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Stefania Tufi: Hybrid places - the reconfiguration of domestic space in the time of Covid-19

"The reversal of roles between private and public space, and between the outside and the inside, has engendered novel bordering practices such as domestic extensions into the outside, and additional material and symbolic boundaries inside domestic environments. Written language contributes to the dynamic making and re-making of domestic spaces and of thresholds, and to the re-signification of space for the visual construction of the confined self."

Please cite this visual essay as a web source in the appropriate citation style, e.g.

Tufi, Stephania. "Hybrid places - the reconfiguration of domestic space in the time of Covid-19" The Linguistic Landscape of Covid-19 Workshop. Last modified 5 August 2021, http://covidsigns.net/post/tufi.




This visual essay focuses on images provided, and commented on, by participants in a project about the re-signification of domestic socio-spatial relations as a result of Covid-19. Gathered through the participatory methodology of photovoice (Wang 1999 & 2003), photographs of re-purposed domestic environments point to the configuration of an inside spatial and social semiotics that stands in a dialogic relationship with the outside spatial and social semiotics as dictated by the pandemic, and where domestic landscapes articulate forms of transmedia code-switching and code-mixing that invest written words, sounds and screens. In addition, the inside/outside dynamics intersects with dimensions of private and public space and enhances the blurring of private/public boundaries brought about by technological developments (e.g. home working and online socialising) (Doling & Arundel 2020).


The following headings encompass a range of socio-spatial phenomena as engendered by the pandemic, and exemplified by the photographs and comments provided by the participants.

  1. Domesticating the public (or taking the inside outside, Figures 1-2);

  2. Un-domesticating the private, or bringing the outside inside (leading to nomadic domesticity and domestic displacement, Figures 3-4);

  3. (Re)bordering practices (the material boundaries punctured by sounds and interrupted by transmedia code-switching and -mixing of Figure 5);

  4. Thresholds (Figures 6-7); and

  5. Virtual layering of identity performance (Figure 8).

Figure 1 - ‘I sat at the back of the garden a lot to study, eat and have conversations over the fence, to feel connected and less shut in.’

Figure 2 – ‘A snack whilst I studied – a treat because I couldn’t go out for a coffee. I’d also sit and phone my daughters, friends and family. […] Different mugs link to different moods. […] I also spent hours on the phone to the bank, BT [British Telecom] about the internet and other domestic admin.’




Figure 3 – ‘I started using a space that did not belong to me as the laptop is in my children’s bedroom. I found myself carrying my work stuff (stationery, glasses, diary, books, etc) from one room to another every morning and back again to my bedroom just before school pickup so that my son wouldn’t complain for the “mess”.’




Figure 4 - ‘The loft was originally just meant as storage space, but we had power and lighting put in at the start of the pandemic [to allow me to work]. The only problem was that my daughter would get there in the morning and “claim” the room for the day.’





Figure 5 – ‘I moved my desk around so that the background was a neutral white wall and the children could work in the same room without being seen, they were often heard. As T. and I were often involved in online activities at the same time, the eldest was tasked with helping the youngest to do school work.’ […] ‘If the children interrupted me while I was in an online meeting, I found it really difficult to move in and out of different registers.’



Figure 6 – ‘I set up a “cleansing station” in the hallway (sanitizer, masks, gloves, tissues + nearby bin) for use when preparing to go out or to return. I also set up a seat in the hallway in order to be able to leave all footwear there when entering.’




Figure 7 – ‘Just outside our front door, on my way to the local shop, today [18/4/21] I spotted this on the pavement. My first thought was that it must have been a message for the community to say that things are looking up and we can all take a sigh of relief. But I had mixed feelings about it, it made me realise how this could actually be for something else entirely and it showed just how much my mind is conditioned to link everything to the pandemic.’





Figure 8 – ‘This is me, dressed for work, at my desk, trying to coordinate two different calls. One of the most fascinating things has been seeing where my colleagues have had to work from. In this room are books in French and Russian, the tank picture is on a Russian biscuit tin, and I have pictures with Russian on them in the house, I studied both languages at school.’


Figure 8 above is an example of ‘staging the self’, and one where language (displayed on the shelves in the background and commented on) contributes to self-identification and self-representation. This is a young participant and, as a millennial, they feel comfortable with visual exposure (the face is covered to allow anonymisation). For other groups, however, online communication and over-exposure as a necessity during lockdown have heightened self-awareness and anxieties about social judgement based on the limited visuals that are available to our interlocutor(s) and viewers when interacting online. The background against which we are seen becomes a personal stage as it tends to be interpreted as a deliberate choice signifying our real selves. Concerns about self-presentation in domestic space, which adds a performative layer to the discursive performance of identity, represents an added dimension to spatial extensions of the self.


In addition, it could be argued that feelings of vulnerability in online meetings are a result of ‘gazing the self’, i.e. seeing ourselves while interacting online (something that does not happen in physical interaction) and that produces a heterotopic (Foucault, 1984) displacement of the self - due to the mirror effect, we see our objectified selves, and the online platforms normalise this type of alienation. Moreover, we experience loss of control of how others see us because options on online platforms can be operated by the viewer as well.


In terms of the linguistic construction of space, texts on screens enact both virtual and material borders between the inside and the outside, and between public and private. The label on the hand sanitizer (Figure 7) and the message on the pavement (Figure 8) construct thresholds, the book on the bed (Figure 6) configures a material boundary in a multifunctional, hybrid space, while text on screens enacts both a virtual and a material border. Verbal language also indexes personal space (Figure 4 - the DVDs and other verbal semiotics in the child’s workstation), and it marks states of mind (Figure 2, the mug).


In conclusion, the re-organisation of space and time routines have become an everyday practice, and chronotopic adaptations in households have led to complex processes of spatial hybridisation. The reversal of roles between private and public space, and between the outside and the inside, has engendered novel bordering practices such as domestic extensions into the outside, and additional material and symbolic boundaries inside domestic environments. Written language contributes to the dynamic making and re-making of domestic spaces and of thresholds, and to the re-signification of space for the visual construction of the confined self. In addition to written language, domestic audioscapes and technoscapes have actively contributed to the normalisation of trans-media code-switching and -mixing, and to the hybridisation of domestic spatialities and temporalities.


References


Boivin, N. (2021) Agentic space for transmigrant families’ multisensory discourse of identity. Linguistic Landscape, 7(1), 37-59.


John Doling & Rowan Arundel (2020) The home as workplace: A challenge for housing research, Housing, Theory and Society, DOI: 10.1080/14036096.2020.1846611


Foucault, M. (1984). Of other spaces: Utopias and heterotopias. [Des Espace Autres, 1967]. Translated by Jay Miskowiec. Architecture, Mouvement, Continuité, 5, 46-49.


Wang, C. C. (1999) Photovoice: A participatory action research strategy applied to women’s health. Journal of Women’s Health, 8, 185-192.


Wang, C. C. (2003) Using photovoice as a participatory assessment and issue selection tool. Available at 3.pdf (u-tokyo.ac.jp) (accessed 22 March 2021)


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