Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Home is where the market is!

The universal market places, automotive teller machines and chain coffee shops give a false sense of home, and an unrealistic identity.

With increasing mobility and near homogeneity of living spaces ‘home is where the heart is’ is but a reflection of the market. With the same corporations not only invading but in many cases constituting the public space we live in or tend to occupy, the sense of ‘home’ has seemingly been suppressed in favor of a false home that makes us think we are wise and know who we are, while we are in fact utterly lost. The universal market places, automotive teller machines and chain coffee shops give a false sense of home, and an unrealistic identity. 

Conversely, it is a kind of ‘homelessness’ that does not reflect who we are in relation to the places in which we live, because it is more of the same. At a philosophical level, it can be interpreted as a crisis, since all values are gone and, as a result, we have nothing to hold on to. The only thing we hold on to is: what do the celebrities wear, what car our neighbor drives, what brand of mobile phone our friends carry, and so on. Such loss of sense has plunged us into a vicious trap of environmental, immigration, and survival crisis. 

Using Nietzsche’s philosophy to diagnose this unique form of ‘homelessness’, Gerard Kuperus  argues that for lack of any real groundings in the places where we live are ultimately unsustainable and dangerous. Development has turned a majority of humans into nomads, who end up solidifying and commercializing the places around them, As a consequence, this nomadism does not seek a transformation of ourselves, but rather a transformation of the places that we move to and from. Rooted in this are the crisis of our times, we create our home by immunizing ‘ourselves’ from the ‘other’, both humans and the environment. In practical terms, we allow only as much of both. While fewer people are allowed ‘in’ to provide essential household services, a small amount of nature in the form of potted plants is allowed ‘in’ and around our homes to reflect our control over it.      

This perceived notion of home leads people to act with disdain against both living and inaminate objects.  Economic values, according to Kuperus, dictate what we should do in relationship to one another, and to the places that we live in. This is better understood in the context of building a dam: an engineer wants to build a dam because the technology is available whereas an ecologist wants to restore the river instead. While the engineer incorporates nature in the human realm by taming it, the ecologist reacts by immunizing nature from us. Both the mindset of the engineer and that of the ecologist are driven by certain ideas about what should be, and what should not be. Even the ecologist who campaigns to protect the river considers it as a natural entity, the ‘other’ that must be preserved for the ecological services it offers. 

When is a river part of our collective home, integrated with human existence? Addressing this question using diverse philosophical strands, Gerard Kuperus, a professor of environment philosophy at the University of San Francisco, proposes an eco-politics that interfaces a unity of humans within nature. The idea of the interface can be the model for a new eco-politics in which human and non-human actants alike co-exist by acting and re-acting.  It is within this interface that we can find or recover a sense of home.  

Esoteric as it may sound, the proposition has a distinct practicability to it. Using philosophical expositions of Heidegger, Delueze and Guattari, the author seeks a paradigm shift in our relationships with ecology. While it is important to remind ourselves that we are losing eco-systems at an alarming rate, our restoration efforts are nowhere close to keeping pace with it. Perhaps the shift in approach would mean that if we re-store or re-create a forest, we allow more people to live in it and not otherwise. Only by blurring boundaries of what we call home can the otherness of others be integrated into it. 

Loaded with philosophical intrigues, Kuperus gives a wake-up call to think differently, about ourselves, our relationship to other people, and to the places around us. It is a source book to think further on re-inventing our relationships, of letting go the notion of household, of belonging and invasion, of native and stranger to address some of the social and environmental challenges of our times. The challenge is to find ourselves in the wild and the wild in ourselves. Unless the otherness of the other is made part of human existence, we will continue to be distanced from what indeed should be called a home. Else, home will remain an extension of the ‘market’. 

Ecopolitical Homelessness
by Gerard Kuperus
Routledge, London
Extent: 173, Price:  $102  

An abridged version has appeared in AnthemEnviroExpertsReviews


  1. True. The persona of "being" has completely changed. "Real" relations have distanced so much that we equate them with a virtual identity. What is your FB profile, What's app DP, etc. Somehow we remain connected, virtually, but still disconnected more than earlier. Digitization has made things easier but "existence" difficult.