Interrogating the geographies of the familiar: domesticating nature and constructing the autonomy of the modern home


This article studies the western bourgeois home, and argues that its social construction as a familiar, autonomous, safe, private haven is predicated not only upon the exclusion of undesired social elements (anomie, homelessness, social conflict, etc.) but also upon the exclusion of undesired natural elements (cold, dirt, pollution, sewage, etc.). Using the domestication of water in the western world as a vehicle, the article analyses the historical‐geographical process through which nature became scripted as ‘the other’ to the bourgeois home, and explains the contribution of this separation to the conceptual construction of the home as a distinct and autonomous ‘space envelope’, supposedly untouched by socio‐natural processes. This analysis identifies an inherent contradiction: despite the intense efforts at ‘othering’ and excluding nature from the premises of the home, the function and familiarity of this space is increasingly dependent upon the production of nature. Although the complex set of socio‐natural networks, pipes and cables that carry clean, produced, commodified nature inside and pump bad, metabolized nature outside the bourgeois home remain visually excluded, it is this same excluded socio‐nature that constitutes the material basis upon which the familiarity of the home is constructed. Thus, in a simultaneous act of need and denial, the bourgeois home remains the host of the elements that it tries to exclude. This contradiction surfaces at moments of crisis (such as power cuts, burst mains and water shortage) when familiar objects acquire uncanny properties. At such moments, the continuity of the social and material processes that produce the domestic space is unexpectedly foregrounded, bringing the dweller face to face with his/her alienation, within his/her most familiar environment.