From the footloose networker to the exiled migrant, home has been displaced by an idea that’s both elusive and contested
The tiny home is one of the many oxymorons of our strange times. Thousands of people, mainly on the west coast of North America, have built small homes, little bigger than a garden shed, that they tow around on trailers. Since they first started appearing a few years ago, tiny homes have become an open-source ‘maker movement’ of thousands who share their designs for very small and often elaborate mini-mobile homes that cost as little as $5,000. It is one of the mutant social phenomena that spread in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, and it’s uplifting, amazing and slightly shocking all at the same time.
Tiny homes evoke a frontier spirit of people trying to remake their lives after a catastrophe. The fact that these homes are on a trailer and don’t touch the ground can exempt their owners from property tax in states where they count not as homes but as a vehicle. That is part of what makes them affordable to run. Tiny-home owners often gather in impromptu sharing communities. Yet as proprietors of vehicles, they have to keep moving. It’s difficult to feel you have roots if your home is on wheels.
The tiny house is just one example of the lengths to which people will go to create a sense of home even when they lack the means for it. It’s just one symptom of a much wider and intensifying search for belonging, which makes home as important to politics as the idea of class or rights – especially now, when so many people feel displaced, both literally and figuratively, by life in innovation-driven, high-tech, networked capitalism. On top of that, the contest over where home is and who is entitled to live there, is – in the form of the current apparent crisis over migration – driving global political debate. […]