BLOG: Tiny Homes as forms of resistance

By Alice Wilson, see more info at: http://tinyhouseresearch.co.uk/

Critical scholars have investigated at length what the repercussions have been for the Culture of Real Estate (CORE) following the 2008 financial crash (Colombini, 2019; Hanan, 2010). Having been nurtured by the coalescing forces of deregulatory policies, favourable market conditions, and an attitude shift towards considering property as a fail-safe investment, the Culture of Real Estate was constituted bringing with it an obstinate optimism that refused even as it created looming devastation (Hanan, 2010). Drawing from critical economic and urban scholarship, tiny houses as a mode of immediate survival and ongoing resistance have been noted for their ability to demonstrate the possibility of a new economic order (Colombini, 2019; Hanan, 2010; Hanan, Ghosh, and Brooks, 2014).

It is likely that the global financial crisis of 2008 played a formative role in universalising the plight for secure and affordable housing, since even the usually well-protected, financially secure, home-owning middle classes were harmed by the cascade of foreclosures, job loss, and wage decline in the months and years that followed (Chowdhury, and Żuk, 2018; Hanan, 2010; Hanan, Ghosh, and Brooks, 2014). The extreme visibility of the effects and failings of ‘crisis capitalism’ catalysed a renewed scholarly and public critique of financialized institutions and the dogged pursuit of GDP as the best metric of societal progress (Colombini, 2019; Chowdhury, and Żuk, 2018). Consequently, as both theoretical and material demonstrations of dissatisfaction were proliferating, for example the Occupy Wall Street movement in the US and the Student Fees protests in the UK, tiny houses began to gain increased mainstream exposure as preferable alternatives to the comparatively volatile and dangerous private equity market.

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A considerable amount of theorising on modern society takes risk, its causes and mitigation as its centrifugal force (Beck, 2018; Boykoff, 2008; Deutsch and Beinker, 2019). Accordingly, tiny houses have been positioned as a technology to be employed in the reduction of risk by attenuating vulnerability to economic and financial shocks such as the 2008 global recession (Colombini, 2019). Such potential for resilience is, in part, what some scholars have suggested makes tiny houses a unique strategy for the challenges of modern living (ibid; Mangold and Zaschau, 2019). Tiny houses offer a vehicle through which we can trouble the neoliberal entreat to hyper-antagonistically position individualism and collectivism as incompatible opposites; while many tiny housers do seek to reject consumerism, plenty do not, and instead are in pursuit of a nuanced admixture of components of individualism, collectivism, simplicity, and consumption (Mangold and Zaschau, 2019; Susanka, 2002; Willoughby and Collins, 2018).

hybrid house lama watermarked

Consequently, one persuasive theory on lifestyle movements such as tiny living is the ‘multi-institutional politics’ conceptualisation (Armstrong and Bernstein, 2008). This approach suggests that rather than just targeting the state, movements challenge multifarious sources of authority, and are routinely engaged in pursuing both symbolic and material changes within and beyond established institutions such as universities, local councils, or marriages. Such a definition is useful when the tiny living movement appears to straddle direct political action in terms of lobbying for updated planning policy and minimum space regulations, whist simultaneously aligning with communities of meaning through the politicization of their own identities and their mundane daily choices about what to (not) buy and how much to (not) work (Cohen, 1985; Haenfler, Johnson, and Jones, 2012; Mangold and Zschau, 2019). In targeting cultural norms, whilst tiny housers might focus on their individual choice and ability to live in a tiny house, this choice is often understood as contributing to a diffuse but nonetheless collective challenge to the status quo (Snow, 2004).

Armstrong, E.A. & Bernstein, M., 2008. Culture, power, and institutions: A multi-institutional politics approach to social movements. Sociological Theory, 26(1), pp.74–99.

Beck, U., 2018. Ecological Politics in an Age of Risk, John Wiley & Sons.

Boykoff, M.T. & Mansfield, M., 2008. “Ye Olde Hot Aire”: reporting on human contributions to climate change in the UK tabloid press. Environmental Research Letters, 3(2), p.024002. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/3/2/024002.

Chowdhury, A. & Żuk, P., 2018. From crisis to crisis: Capitalism, chaos and constant unpredictability. The Economic and Labour Relations Review, 29(4), pp.375–393.

Cohen, A., P.(1985) The Symbolic Construction of Community. London and New York: Tavistock publ.

Colombini, C., 2019. The Rhetorical Resistance of Tiny Homes: Downsizing Neoliberal Capitalism. Rhetoric Society quarterly, 49(5), pp.447–469.

Deutsch, H.-P. & Beinker, M.W., 2019. Derivatives and Internal Models: Modern Risk Management, Springer Nature.

Haenfler, R., Johnson, B. & Jones, E., 2012. Lifestyle Movements: Exploring the Intersection of Lifestyle and Social Movements. Social movement studies, 11(1), pp.1–20.

Hanan, J.S., 2010. Home is where the capital is: The culture of real estate in an era of control societies. Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, 7(2), pp.176–201.

Hanan, J.S., Ghosh, I. & Brooks, K.W., 2014. Banking on the Present: The Ontological Rhetoric of Neo-Classical Economics and Its Relation to the 2008 Financial Crisis. The Quarterly journal of speech, 100(2), pp.139–162.

Mangold, S. & Zschau, T., 2019. In Search of the “Good Life”: The Appeal of the Tiny House Lifestyle in the USA. Social sciences, 8(1), p.26.

Snow, D.A., 2004. Framing processes, ideology, and discursive fields. The Blackwell companion to social movements, 1, pp.380–412.

Susanka, S., 2002. Creating the Not So Big House: Insights and Ideas for the New American Home, Taunton Press.

Willoughby, C. & Collins, C., 2018. House or Home: Comparing Reasons for Living Tiny. In University of North Georgia Annual Research Conference. digitalcommons.northgeorgia.edu. Available at: https://digitalcommons.northgeorgia.edu/ngresearchconf/2018/Sociology_HSDA/1/ [Accessed December 5, 2019].

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