literature to the HOASI research project – is concerned with the counter-intuitive linkages between homemaking and forced migration. It thus covers a number of studies broadly engaged with lived experiences of (often) temporary accommodation of refugees, being that a refugee camp, an institutional reception center, a squat, etc. Its aim is to be a useful – although certainly incomplete – tool for those interested in forced displacement and belonging, as well as in the relationships between homemaking, humanitarianism and processes of government. References are organised along key categories, which will hopefully help the reader to orient himself within this multi-faceted and evolving field of research. As Italy is the setting of the HOASI research project, this annotated list of sources is specifically concerned with the Italian and European context. Yet, a number of non-European studies are also included, as they were
considered particularly relevant for their theoretical and analytical framework. At the end of the paper we also added a selection of documentaries and videos, which portray refugees’ dwelling experiences in a plurality of contexts.

HOMInG WP 4_2018
Pnina Werbner

Migration and the sacralisation of new homes

As transnational migrants settle in a new country, they transplant and naturalize cultural objects, performances and categories, not simply because this is their tradition or culture, but because as active agents they have a stake in particular aspects of their culture. ‘Culture’ as a medium of social interaction confers agency within a field of sociality and power relations. Against the essentialist critique of community and culture, this essay suggests that in conferring agency, the performance of culture creates a field of transaction and relatedness; second, that culture as performance, in being embodied, contains inescapable experiential force; and finally, that culture as a discursive imaginary of selfhood, identity, subjectivity, and moral virtue constitutes a field of power. The domestic rituals that immigrants celebrate in distant and alien places are thus usually elaborated with cultural images and objects derived from their homelands. This transfer of images from one cultural context to another is an evident feature of the migration process. It enables migrants to sacralise their new homes through events that involve nurture and sociability within the home and which bring together newly emergent circles of trust forged in the migration context: kin, friends, and neighbours. The present essay discusses such rituals comparatively across different migrant groups settled in different countries.

HOMInG WP 3_2018
Sara Bonfanti, Aurora Massa, Alejandro Miranda

Setting the table, having a seat. A reflection on positionalities while searching for home and migration 

It is widely recognised in contemporary social scholarship that knowledge is produced and shaped by the researchers’ specific social positions, and the way these interlace with the positions held by research participants. While conducting ethnography inside (and beyond) domestic environments makes this evident, it also challenges the ethnographers’ assumptions because of their constantly shifting positions while examining homemaking in the context of extended mobility. This paper reflects on the positionality of three social science researchers collaborating in a common project while conducting fieldwork on homemaking and migration in different locations with different reference groups. Emerging issues of insider/outsiderness, gender and racialised bodies, and class and education are exemplified with three ethnographic vignettes. We use these cases to suggest that the analysis of our positionalities as ‘guests’ inside and beyond our informants’ domestic environments offers the possibility of more nuanced and critical forms of knowledge, and allows us to make decisions based on such understandings while still conducting fieldwork.

HOMInG Working paper no. 2_2018
Paolo Boccagni, Sara Bonfanti, Alejandro Miranda, Aurora Massa
Home and Migration: a Bibliography

The literature on homemaking and migration covers a vast array of disciplines, case studies, and substantive/methodological approaches. While being almost overwhelming by now, it also tends to be disperse and parcelized. There are several instances of mutually relevant works (or even authors) that are not in contact with each other. Part of the “nexus” to which HOMInG refers has to do with the aim of overcoming this fragmentation. Our WP 2_2018 provides a map of this burgeoning research field by key categories, thus paralleling the theory-building work of the HOMInG team; and hopefully providing a good tool for those who are researching, worldwide, the social experience of home under the influence of migration, mobility and diversity. Unsurprisingly, almost all of the references below are in English, apart from some specific references in Italian (Italy being HOMInG’s home-place at present). Monographs (or even edited collections or special issues) are relatively few, compared with journal articles. It also comes as no surprise that key references can be found all across social sciences, and beyond.

While being reasonably extensive, this Bibliography is clearly selective – based on the relevance of the literature to HOMInG as a project – and exposed to the risk of missing important references along the way. Yet, scanning through it can give some refreshing insight for thinking, writing, or designing fieldwork. Indeed, we see it as a worthwhile effort, if only for the lack of any comparable overview on the intersection of migration and home studies. Of course, this is a higly temporary product – the snapshot of a constantly moving and expanding field. Therefore, it will be periodically updated. All suggestions for new and relevant literature are welcome at

HOMInG Working paper no. 1/2017
“Saving home from the pitfalls of the home, through homing. Towards a ‘positive deconstruction’ of the social meanings, functions and moralities of home”

The home holds an inclusive and supportive potential for vulnerable people which is both critical and under-explored. In order to advance research into it, this paper interrogates the material, relational and emotional conditions under which a particular domestic space is indeed a source of feeling-at-home for its dwellers. Such an exercise starts from a deconstruction of the ideological representations of the home as a necessarily and naturally “good” entity which, as such, should not be discussed, let alone researched, further. This commonsensical view touches deep chords and emotional needs in people’s everyday life. Nonetheless, much critical literature has led to more reflexive and nuanced views of what home means to whom, inviting to study the protective and inclusionary scope of the home as an empirical question, rather than (only) a normative ideal. While the human need to feel somehow at home seems to apply anywhere, regardless of social or cultural backgrounds, whether and how a domestic setting does overlap with home – as a distinctive source of security, familiarity and control – is a major research and policy issue. By revisiting the transdisciplinary debate on “home studies”, and based on my current research on home and mobility, this paper argues for a novel understanding of the environmental, family and personal variables which can turn a dwelling into a home; a complex, but critical transition for an empirically-based view of home to inform health and social care.