Prayer hall in an Italian gurdwara. Credits: Sara Bonfanti. 

In libreria

Migration and Domestic Space. Ethnographies of Home in the Making

edited by Paolo Boccagni, Sara Bonfanti

27 ottobre 2023
Versione stampabile

This open access book provides insight into the domestic space of people with an immigrant or refugee background. It selects and compares a whole spectrum of dwelling conditions with ethnographic material covering a variety of national backgrounds – Latin America, North and West Africa, Eastern Europe, South Asia – and an equally broad range of housing, household and legal arrangements. It provides a fine-grained understanding of migrants’ lived experience of their domestic space and shows the critical significance of the lived space of a house as a microcosm of societal constellations of identities, values and inequalities. The book enhances the connection between migration studies and research into housing, social reproduction, domesticity and material culture and provides an interesting read to scholars in migration studies, policy makers and practitioners with a remit in local housing and integration policies.

Paolo Boccagni is professor at the Department of Sociology and Social Research of the University of Trento.

Sara Bonfanti Sara Bonfanti is a social anthropologist, specialized in gender studies, with expertise on South Asian diasporas.

From Introduction:  (pagg. 1-10)

Being invited into the home of someone else is not a random or ubiquitous experience. The status of guest displays a significant relationship between two or more people, on which a remarkable tradition in social sciences has coalesced over time [...]. Being let in the home of someone else, however, is not only an experience with a relational and emotional significance of its own. It is also an occasion on which something new is learnt with, and about, the host. It is likewise, potentially at least, a setting that nourishes a deeper interpersonal relationship between host and guest. Both developments, with the attendant downsides and dilemmas, have long been central to the ethnographic endeavour. Both developments, and the very experience of guesthood as a form of (and way into) fieldwork, have however been marginal in migration studies thus far. It is from this marginality, and from a recent comparative study aiming to address it, that this book begins.

What does home mean and entail for people on the move such as international migrants and refugees? How much does home have to do with their housing and dwelling arrangements? And what do dwellings reveal about people’s life stories, everyday routines and lifestyles, as well as their societal conditions and prospects? Migration and domestic space illustrates the benefits of extending the scope of fieldwork in migration and refugee studies accordingly, from the bottom-up and from “within”. This is meant to achieve a threefold aim: (i) get attuned to the day-to-day built environments in which migrant personal lives unfold, as individuals and members of more or less supportive and unequal household arrangements; (ii) explore how people relate with their dwellings along their migration and housing pathways, and draw out of them diverse and often contrasting emotions – from estrangement to safety, from vulnerability to some sense of being at home; and (iii) understand how migrants’ dwelling conditions articulate, and to some extent shape, their attitudes towards majority societies, the (dis)continuities with their earlier lives and the perceived life horizons ahead of them.

None of the fundamental functions and meanings associated with one’s dwelling place is unique to people on the move […]. None of the inherent tensions between a place being, at the extremes, a basic shelter and a full-fledged home is a migrant prerogative. Quite the opposite – dwelling makes for an obvious and yet remarkable commonality across national boundaries, social divides and cultural backgrounds […]. The need for some shelter at the very least, and arguably the search for a place to call home, is a rather generalizable trait of the human experience […]. However, after displacement, mobility and (re)settlement, dwelling conditions and arrangements – including those of “nonmovers” that are involved in migrants’ transnational relationships – make for a significant and under-appreciated research field. Based mostly on qualitative case studies within the ERC HOMInG and MIUR-HOASI research projects, this book advances an original research agenda on the substantive, methodological and practical significance of fieldwork in the housing, domestic or dwelling spaces of individuals and families with a migrant background. […].
We are interested in learning more of people’s lived experience from within these settings, including the most precarious ones. As we aim to illustrate, a respectful and sensitive way of being within them marks a critical threshold for ethnographic engagement, and for a more fine-grained understanding of everyday life, material cultures and intimate relations. By domestic space, here, we mean and compare a whole range of housing infrastructures, not all of them overlapping with an ordinary dwelling place […].

Each chapter starts from a reflexive analysis of home encounters in distinct housing settings, with different social actors and groups having a direct or indirect experience of international migration. These configurations include multiethnic condominiums (Cancellieri, Vietti), multigenerational households in co-living arrangements (Bonfanti), shared flats on rental (Miranda-Nieto), asylum reception centres (Boccagni), immigrant informal settlements, urban (Giudici) and rural (Fravega), houses of worship (Bonfanti and Bertolani), dwelling places of left-behind family members (Pérez-Murcia), including in-laws of researchers themselves (Bertolani), and so-called remittance houses (Boccagni and Echeverria). The substantive and methodological commonalities across chapters are eventually revisited in an afterword (Harney). […] The ethnographic material underpinning the book covers a variety of immigrant national backgrounds – Latin America, North and West Africa, Western Europe, South Asia – and an equally diverse range of housing, household and legal arrangements. Regardless of the target population, all chapters articulate a productive tension between methodological issues – access, relationships, positionalities, boundary-making – and substantive findings regarding the lived migration experience and the attendant social, political and cultural developments. In-depth fieldwork in these settings is instrumental to innovate and enrich the repertoire of qualitative research in migration studies. However, it is also a way to produce substantive and original knowledge and has meaningful implications at a practical and experiential level.
The twelve case studies in this book unveil dwelling arrangements that can mark migrants’ housing pathways and biographies at different stages, not necessarily in a linear or sequential way. Migrant ways of dwelling may be based on individual accommodation, a household one, or one shared with strangers. They may be formal or informal, as well as autonomous or “heteronomous” (e.g. in refugee camps). They may be on rental or possibly, over time, shifting to homeownership. In short, the book takes fully into account the variety of housing arrangements associated with migration. It also looks at the influence of the houses of their non-migrant counterparts (including properties built with migrant remittances) and at the domestic significance of semi-public infrastructures such as places of worship. This enables an unprecedented scope for comparative analysis of the potential of different and unequal dwelling arrangements to make for home-like spaces, given dwellers’ demographics, their backgrounds, their (over)exposure to discrimination and racialization and their position in the life and migration course. All the contributions combine methodological reflexivity with theoretical and societal relevance. All contributors, moreover, show the value of an intersectional approach in exploring disadvantaged housing conditions, to find out how migrant/ethnic background interplays with variables such as class, length of stay, education, legal status, density and distribution of informal social networks.

This open access book is published under CC BY 4.0 international licence and can be downloaded from Springer website.