Home, a simple and complex notion which seems to be constitutive of the human experience, is a noun. Homing, instead, is a verb – pointing to the social process of constructing and making home as a critical source of insight on human mobility, space appropriation and inter-group relations.
While home is the apparently natural basis of everyday life, the ERC-StG project HOMInG unpacks it, through a systematic analysis of the ways of constructing, emplacing and circulating home under the influence of extended mobility and societal diversity. Home is to be understood, here, both as a bounded place – hence a matter of living and housing conditions, affected by structural variables and inequalities; and as a meaningful and emotionalized kind of relationship with place – an experience that should be based on a sense of security, familiarity and control. In this sense, home is the critical but neglected basis of migrants’ integration, or of how they negotiate their belonging, membership and inclusion across societies. How at home, if at all, they feel (to belong) in a given place/community is a key indicator of their attitudes and long-term attachment to it. This is equally critical to the living experience of their counterparts, to be also analysed in this project – natives or long-term residents in countries of settlement and non-migrants stayers in countries of origin.
The core research questions of HOMInG are three:
- How is it, and depending on what, that home is searched for – and possibly recovered, reproduced or re-enacted – by those who physically “leave it behind”, such as international migrants?
- How do mobility and ethnicity affect the sense and practice of home, individually and collectively, compared with other key variables, given the resources available to social actors and their external structure of opportunities?
- What of the home experience is portable, i.e. detached from one’s material background and reproduced elsewhere, and what does the home experience in multi-ethnic contexts show about the interaction between views, cultures and practices of home, across societal backgrounds and along the life course?
Building on the concept of homing, at the intersection of home, mobility and diversity studies, this project aims to a novel understanding of the home experience and of its determinants, along several comparative axes: migrant categories and household profiles; migration corridors; ethno-cultural backgrounds; countries, local contexts and spatial backgrounds of origin, transit and settlement.
Methodologically, HOMInG is based on a stepwise mixed-method research design, including exploratory interviews, ethnography of domestic and home-like milieus, life stories and a large-scale survey. This will enable an original connection to be built between micro- and macro-levels of analysis in the study of migration and home.
Theoretically, HOMInG aims at a systematic framework of the interactions between emotion and materiality, and between mobility and immobility, as constitutive of the home experience across groups, categories and contexts. It also paves the way for a comparative understanding of people’s ways of making sense of space and trying to bring it under control, whether “standing still” or “on the move”.
Substantively, HOMInG opens up a new comparative research field on the potential for constructing, feeling and enacting one’s life circumstances as more or less home-like, and on the factors (agential and structural, local and transnational) that account for it. It originally feeds into the broader debate on social cohesion, inclusion/exclusion and equality/inequality within multi-ethnic life environments.
At all of these levels, the social study and governance of multi-ethnic societies have much to benefit from an unprecedented micro and large scale understanding of the home experience and its determinants, as affected, constrained and redefined by international migration.
In practice, this project relies on an interdisciplinary research team, based at the University of Trento, to be built up in early 2017. The PI is Paolo Boccagni, a sociologist with a background in transnational migration studies, author of Migration and the search for home (Palgrave, 2016).
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