Hacking around the house

The topic I suggest researching does have a strong focus on the home. Be it the long-standing family home or a nursing home, most of the alterations I am interested in looking at will take place around or in the home. The home has been a source of research for ethnographic research and I will draw from this area of research mostly to understand what issues are connected with research around the home and how the hardware hacking of items in the home is embedded into a wider context.

Brandes, Stich and Wender (2009, 60) point out two important properties of the home that make it particularly suitable to ‘hacked’ solutions: “Thus we can find two extremes in the same private space: On the one hand, we use this space to express our personality. On the other hand, we feel secure and undisturbed; we are able to do as we please.”

Quite a useful resource in this regards has been the reader ‘Home possessions: Material Culture behind closed doors’ edited by Daniel Miller. In his introduction he explains the focus on material culture and how it also relates back to anthropology:

“If home is where the heart is, then it is also where it is broken, torn and made whole in the flux of relationships, social and material.” (Miller, 2001, 15)

This connection between social relationships and material culture will play a large part in my studies as well I assume. One of the questions I am interested in is the questions who initiates alterations around the house. People diagnosed with dementia themselves? Their partners or next of kin who live with them? Would they be initiated by someone coming in as a counsellor or advisor?

Around the house the borders between hacking and DIY become even more distorted. An example in popular culture is the collection of alterations to IKEA furniture done by ikeahackers, which is presented on a website with the same name. What stands in the foreground here I think is less the mastery and skill of the work undertaken – even though most objects/items look highly sophisticated – but more the fun and wit of the resulting object. The hacks range from minimal changes up to highly complicated structures within the home, such as a book case that doubles as a pull-down bed. The popular website pinterest brings up plenty of examples under the category “house hacks” which focus mostly on small ad-hoc alterations that can be done quickly and with materials commonly on hand.

Even though it has a special focus on kitchens, the paper “Kitchen Living in Later Life: Exploring Ergonomic Problems, Coping Strategies and Design Solutions” by Martin Maquire et.al. gives useful insights into this topic. Their study of people between 60 and 90 in their homes showed many alterations to enhance independent living and also gives insights into the methods used in their study. In addition to observing people in their kitchens the authors looked into the “kitchen histories” of the participants to get a better understanding of the values and everyday habits. Looking into the alterations and changed people made to their kitchens the authors sum up:

People were asked what changes or additions they hadmade in their kitchen. These included:
•Appliances: more plug sockets or better positioning;obtaining a dishwasher, automatic kettle, lighter iron,water filter tap, lever taps and new radiators.
•Environment: a light that can be lowered over the kitchentable; under or over or cupboard lighting; a mirror above the sink to reflect light from a glass panelled door, giving a view to the garden when washing up.
•Storage: additional cupboards (where space allowed);pull out shelves in cupboards.
•Cleaning: lighter colour flooring to show dirt; vinyl off-cuts on top of wall units so they can be removed and cleaned.
•Reaching and access: pull out shelves in cupboards;corner cupboards with revolving units for access.
•General: specially designed kitchen to meet needs (installed or planned) (Maguire, 2014, 84)
As has been a recurring theme within this blog, it is complex to evaluate which of these alterations would fall under DIY and which under hacking. From the descriptions neither the level of mastery nor the craftiness of the solutions can be evaluated, which shows that more detailed definitions and further classifications will be needed as this project develops if such as classification will become necessary.
Dyck et.al. (2005, 174) explore “home” and “house” particularly in regards to care and observe that:”Care is provided in spaces designed for other purposes, of varying sizes and conditions, and where there are strong associations with the notions of privacy and ‘family life’.” As their focus is not only on the house, but also on the interplay with the body, they consider the house as a material place:
“As a material site, its specific spatial arrangements, amenities, furnishings and location within a particular neighbourhood will be more or less enabling in the support of its occupants’ needs and desires. The home’s materiality is also a signifier of a person’s location within power relations that influence access to material resources, as well as culturally valued consumer goods.” (Dyck et.al., 2005, 175 )
Important in regards to the topic of this research project, the notion of control becomes important. “Hacking” the environment might a way to regain control over oneself and ones surroundings which has further impact on the concept of identity:
“This ability to have control of the home environment is a critical dimension of the constitution of homespace as ‘caring space’ that is safe for a vulnerable social identity as well as the body’s material vulnerability.” (Dyck et.al. 2015, 179)
Drawing on the ways in which people started to use home computers in other ways that originally intended, Greenhalgh et.al. (2013, 87) propose a new way to look into telecare and telehealth and how it fits into the context of home:
“An alternative approach to delivery of telehealth and telecare might be to analyse what traditionally happens in the home in relation to living with chronic illness, and consider how these activities and practices could be digitally enabled.”
This alternative view towards the development of assistive technologies is one that also underpins my own research project and which will guide the methods of my project as well as possible outcomes.
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