David Morley: Home Territories – Media, Mobility and Identity.


(Tomado de http://www.talaljuk-ki.hu/index.php/article/articleview/694/1/62/, a través de la caché de Google, ya que la dirección no era operativa en agosto de 2006).



One of the principal effects of the widely perceived loss of certainty, security and safety in the destabilised “risk societies” in which we now live, has been a widespread retreat into regressive forms of “closure”– whether at a national or local level.



It is in this context that we might best consider the significance of the defensive responses which commonly arise among those who find their lives disrupted by the forces of globalisation – what Etienne Balibar has called “identity panics”. In a situation where people feel unable to control the wider social relations in which they live they often tend to retreat into obsessive forms of "particularism", as a way of coping with this sense of threat.


One of my concerns, in exploring these issues here, is to make some links between debates about immigration policy, debates in urban studies about patterns of residence, and debates within communications studies about patterns of media consumption. I also want to link these questions to anthropological perspectives on practices of boundary maintenance. In doing this, my primary focus will be on anxiety-driven "rituals of exclusion" of alterity – although I am aware that this is only one side of an ambivalent story, in so far as alterity can also be a focus of desire (but that’s another story...).

If various contemporary forms of communication and mobility routinely transgress the boundaries of the "sacred" spaces of the home, homeland or "Heimat", the issue is then how those "transgressions" are characteristically regulated. Inevitably, these regulatory processes generate conflict in their attempt to expel "alterity" beyond the boundaries of the ethnically or culturally "purified" enclave – whether at the level of the home, the residential neighbourhood or that of the nation. Here the issue is who is to define who "belongs" or what is to be excluded as "matter out of place" – to use the anthropologist Mary Douglas’ definition – whether that "matter" is represented by "impure" materials which are deemed to profane the home; by "strangers" of one sort or another who are felt to profane the neighbourhood or by "foreign" cultural objects which are seen to defile the symbolic space of the nation.

For Zygmunt Bauman, at stake here is a process in which the figure of the "stranger" comes to incarnate risk itself and various forms of alterity come to be felt to embody, by proxy, the insecurity that now haunts many people's lives. Thus the stranger is transmogrified – by cultural technologies such as CCTV cameras – into an alien, and the alien into a threat – and "cleansing" our streets of these strangers then stands in as a proxy solution for ridding ourselves of fear.

There is a growing tendency towards residential

segregation throughout the affluent societies of

the West, as those who can afford to do so

increasingly remove themselves from the

fractious world of the decaying public sphere.

If, as I suggested earlier, hyper-mobility is one of the key figures of our postmodern condition, then its correlative is surely the gated community. There is a growing tendency towards residential segregation throughout the affluent societies of the West, as those who can afford to do so increasingly remove themselves from the fractious world of the decaying public sphere. Here we confront the politics of withdrawal and separation, both within the city, and in the flight of privileged groups to the suburbs, or to the countryside, by way of escape from the bourgeoning multiculturalism of city life. I want to propose that we might usefully consider these processes of "suburbanisation" in the light of Roger Silverstone's comments on television as itself a "suburbanising" medium – which, through its repetitive and reassuring patterns, consolidates the sense of security of those within the communities it serves. In the conjunction of these processes, I want to suggest, what we sometimes see emerging, rather than the much-advertised fluid and hybrid forms of postmodern subjectivity, are new forms of consolidation of old patterns of social and cultural segregation. This isn't to suggest that this is all that the media do, or that this is all there is to suburbanism. However, these contemporary processes of cultural segregation are what I want to focus on today precisely because I feel that this issue has been neglected by a great deal of rather optimistically inclined cultural theory.

In this context, it is worth noting that three quarters of potential house-buyers in the UK say that ideally, they would prefer to live in a leafy, village-style cul-de-sac, away from all traffic and passing strangers. (Could be just a regressive ‘British’ thing, but sadly, I don’t think so... the “gated community” is the fastest-growing single type of housing in the rich North, just as the unregulated urban squatter camp/slum is the fastest growing type in the South… Kabila in Kenya – cf. “Constant Gardener”.)

If the home, the neighbourhood and the nation are all potential spaces of belonging, this is no simple matter of disconnected, parallel processes. Each of these spaces conditions the others and the question is to understand how, as Sibley puts it, "the nation and the locality invade the home" – because these spaces are simultaneously tied together by media messages, by the workings of the real estate market, and by macro factors such as the immigration policies of the state and the impact of the global economy.

I spoke earlier of connecting the micro and macro levels of analysis – let me try and give you an example of what I mean.

Let’s take the household first… by taking an example from a research project which I was involved in, some years ago, on "The Household Uses of Information and Communications Technologies". In that project, one of our principal interests was in how households of different types regulated the capacity of the new technologies to transgress their boundaries. In the case of the particular family to which I will refer, we see again, this time at a micro level, a fearful attempt to regulate boundaries which are under pressure from external forces. In this case, the husband had suffered what he understood to be a technologically-driven form of unemployment, and he felt very much a victim of circumstances beyond his control. He was extremely worried about his capacity to provide economically for his family in the future and – in parallel with my earlier general comments on the propensity of the weaker members of a "risk society" to try to control whatever "local" boundaries are within their grasp – he and his wife compensated for this by exercising a heightened degree of control over the boundaries of the household itself. Thus, for example, they carefully regulated their children's use of the telephone, with precise rules governing the time they were allowed to spend on both outgoing and incoming calls (i.e. this was not simply a question of the financial cost of the calls). Moreover, they were very concerned about their children's consumption of television programmes on the sets installed in their bedrooms. Their particular concern was with the danger of the family's moral boundaries being transgressed, if the children were to watch "foreign" programmes of an "unsuitable" nature (in particular, what they referred to as "foreign sex programmes" – which are perhaps doubly "foreign" to the British). Were we to conduct this research today, clearly, the parallel anxiety would be that which many parents now have about the capacity of the internet to transgress the moral boundaries of their household, by bringing their children into contact with similarly unwanted materials.

However, this concern with the policing of micro boundaries can readily be seen to have parallels at other geographical scales. In recent years, various national governments have attempted to control the consumption of "foreign" media on their national territories, by outlawing satellite dishes, and more recently, by attempting to monitor and control their populations' access to the internet. Not so long ago, in an uncannily exact mirror image of each other's policies, while the Iranian government was attempting to ban satellite dishes, on the grounds that the foreign programmes they picked up were part of a Western "cultural offensive" against Islam, the mayor of Courcouronnes (a poor, mainly North African immigrant district south of Paris) also banned satellite dishes from the high rise blocks in which many of his constituents lived – ostensibly on the basis that they represented a health hazard, as they might blow off in high winds, and fall on people below. However the ban was in fact made at the instigation of the French National Front, in whose eyes the dishes represented the threat of a migrant population that lives on the geographical territory of France but which inhabits, via satellite, a world of "Virtual Islam". These immigrants' virtual involvement in this transnational cultural space was then presented, in effect, as a form of "cultural treason" against the French nation.

Nations/Imagined communities

Let me now turn to the question of the nation. My particular concern is with how the nation comes to be presented as a "symbolic home" – or Heimat – for its citizens, and in the corresponding question of who does or does not come to feel "at home" within it.

In the UK Paddy Scannell, and in Sweden Orvar Lofgen, have developed important analyses of the role of broadcasting in the construction of a sense of national unity. Their central concern is with the "educative" role of broadcast media in the "cultural thickening " of the nation state. Lofgren calls this the "micro-physics" of learning to belong to the "nation-as-home", and he argues that broadcasting's national rhetoric often takes ritual forms, whereby national symbols come to be inscribed in domestic practices. Thus, he notes, in Sweden, even the weather was "nationalised" and its national limits clearly demarcated, so that "in the daily shipping forecast, the names of the coastal observation posts of Sweden were read like a magic chant, as outposts encircling the nation.”

National broadcasting can sometimes create a sense of unity, as it links the peripheries to the centre and brings the symbols of the nation into the homes of its citizens. But this process is by no means always smooth, nor without moments of tension. One Swedish listener in Lofgren's historical study recalls feeling that "when the radio was on, the room wasn't really ours – the sonorous voices with their (metropolitan) accents pushed our thick regional voices into a corner, where we commented in whispers on the cocksure statements from the radio".

Similarly, in Britain, only some types of people feel that the national “Shipping Forecast” (broadcast on BBC Radio 4 several times a day for the last 40 years) symbolises the boundaries of a nation with which they identify very much. If the public sphere has long felt like a "heimlich" place for metropolitan middle class white men, it has not necessarily seemed so to people who are outside that category, whether by virtue of region, class, gender, or ethnicity.

(In some contexts, the weather forecast can also serve to bring together those who are separated by national borders. Thus, to go back to my earlier comments on the demarcation of the European/Austrian border, research there shows that, while most people on the Austrian side stress the importance of the border with Slovenia, members of the Slovenian speaking minority living in Austria make a point of listening to the weather forecast on Slovenian radio, because, as one interviewee puts it, he feels that "we" – i.e. Slovenian speakers living on both sides of the border – "belong together – at least so far as the weather is concerned".)

Boundaries and identities

Let me turn to the issue of how those within a bounded sphere can come to feel threatened by the presence of that which they deem to be "foreign". (The anxieties which drive this process are well captured in Juan Goytisolo's novel Landscapes after the Battle, whose "anti-hero" is disturbed by the "de-Europeanisation" of the French city in which he lives, "the emergence, in the perfectly ordered Cartesian perspectives of (Paris), of bits and pieces of Tlemcen and Dakar, Cairo and Karachi...”) The question is why the presence of alterity should so often be felt to be threatening. In this connection Azouz Begag writes that an "immigrant" is best understood as "a person designated as such by someone living in a particular place who sees the presence of the Other as a threat to their own sense of security within that territory". Similarly, Marc Auge puts it, "perhaps the reason why immigrants worry settled people so much is because they expose the relative nature of ‘certainties inscribed in the soil’.”

However, to go back to my earlier remarks about how the realms of the "far" and the "near" are now increasingly "mixed up", it is important to note that encounters with alterity can take place not only in physical but also in virtual space. Here we return again to the role of the media. In some cases, it seems that television can serve to bring unwanted "strangers" into the home.

Thus, in her historical account of viewers' letters written to the producers of Julia, the black North American situation comedy of the 1960's, Anna Bodroghkozy discovers one from a white viewer – claiming to speak for many of his "fellow Americans" – who says that, pleased as he is with his continuing "success" in keeping black people out of the physical neighbourhood in which he lives, he is outraged at their "symbolic invasion" of his living room, via their representation on television. Unfortunately, in the UK at least, this is still a huge issue – the appearance of an announcer with a Jamaican accent on BBC R4 has recently caused a huge outcry of protest from that station’s predominantly white audience.

Beyond the national – Europe as a symbolic home

For me the ways in which virtual and material "geographies of exclusion" operate in conjunction are the central issue. To move from the national to the continental level, the hardening of "Fortress Europe's” external boundaries which accompanied the Schengen agreement on “internal” movement and trade, must be seen in conjunction with the European Union's attempts to refurbish a version of "Euro-culture" which, in harking back to its Graeco-Roman and specifically Christian roots, is not designed to feel like home for many of those who currently reside within its borders. As a young man of Turkish parents, living in Germany, put it in a recent interview: "My parents came here in the 60s and I've been here all my life. But here, if you're born to immigrant parents you will die an immigrant - it doesn't matter if you've read Goethe, wear Lederhosen and do a Bavarian dance, they'll still treat you like an immigrant."

In his late years, Jean Monnet, one of the founders of the EU, once said that if he had the chance to begin the “European Project” again he would begin with culture. Much recent EU audio-visual policy can be seen in this light – as a project in which the promotion of European unity is the goal and information/media policy is seen as one of the key instruments to achieve it. To this extent one might argue that what we see here is a concerted attempt by the EU to construct the equivalent of a transnational EuroCulture, enshrined in concepts and cultural institutions such as the European Audiovisual Sphere, but based on a geographically expanded version of the conventional model of national broadcasting. These cultural policies are intended to create a synthetic pan-European identity, but they use exactly the same strategies as did the old nation states – centring on the promotion of flags, anthems, passports, trophies and maps which are deigned to recreate a homogenised sense of community and belonging. They thus recreate all the problems of traditional forms of nationalism, insofar as they emphasise cohesion, integration, security and unity and tend to the elimination – or at least marginalisation – of all forms of complexity and difference. The better solution must surely be to develop cultural policies which come to terms with the realities of cultural difference and promote a positive evaluation of internal hybridity and an openness to external forms of alterity. The alternative will, in effect, be the building of a new, cultural “Iron Curtain”, with the key difference being that it hangs a little further South and East than the old one did and is designed to distinguish Europe’s frontiers by policing the limits of religious, as much as political, difference as the defining aspect of how Europe and its culture is to be understood.

To do this would involve reconceptualising our notion of our symbolic home – not now, as a sealed-in site of cultural homogeneity, but as always made of mixed components – in Doreen Massey’s terms, as an ex-centric, porous and flexible space form in which to move and encounter the world, rather than as a Fortress into which we can retreat from it. This would be a model of “home” which values dialogue over identity and which transcends any simple notion of "imagined community" – at whatever scale – because of the seemingly irreducible residue, in that concept, of a dream of homogeneity, as the necessary basis of sociality.


Of course, in some quarters it has been argued that, happily, the new technologies of cyberspace are about to deliver us from all these problems, by enabling us to create more democratically inclusive spaces of "virtual community" – which will somehow leave behind the social and cultural divisions of the material world. The problem is that cyberspace is itself a differentiated terrain, to which we do not all have equal access. We are not all nomadic, fragmented subjectivities, living in the same postmodern universe. For some categories of people, the new technologies do offer rich opportunties for empowering forms of "connexity". However, for other people, without access to such forms of communication, horizons may simultaneously be narrowing – and they may be more closely locked into their localities than they ever were before, while powerless to control the forms of economic, political and cultural disruption that globalisation brings to them.

The virtual geographies which are opening up to us are, of course, in many ways quite new – however, my final comment would be that as we travel the electronic highways and byways of cyberspace we should beware of the virtual reduplication, if in new forms, of some of the oldest and most regressive structures of exclusion.

The author is Professor of Communication at Goldsmiths College,London University. He is the author of a number of books on cultural studies. His latest book is entitled Media, Modernity and Technology: The Geography of the New (Routledge,forthcoming).