Making Home: A Visual Ethnography of Tai Hang Domestic Space

Project: Research

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In recent decades, Hong Kong has experienced significant changes in housing with concurrent economic development and cultural, societal, and demographic shifts. Scholars (Bourdieu, 1979; Miller, 1997; Silva, 2010; Daniels, 2010) have established that ethnography of domestic architecture, material culture and practices is a fruitful way of analyzing values and power: gender and kinship relations in family, the change of ideology, the dictates of property developers and the government, and objects’ power in framing our worldview and shaping everyday practices. Nevertheless, local studies on housing have not yet adequately addressed the underlying dynamic relationships among materiality, agency, and power, and have tended to limit their focus to architecture and design (Rooney, 2003; Lee, 2010), realist photographic representations of homes (Wu & Canham, 2009; Wolf, 2009; Choy, 2010) and historical overviews of Hong Kong housing (Leung, 1999; Yeung & Wong, 2003). No one to date has used visual ethnography to examine the relationships among materiality, agency, and power in Hong Kong’s domestic spaces, where residents engage in dialectical processes of “making” home.To help fill this research gap, the current study uses a visual-ethnographic perspective to examine (1) relationships among materiality, individual agency, and social relations in domestic spaces and (2) the dialectical processes of “making” home in Tai Hang. Tai Hang, a small area sandwiched between Causeway Bay and Tin Hau, is notable for its different types of residential buildings: late 19th-century Hakka stone houses, pre-wartong lau(“tenement houses”), post-wartong lau, multi-story public-housing estates, and affluent high-rise residences. These dwellings’ structural properties vary significantly in their physical dimensions, spatial organization, and aesthetic characteristics, expressing and supporting Tai Hang residents’ wide range of life-styles. The present study refines Pierre Bourdieu’s notion ofhabitusby treating the idea of home as a divergent and ongoing process. In analyzing the materiality and people’s practices inside Tai Hang homes, this study seeks to examine (1) conceptualizations of domestic space among occupants of different housing in Tai Hang; (2) materiality’s expression of and support of divergent household patterns and ideals; (3) the dialectical relationships among materiality, individual agency, and social relations in times of routine and times of ephochal change; (4) the kinds of material resources, cultural values, aspirations, and emotional sentiments that contribute to the variations in residents’ choice of dwellings; and (5) the effects of structural, governmental, market forces on both the ideals and the practices surrounding idealized domesticity.In addressing these five themes, the current study mainly uses visual ethnographic methods, including photo-taking, photo-elicitation interviews, interviews, observation, and participatory photography and video recording of Tai Hang residents’ everyday practices. Ethnographic methods are employed to study residents’ ideas, values, and emotional sentiments of “home” and their everyday behavior in context. This research emphasizes visual research because it is the most appropriate ethnographic method (Sweetman 2009) for accessing people’s routinized behavior and action in relation to materiality and space. Representational materials listed above will be represented in the form of web archiving. Results of the research will be reported in journal articles and conference presentations, as well as in an online archive for public access.


Project number9042000
Grant typeECS
Effective start/end date1/01/1422/05/17