Narratives of Home and Dwelling: Cultures, Crises, Utopia

Narratives of Home and Dwelling: Cultures, Crises, Utopia

Dorothee Birke, Leopold-Franzens-Universität Innsbruck; Alena Heinritz, Leopold-Franzens-Universität Innsbruck; Christoph Singer, Leopold-Franzens-Universität Innsbruck; Maja Klostermann, Leopold-Franzens-Universität Innsbruck
Fand statt
Vom - Bis
24.01.2024 - 27.01.2024
Letizia Dolcini / Ines Maria Gstrein, Institut für Anglistik, Leopold-Franzens-Universität Innsbruck

The topic of home rose in importance in the aftermath of the 2015 migration crisis, Covid-19 pandemic, and soaring inflation. Accordingly, this year’s international conference of the Research Centre “Cultures in Contact” at the University of Innsbruck explored “Narratives of Home and Dwelling: Cultures, Crises, Utopia”. The multiplicity of theoretical conceptualisations and practical realities of home were mirrored in different disciplinary approaches: the conference brought together positions from literary studies, linguistics, philosophy, architecture, anthropology, and cultural studies. With English and German being the conference languages, participants were invited to reflect on the differences between wohnen, living, and dwelling. The reflection on the translatability of wohnen opened up the topic for discussion.

In their opening address, the conference organisers emphasised the close links between research and teaching at the University of Innsbruck. Accordingly, the conference began with an overview on courses of the past academic year that revolved around the topics of house and home. Numerous students read from their creative texts and did poster presentations.

Thirty talks considered the topic of home from different angles. In his keynote, THOMAS WEGMANN (Innsbruck) presented literary conceptualisations of the cave as the significant other of modern living spaces. By providing a historic overview, he focused on positive and negative aspects of supposedly natural caves and man-made living spaces. In a similar vein, VIOLET STATHOPOULOU (Innsbruck) drew parallels between indoor and outdoor spaces. In her discussion of various literary contributions to the Mediterranean style of living, she established connections between the hearth and the Greek goddess Hestia. She argued that the hearth had always been the focal point of communal human life and pointed to the ways in which a return to past values can improve modern housing challenges and tackle social isolation.

Careful consideration of the organisation of space and the materials used for building houses is vital for the construction of modern homes. The architect OLAF GIPSER (Innsbruck) explained how the materiality of lived spaces shapes the ways in which human beings come together. He argued that while the basic structure of most residential buildings consists of small units – cells –, architects should exploit the potential of the hall to enhance a sense of community. NICOLE RETTIG (Konstanz) described the affordances of plastic for our contemporary date and age. She outlined the manifold uses plastic is put to in architecture and interior design. While furniture made of plastic is cheap, it comes at an excessive cost for the environment.

Two talks shed light on new styles of architecture. MERVE YILDIRIM (Frankfurt am Main) maintained that Le Corbusier’s visit to the mosque in Constantinople proved to be a watershed moment for his architectural vision: in Towards a New Architecture, he unites the concepts of the sacred space and the space of the family. INGRID MAYRHOFER-HUFNAGL (Innsbruck) highlighted the potential of artificial intelligence to generate fresh ideas for urban architecture: basic architectural elements such as the height of rooms are modelled to fit the able-bodied average man. She also emphasised the need to move beyond traditional models of constructing houses as these are designed to cater for the need of the nuclear family only.

Three conference participants explored the connotations attached to home in socialist states. ANNIKA JAHNS (Jena) gave insights into the depiction of new towns as representative of socialistic society in eastern Germany. She discussed selected literary works of members of the Zirkel Schreibender Arbeiter. Examining a range of literary and filmic works set in eastern Germany, SEBASTIAN DONAT (Innsbruck) investigated the standardisation of living space and the intrusion of GDR officials into the private flats of citizens. SVETLANA EFIMOVA (Munich) drew on children’s books and Fotobücher to address the mnemonic function of the home for the reconstruction of both characters’ lives and collective history in Russia.

Many talks were informed by Women’s and Gender Studies. Several speakers emphasised that women’s private spaces can be places of comfort but also places of confinement. RETO RÖSSLER (Flensburg) investigated the intricate intertwinement of living and writing in Anke Stelling’s novels. To give an example, Rössler linked expensive and cheap floor coverings to upward and downward social mobility in Stelling’s texts. He pointed to spatial asymmetries and power relations in the private home: as Virgina Woolf argues in her 1929 essay of the same name, a room of one’s own has always been an essential material precondition for female authorship. SARAH HEINZ (Vienna) examined private spaces in a time of crisis in Sarah Moss’s novel The Fell (2021). Form and content of the novel are shaped by the second lockdown in the UK: the minute descriptions of home-making practices turning items into objects for subjects are characteristic of this book. And the medievalist WALTRAUD FRITSCH-RÖßLER (Innsbruck) described contrasting functions the Kemenate fulfils in medieval literature. She explained that power relations between the sexes are played out in the Kemenate: it is a place women are confined to, but also a refuge for them. The main focus of SUSANNE BAYERLIPP’s (Frankfurt am Main) talk on the BBC1 show My Hoarder Mum and Me was the psychological strain excessive hoarding puts on the relationship between Jasmine Harman and her mother. Bayerlipp stressed the concept of cruel optimism that underlies viewers’ expectation of the show’s ending: viewers wait for a happy ending even if there is no cure for hoarding.

Philosophical, literary, and sociological perspectives on homelessness were recurring topics at the conference. MICHAELA BSTIELER (Innsbruck) reflected on ethical loneliness, social death, and political resistance. Drawing on Marc Augé’s Journal d’un SDF (2011), she discussed the ability of homeless people to adapt to adverse circumstances and to change them for the better. SASCHA PÖHLMANN (Dortmund) chose a different medium to explore this topic: he critically examined the capability of the videogame Change (2020) to raise awareness for homelessness. HANNA HENRYSON (Stockholm) investigated the representation of urban homelessness in literary works belonging to the school of Neuer Ernst. She pointed out differences between being unsheltered and being unhoused and highlighted the difficulties protagonists face in their nomadic lives in European cities. ORNELLA KRAEMER (Innsbruck) analysed the house as a safe place and shelter in contemporary picture books. She maintained that the selected works show how existential crises such as forced migration, homelessness, and loneliness affect the young protagonists. While some of the books in the corpus adopt a progressive stance, e.g. as they show male protagonists carrying out care work, most books are deeply conservative as they almost exclusively feature well-behaved children.

Two talks illuminated past and present living situations in Vienna. The ethnologists ANA ROGOJANU and GEORG WOLFMAYR (Vienna) gave an overview on the workings of the Wiener Bauträgerwettbewerb at the intersection between the conflicting interests of the free market and the welfare state. They explored the ways in which the Bauträgerwettbewerb influences the design of social housing projects in Vienna. ANJA GERIGK (Munich) investigated early-twentieth century urban settings in Heimito von Doderer’s Die Strudlhofstiege (1951). She contended that in this novel, the places characters inhabit are tied to emotions, affects and atmosphere. They reflect characters’ status and relationships to each other.

Human-animal communities are the shared interest of MARIA SULIMMA’s (Freiburg) and BRIGITTE RATH’s (Innsbruck) presentations. Discussing the literary subgenre of caring homes, Rath investigated narratives in which houses assume the position of characters proper. She contended that the house fulfils the readers’ and the protagonists’ desire to be protected and cared for in times of upheaval: the living house provides a safe space for human-animal communities. In her discussion of three American queer novels, Sulimma drew on human-dog-relationships to gain a better understanding of gentrification. She contended that in her corpus, dogs acquire the status of a co-evolving species alongside their privileged dog parents.

Virtual and real living spaces evolve over time. VERENA THALER (Innsbruck) showed how real and virtual spaces intertwine in German and French chatrooms (dating from 2006/07 and 2023). She argued that by writing about everyday practices such as making coffee and preparing meals, chatters create shared virtual living rooms and simulate physical closeness while remaining anonymous. SOPHIE RENNINGER (Würzburg) used home guides by Edith Wharton / Ogden Codman Jr. and Emily Post to trace the transformation of the Victorian parlour into the modern living room at the turn of the century. She examined the different aesthetics brought to the decoration of these rooms to show how the home mirrors cultural change.

Writers, athletes, and workers frequently move house or live in mobile homes. MARTIN SEXL (Innsbruck) compared the documentary Free Solo (2018) to the movie Nomadland (2020) in order to describe the liberating potential as well as the dire reality of living in vans. He found that while rock climber Alex Honnold (Free Solo) deliberately chooses to live in a van to fully experience outdoor living, the seasonal workers in Nomadland are forced to camp on the premises of their workplace. KATARZYNA GRZYWKA-KOLAGO (Warsaw) traced the unique living situation of the Brothers Grimm in different German cities: living harmoniously together for most of their life proved to be a fertile ground for the artistic and scientific work of the Grimms’. REINHARD MARGREITER (Innsbruck) brought a philosophical perspective to the topic of nomadic forms of living. He investigated different philosophical positions on the tension between settled and nomadic forms of living by contrasting the works of Vilém Flusser, Donatella Di Cesare, Gilles Deleuze / Félix Guattari and Donna Haraway. Margreiter explored interrelations between the concepts of wohnen, Heimat and identity.

Literature and art offer the possibility to reflect on creative, dystopian, and futuristic visions of home. GERHILD FUCHS (Innsbruck) focused on the loss of identity and spatial belonging in short story collections and travelling journals by Gianni Celati. She argued that Celati anticipates Marc Augé’s concept of the non-place by depicting the dreary living realities in suburban villages in the Po Valley in Northern Italy. Celati’s uncluttered style mirrors the rootlessness the characters experience. PETER POHL (Innsbruck) investigated how the literary genres of the Robinsonade and the dystopia come together in post-apocalyptical scenarios described in Marlen Haushofer’s Die Wand (1963) and Arno Schmidt’s Schwarze Spiegel (1953). Pohl stated that both texts are critical of contemporary civilisation because they call conventional values into question. MAXIM SHADURSKI (Siedlce) proposed a timescape perspective on the idea of home in Jeanette Winterson’s The Stone Gods (2007). He brought together Mikhail Bakhtin’s notion of the chronotope of the threshold and Gérard Genette’s concept of the narrative pause to show the transtemporal sense of home in Winterson’s post-apocalyptic novel. PETER VOLGGER (Innsbruck) looked at surrealistic pictures which Cesare Batelli created by entering prompts into the sensemaking machine, a programme employing artificial intelligence. The sensemaking machine is a means of renewing architecture because it draws on both logical issues and creative input.

Two artistic contributions to the topic of home complemented the conference talks. LUKAS LADNER and SARAH MILENA RENDEL gave insights into their VR installation Lock Peeking (2022). It consists of a house with different rooms which were transformed into soundscapes that allowed participants to listen to interviews on the often precarious nature of living and dwelling. SARAH MILENA RENDEL also showed an excerpt from her documentary Wohnen (2021) which focuses on precarious living situations. Afterwards, viable solutions for the housing crisis in Innsbruck were vividly discussed.

The interdisciplinary approaches to the topics of home and dwelling were drawn together by a number of connecting threads. Several papers investigated into conflicts between individual and social dimensions of home, the tension between settled existence and mobility, the shortage of affordable housing, the gendered nature of space and the design of living space. The conference provided international scholars with a platform to share experiences and develop their collective expertise on the topic of home.

Conference Overview:

Kick-Off Event for Students

Cornelia Feyrer (Innsbruck): Wohnen als (trans)kulturelles Phänomen: Inspirationen und Impulse für und aus der Lehre zur translationsrelevanten Kulturwissenschaft

Violet Stathopoulou (Innsbruck): House and Home: Student Research into English Idioms and Related Lexis

Violet Stathopoulou (Innsbruck): Creative Writing Project: What Does Home Mean to You? Excerpts from Short Stories Written by Students

Student Poster Presentations

(Chair: Dorothee Birke)

Thomas Wegmann (Innsbruck): Hohlraumhartnäckigkeit oder Wie die Höhle zur Höhle wurde, als man modern zu wohnen begann

Section 1: Im Haus der Geschichte
(Chair: Eva Binder)

Annika Jahns (Jena): Ist der Preis für unsere Komfortwohnung die Einsamkeit? Wohnen im Haus des Sozialismus im Spiegel von Texten des Zirkels Schreibender Arbeiter des VEB Carl Zeiss Jena

Sebastian Donat (Innsbruck): Wohnen in der Zone und Mauerfall: Beobachtungen zur Rolle privater Lebensräume in literarischen und filmischen Wendenarrativen

Svetlana Efimova (Munich): 2017: Die Wohnung als Erinnerungsmedium in der russischen Kultur

Section 2: Wohnen Denken
(Chair: Oliwia Murawska)

Reinhard Margreiter (Innsbruck): Zur Normativität des Wohnens

Merve Yıldırım (Frankfurt am Main): Corbusier between Islam and International Style

Peter Volgger (Innsbruck): The Sensemaking Machine

Section 3: Unbehaustheit
(Chair: Teresa Millesi)

Hanna Henryson (Stockholm): Dislocated Dwellings: Literary Narratives of Urban Homelessness as Zeitdiagnose

Sascha Pöhlmann (Dortmund): Obdachlosigkeit in Videospielen zwischen Individuum und Struktur

Section 4: Draußen und Drinnen
(Chair: Heike Ortner)

Sarah Heinz (Vienna): The Politics of Banality: Literary Representations of Homemaking Practices under Lockdown in Sarah Moss’ The Fell

Verena Thaler (Innsbruck): Virtuelle Räume zwischen Öffentlichkeit und Privatheit: Zur sprachlichen Konstruktion von Wohnräumen in Chat-Gesprächen

Susanne Bayerlipp (Frankfurt am Main): Clutter – Affects – Vulnerability: Negotiations of the Family Home in BBC1’s My Hoarder Mum and Me

Evening Event: Kultur Krise Wohnen
(Hosts: Alena Heinritz, Christoph Singer)

Lukas Ladner (Innsbruck), Sarah Milena Rendel (Innsbruck): Lock Peeking (VR installation, 2022)

Sarah Milena Rendel (Innsbruck): Wohnen (Documentary, 2021)

Section 5: Zimmer
(Chair: Maria Piok)

Olaf Gipser (Innsbruck): Wohnbauarchitektur als Kritik des täglichen Lebens

Katarzyna Grzywka-Kolago (Warsaw): Von der Geburtsstube zum Sterbezimmer: Zum Wohnkonzept der Brüder Grimm

Anja Gerigk (Dresden/Munich): Atmosphärisches Wohnen bei Doderer: Szenen der Strudlhofstiege

Reto Rössler (Flensburg): Ein Zimmer für sich allein: Intersektionalität und Interieur in Anke Stellings Roman Schäfchen im Trockenen

Section 6: Urbane (Un-)Wohnlichkeit
(Chair: Christian Quendler)

Ana Rogojanu, Georg Wolfmayr (Vienna): Soziale Wohnraumproduktion in Wien zwischen Staat, Markt und Wettbewerb

Gerhild Fuchs (Innsbruck): Gianni Celatis Erzählungen von den Bedingungen und Folgen der Unwohnlichkeit in der megalopoli padana

Maria Sulimma (Freiburg): A Gentrifier and a Dog: Narratives of Urban Transformations and their Canine Representations

Section 7: Wohnen in Bewegung
(Chair: Peter Pohl)

Michaela Bstieler (Innsbruck): Philosophie des Versteckens: Zwischen ethischer Einsamkeit und politischer Widerständigkeit

Martin Sexl (Innsbruck): Mobilien oder: Vom Wohnen im Automobil

Section 8: Wohnfühlen
(Chair: Julia Pröll)

Violet Stathopoulou (Innsbruck): Snapshots of Hearth and Home: From Hestia to One-Bedroom Flats and Back to the Garden

Ornella Kraemer (Innsbruck): Der Duft von Opas Plätzchen: Geschichten vom Zuhause in zeitgenössischen Bilderbüchern

Nicole Rettig (Konstanz): Life in Plastic, It’s Fantastic: Wohnen im Plasticaeum

Section 9: (Alb-)Träume des Wohnens
(Chair: Martin Sexl)

Peter Pohl (Innsbruck): Komfort der Katastrophe: Zur Poetik des Wohnens in postapokalyptischen Robinsonaden der Nachkriegsliteratur

Maxim Shadurski (Siedlce): The Timescapes of Home and the Novel in the Anthropocene

Brigitte Rath (Innsbruck): Caring Homes: Fantasien geschützter Gemeinschaft

Section 10: Metamorphosen
(Chair: Doris Eibl)

Waltraud Fritsch-Rößler (Innsbruck): Die Kemenate als liminaler Ort

Sophie Renninger (Würzburg): Home Guides as Agencies of Change: From the Victorian Parlor to the Modern Living Room

Ingrid Mayrhofer-Hufnagl (Innsbruck): Von Wohnen zu Lebensräumen: KI als Impulsgeber für innovative Architektur