Here are my slides from this year’s Housing Studies Association Conference. This was part of a session on the meaning of home, with fantastic papers from Yoric Irving-Clarke and Craig Gurney. Thanks to everyone for the interesting discussion and braving the early 8.45am start.
This presentation drew on interviews with formerly homeless young people in Scotland during the first year they had moved into their own independent tenancy. And developed the concept and metaphor of ‘the fold’, particularly as it had previously been used by Lahire.
As a short summary, we can think of the fold as a concept that eschews dualisms of individual and society as well as the tendency to posit these hierarchically as different levels of reality. Instead, it understands the individual and their experiences as produced through the folding of social relations. The individual is composed of the relations between their various social positions and how these are folded over time.
And what this shift from a hierarchical to topological framing helps us see is that the relationship between the young people and their tenancies was enmeshed in other relations. They were not only tenants, but family members, support service users, precarious workers, and so on. Each of these relations modifying the relationship they had with the tenancy and the intensity of pressures they felt in maintaining it. Crucially, it also informed which techniques of home were viable for them.
For example, participants receiving jobseekers allowance often described their budgeting as a ‘fortnightly routine’. Where to get by on such a low income they synchronised essential spending such as paying bills and buying food on the same day that they received their benefit payments, often leaving them with little else for the rest of the fortnight. Whereby the tempo of benefit payments set the tempo for life at home. Conversely, where participants moved into employment income and spending desynchronised, or for lone parents the complexity of all the things they needed to buy made it impossible to synchronise all spending. Instead, they sorted spending into different tempos, maintaining vigilance through using budget sheets.
We can think of these techniques of home then as operations of folding, where each participants’ constellation of relations was pulled into alignment, weaved, and knitted together to compose a relatively stable home-making practice over time.
One aspect that I didn’t manage to fully cover within the presentation was techniques with others. The most critical of which to many participants was their relation with support services. Except for when support was mixed with conditionality, participants spoke incredibly highly of support workers and the help they gave. When first moving in to a tenancy they were often invaluable in helping to fill in forms, finding places to get furniture, help with reading bills, and challenging the Jobcentre. This allowed the pressures of the tenancy to be lessened, providing the space, time, and resources for participants to make their tenancy a home and form independent techniques.
And what we see in this process is a doubling, where in weaving these relations together both tenant and tenancy are changed. Participants objectified their sensitivity into the tenancy, and embodied the pressures of the tenancy into their sensitivity, bringing each into resonance with the other. Furnishing their tenancy by furnishing themselves with the requisite perception and actions to make it a home. As they gained a relative mastery over the pressures, this also led to increased feelings of control and maturity – and increasing the desire for further independence.
Scotland, with its rights based approach to housing and homelessness and the increase in tenancy sustainment support, had assisted participants in developing independent techniques of home. Conversely, the changes in the economy made securing and maintaining an income unstable, compounded by punitive welfare conditionality, the stigmatization of benefit claimants and the ever looming threat of sanctions. Within their social positions then, participants brought together and folded within their home-making practices the leftward tilting of housing policy and the rightward tilting of welfare policy.
So whilst tenant and tenancy could be brought into relative unison, the irregular rhythms arising from their economic position, the temporary and precarious nature of employment, the low levels of benefits, and the severe financial hardships arising from sanctions fomented discord. Where feelings of home as a place of comfort and security oscillated with home as a place of anxiety, boredom, and frustration. So although relative harmony could be achieved the instability of their economic positions repeatedly gave rise to a dissonance, forming a Janus-faced home.