Feminist critique of home in the context of displacement

Increased scholarly interest by the social sciences and humanities on home has led to a critical scrutiny of the often taken-for-granted notions that we identified in the previous section. With contributions from feminist research, geography and scholarship on migration, home is established as a more unsettled and problematic entity in which tension and conflict are replete (Brickell 2012; Brun and Fabos 2015). Home is defined as a multiscalar and multidimensional concept. It is a site or several sites, and may be understood as both material and immaterial.

Feminist scholarship on home has related to, analysed and criticized home across several orientations, from socialist feminist to post-colonial scholars (Blunt and Dowling 2006). A central feature has been the dismissal of home by some, due to the association with patriarchy and the subordination that women experience in the home (Martin and Mohanty 1986), where a woman’s role is to be the home for the rest of the family (Young 2005). With this particular association of women to home, women became stuck in the home not only physically or geographically but symbolically, too. Women were — and still are — often associated with the home in specific ways: as the maintainers of home, as representing the identity of home as house and nation, and as the nurturers of home. Home symbolized for many women the impossibility of progressing, developing their own life and a future (de Beauvoir 1952/1988). Home came to represent a bounded place without progress. As we have pointed out elsewhere, this way of understanding home ties in closely with experiences of protracted displacement (Brun 2016; Brun and Fabos 2015).

In protracted displacement, the future is uncertain, which leads to an experience of ‘stuckness’ indicated by legal limbo, encampment and other securitization strategies that immobilize refugees over the long term, contributing to a ‘feminization of refugees’ — a depiction of displaced people as helpless,passive and static (Hyndman and Giles 2011).This feminization discourse further associates refugees and their homemaking strategies with stasis and immanence. However, feminist scholars (Ahmed 1999;Young 2005) have made a case for retaining the concept and idea of ‘home’ by emphasizing the actual praxis of home as homemaking.

Not all homemaking is housework (Young 2005). Homemaking is a wider term, which incorporates the ways in which people create place in a mobile world (Korac 2009). Our work focuses on the role of homemaking practices that are pursued in displacement, which, we argue, takes place through the interconnections between different scales (Brun and Fabos 2015). With the help of feminist geopolitics, we develop a notion of home that challenges the usual scale of inquiry and policymaking by drawing attention to the everyday and embodied sites and discourses through which transnational political relations are forged and contested (Dowler and Sharp 2001; Williams and Massaro 2013). Even the most intimate and everyday aspects of life are key sites where geopolitical power is (re)produced and negotiated (Hyndman 2007; Pain and Staeheli 2014).The multiple meanings of home that are experienced and acted out in longterm displacement are a case in point.

Retaining — but reconsidering — home through a feminist geopolitical lens has expanded the range of understandings of ‘home’ in academic research and in politics. What promises does feminist scholarship make for‘home’ (Gardey 2016)? The continuing process of creating alternative understandings of home demonstrates that the making of home in/on the margins remains a crucial political act, one that provides a blueprint for revising the gendered disparity between practices of maintaining and practices of constructing. In the context of displacement, home constitutes several locations, made and maintained by mobilizing a diverse set of resources and relations. Like Gardey (2016), we see home as a common space to be built in which the associations between home and identity and between home and our orientations in/towards the world are challenged (Ahmed 2006; hooks 1990; Wilkins 2017). We also find inspiration in Ahmed’s (2017, 7) suggestion that feminism is homework:

By homework, 1 am not suggesting we all feel at home in feminism in the sense of feeling safe or secure. Some of us might find a home here; some of us might not. Rather, I am suggesting feminism is homework because we have much to work out from not being at home in a world. In other words, homework is work on as well as at our homes. We do housework. Feminist housework does not simply clean and maintain a house. Feminist housework aims to transform the house, to rebuild the master’s residence.

As Ahmed notes, home is not the equivalent of safety and security; because, for displaced people, ‘housework’,‘homework’ and ‘homemaking’ variously indicate the ways in which home is constantly changing, made and remade according to the everyday lives led in close interaction with geopolitical governance of refugees and other mobile populations, where displaced and nondisplaced bodies meet and interact. In this context and by building on the active vocabulary that accompanies ‘home’, we introduce and bring with us into the next section the concept of‘home-keeping’ — a way to help analyse how people do home in protracted displacement. Our notion of home-keeping refers to the ways in which subjects make home: how home is made, remade and the ways in which different dimensions of home are held together through homemaking practices, housework and homework, and how subjects constantly negotiate the shifting demands related to the different dimensions of home and navigate their day-to-day requirements at the cross-currents of geopolitical challenges and demands.

Emphasizing these geopolitical acts of maintenance — of home-keeping — alerts us not only to peoples creativity and agency but also to the ways in which the importance of these acts is diminished by policies that take for granted and thereby uphold and sustain temporariness, limbo and other static conditions. In the next section we show how, in situations of protracted displacement, people continue to organize their daily lives and think about their futures, even while their abilities to plan appear to be limited and their home-making practices shaped by hardship and uncertainty.

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