Desperately Seeking ‘Self-ish’ space: the year of Covid-19, lockdown and making dens

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The following excerpts are taken from an article written by Harriet Shortt for Organizational Aesthetics, the full article can be read here.

As I look back on the events of last year, like so many people, my reflections turn to how our home has been central to all that we have done and all that we have experienced. And like so many others during lockdown, our dining room became a classroom, the kitchen table became a meeting space, and the living room became a gym. All this meant our homes became ‘contested spaces’ (Lefebvre, 1991) and as I recently wrote in a book chapter with my co-author Michal Izak, we have suddenly found ourselves in a space with multiple meanings and uses (Shortt and Izak, 2020). We have appropriated and re-appropriated rooms across the landscape of our domestic spaces and perhaps most predominately, the boundaries between work and home have been well and truly broken and re-established.

As a result of these broken and now very blurry boundaries between work and home, the once private, intimate space of the home has been made (partly) public. Our domestic spaces are more visible now and throughout the pandemic they have been shared with and open to a whole host of people that might not have otherwise been ‘invited in’. For lots of us this has included the ongoing avalanche of Teams work calls, the home-schooling video calls, the Zoom quizzes, Facetime with family, Pilates on WhatsApp, and webinars hosted
from the garden shed.

For me, these complexities associated with the socio-material experiences of space at home during lockdown, and how we have responded to them, were first starkly highlighted by my 5-year-old daughter, Lauren. Throughout this year Lauren has been den-making. I know this is not unusual for a child of her age, and according to Sobel (2002), den-making is a fundamental part of early and middle childhood when children create a hiding space, ‘homeaway-from-home’, removed from parents or siblings. But during lockdown the den-making was, and continues to be, prolific.

Lauren’s abundant den making, was perhaps, her response to sharing her home with us for an extended period – all of us together, all the time, in a limited number of rooms and where those rooms had become somewhat ambiguous in their use.

This made me wonder if other people might be experiencing the same thing. Lots of other local parent friends reported the same sort of behaviour, as did a number of ‘grown ups’. An entrepreneur I have been working with told me she had been frequenting the roof of her house for a bit of solitude – taking a cup of tea up to the roof to find a private moment of respite from the rest of her family. An academic colleague of mine had bought a flatpack shed for the garden as a workspace away from the three other family members all working round the kitchen table – she affectionately calls her shed ‘the den’ and has made her curtains for it.

Even though so many of us are desperate to leave our houses and socialise again, I am left wondering if Covid-19 and our experiences of lockdown will change the way we look at our homes. Post-pandemic life might involve putting the home under the microscope and thinking about the details of our homes, as Bachelard encourages us to do. What corners have we noticed? What temporary nests have provided a new place of refuge? What new patterns of spatial practice have formed and where? Home space rules are being rewritten, new agreements are being made, home and work boundaries are being reimagined. Perhaps after this year, we might be more reflective about our attachments to
chosen spots in the home and where precisely we find shelter.

Read Harriet’s full article HERE

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