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Misplaced? Displacement and Decentring the Notion of Home

Part 2 Dissertation 2006
Jonathan Steiner
Royal College of Art, UK
+Abstract ::

This dissertation challenges the perception that ‘the construction of shelter - housing and communities for people displaced following natural disaster, conflict or other upheaval - is a ‘solvable’ problem of logic, charity and pragmatism.’ It considers that solutions lie only through the understanding of shelter as a processual meeting of many diverse needs that might result in a desired notional ‘Emplacement’.

A study of Place as both concept and lived reality, through the notions of Identity and Belonging, reveals a contemporary ‘postmodern’ shift in relationship to the ‘place – experience’. Highlighting the complexity of multicultural integration in the contemporary city, the ‘place-bonding’ of diasporic communities is considered; constructing a conceptual decentring of the notion of home.

Placing the issue of shelter within this wider discussion, through consideration of forced displacement, subsequent diaspora and the premise of emplacement, this text concludes that the application of ‘western’ concepts to ‘non-western’ concerns is inherently problematic.

Whilst not necessarily constructing new ideas about shelter provision, this discussion aims to critically consider currently employed methods from a different perspective - not only in terms of their economical and social benefits - but in the context of a broader understanding of the notion and significance of home and belonging; in terms of their ability to provide a sense of Place.

The genesis for this text has been an identification of the need for greater understanding of responses to, and implications of, providing ‘relief’ to the pressures of housing increasing ‘displaced populations.’ This is a reflection, through personal involvement in the field, on the unavoidable realities of rapid population growth alongside urbanization of developing countries, which often brings together high population density, low standards of living, planning and construction, and hence high risk of natural disaster. As seen recently in both the case of the south-east Asian tsunami and hurricane Katrina in the USA, the implications of ignoring an increasingly relevant issue are becoming apparent.

Jonathan Steiner

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