Home, Crisis and the Imagination


Home has recently become a significant subject of both academic research and popular interest. Research into the material cultures of home has shed light on the historical continuities and discontinuities of lived experience. In popular culture the family or childhood home has been the subject of both literary memoirs (12 Edmondstone Street, David Malouf) and a popular television series (The House that Made Me, Channel 4). At the same time, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and the subsequent development of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have reinvigorated the resonances between home and nation in a time of global insecurity. The ongoing world recession was in part precipitated by the subprime mortgage disaster and the subsequent massive waves of foreclosure on people's homes. Through the lens of crisis, the proposed research network aims to produce a fuller understanding of the relationship between home and the imagination at this time of renewed interest in, and transformation of, the home. We believe that a reflection on 'home and crisis' can give insight into how these simple yet resonant terms come to denote more complex categories, both upholding and contesting beliefs about the status of the home, as a physical location and an imagined or representational space.

We are experiencing a period of global crisis operating at multiple levels, private and public, economic and political, environmental, religious. Crises are not new, of course, and understanding the legacy of previous experiences can teach us important lessons about how they have been thought about and managed historically. At the same time, exploring literary, visual and material cultures of home through a focus on crisis produces a common thread through which distinct features of home's representational power become visible. We are especially interested in how the links between home and crisis can be articulated not only in imaginative texts - novels, poems, films, etc. - but also through the many material artefacts and technologies of home and their representation by photographs, family memorabilia, letters, etc. As both a physical location and an object of representation, home functions as an important site through which individuals and societies make sense of their pasts and presents as they map their futures.

The three workshops will bring different disciplinary approaches and methodologies into dialogue, and in doing so explore the ramified meanings of the wider 'Care for the Future' theme. We want to ask how we can care for the future by understanding and learning from the past, and drawing on its wisdom in the present. In particular, through theoretically-informed close reading of literary and cultural texts we want to examine how the imagination performs its vital transformative work. We suggest that, as our recent researches have shown, a humanities-based initiative can have huge value when considering political and other contexts that might more traditionally be the remit of social science. A collaborative approach that extends our individual expertise will allow us to address key questions about home, crisis and the imagination, and ask how work in the humanities can best address them. Through the remit we have given ourselves we will seek to explore the particular ways in which imaginative works have, over history, represented domestic crisis, whether on a private or international scale. Today it is becoming ever clearer how far 'home' policy and global pressures are interconnected, and we believe it is pertinent to ask what contribution the humanities can make to interpreting crisis or potential catastrophe. To be careful, as well as caring, would seem to be increasingly a priority.