1This work brings together papers from a LADYSS (Research laboratory on social dynamics and space restructuring) seminar entitled Modes d’habiter given at the University of Paris I from 2004 to 2007. It is therefore quite heterogeneous. But despite the stated preference for interdisciplinarity, the studies are methodologically similar.
2Nicole Mathieu’s introduction lays the theoretical foundations of the “modes of inhabiting” concept. From the outset it was defined as a synthesis between “genre de vie” studies, identified with the discipline of geography, and “lifestyle” studies, identified with sociology. The author explains why those two concepts taken separately are insufficient for the study to be undertaken. The genre de vie concept was developed in 1911 by Vidal de la Blache to account for ties between social behaviours and changes in surroundings. In the post-war period, however, when the primary concern of French policy was to respond to the housing needs of the population, the statistical and demographic notion of “housing” replaced “the house” as the dominant notion in geography. “Bodily” human beings (p. 40) were replaced in geographers’ sights by the statistical individual, easier to “house,” and this in turn meant scrapping the genre de vie concept. And the “lifestyles” concept would not do, explains Nicole Mathieu, because it “effaced the territorial aspect of realities and disregarded socio-spatial dynamics” (p. 43). Nicole Mathieu therefore forged the “inhabiting modes” concept – to reconcile sociology and geography but above all to designate a system of relations between the natural and the social. “The ‘modes of inhabiting’ concept was constructed to apprehend the entire set of relations that develop between two poles usually conceived of separately: places and environments on the one hand; individuals and ‘people’ on the other” (p. 51). A “mode of inhabiting” has four dimensions: “inhabiting and circulating,” “inhabiting and working,” “inhabiting and housing,” and “inhabiting and living with or alongside others.”
3Though not explicitly organized on the basis of these four dimensions, the thirteen chapters that follow do discuss them. Each in its own way, the chapters by Elsa Ramos, Annabelle Morel-Brochet, Christophe Granger and Cécile Vignal raise the question of human circulation and territorial rootedness. The first two focus on the effects of residential migration over the life cycle. In her interviews with “provincials” [i.e., French persons not originally from Paris] living in Paris, Elsa Ramos glimpses the emergence of a sense of “roots.” Roots are understood to concern nature; they relate the individual to the place he or she “naturally” belongs to, whereas mobility and movement are perceived as social and therefore as sources of disorder. In the following chapter, Annabelle Morel-Brochet studies the role of individuals’ past experiences of different living spaces and their projections into the future in constructing their present geographical sensibilities, concluding that spatial well-being or ill-being are to be explained above all by past geographic experience.
4To circulate is not necessarily to move elsewhere; it also refers to everyday mobility (not discussed in this study) and seasonal moves. Christophe Granger studied the historical construction of “going away for the holidays” in France. Over the twentieth century, holidays gradually came to mean leaving one’s usual place of residence. Early in the century, the “elites of the Republic” and the business magnates recommended a summer change of scenery for health reasons. This then became a new moral value: the point was no longer to escape pollution and overheated buildings but also to discover new places and the freedom and personal disinterestedness specific to travelling. Though until the 1970s over half the French population spent their holidays at home, the idea that vacation meant leaving home had become a shared representation as early as the 1950s and 1960s.
5Cécile Vignal’s chapter establishes links between inhabiting, circulating and work. The author examines job-related geographic mobility and its specificities for the working class, especially in connection with the family and domestic sphere. Vignal draws on the experience of workers in the Picardie region who had to choose between being made redundant or moving to Bourgogne to show that for both blue and white collar workers, geographic mobility is more “a matter of constraint and reduced protection than for other employees” (p. 110). Many of the workers interviewed report having had to choose between destabilizing their family or couple – migration posed a threat to cohabitation or spouse’s job – and their job. This chapter also shows that the family as a value and attachment to place – feelings that are strongest in the working class in France – should not be thought of exclusively as traditional values that limit occupational opportunities. The author recalls that the resource of family ties and local roots can also often facilitate the development of new, on-site projects; it therefore led some people to choose the lay-off option. In the following chapter, Blandine Glamcevski addresses the question of ties between settlement area and work through a study of working women in rural areas. She mentions the problem of isolation, especially for women who do not come from a rural background and find themselves confined to domestic space (child-minding, housecleaning).
6The next three chapters discuss the two terms “inhabiting and housing”. All take into account representations of inhabiting. For Julien Langumier, if the home is a single-family house it may involve distinction concerns. He focuses on detached houses in suburban neighbourhoods destroyed by flooding. The disaster makes clear what is at stake: “insignia showing that the inhabitants belong to the upper class” (p. 149). In the flood, these inhabitants found themselves face to face with nature, and the realization that the objects on which their social status is founded are mere matter – and temporary. When the disaster swept away the signs of distinction they had so attentively arranged and maintained, they found themselves in a situation of need (they may even have had to respond to nature’s call in the kitchen if that was the only room left to shelter in). This in turn has impacted on the attitudes they have to their rebuilt homes and how their distinction strategies unfold in the aftermath; for example, they may become less attached to things and the house itself. Irène Dos Santos studies the social construction of housing conditions through the case of Portuguese migrants in France who are planning to return one day. Between investing in la casa in Portugal and feeling ashamed of one’s housing situation in France, the way these migrants appropriate housing is also determined by their feelings about emigrating and toward the receiving society. In her chapter Nathalie Ortar studies second homes, showing how they become realms of memory in which family cohesion is constructed and the various family lines negotiate their respective places.
7The next four chapters discuss the last dimension mentioned by Nicole Mathieu, “inhabiting and living with or alongside others.” The anthropologist Anne Jarrigeon takes up this question most directly, focusing on modes of inhabiting a big city. As she sees it, withdrawal into one’s own space is a fundamental feature of the urban lifestyle. The objects people carry about on them – the archetype being the mobile phone – enable them to create their own personal living compartment where they can listen to music, carry out tasks, write, make calls. Magali Paris studies the kinds of gardens people design for themselves. She distinguishes between “home” gardens, a kind of extension of the private dwelling; “sociability” gardens that neighbours can pass through, fostering the development of “small communities”; and “isolating” gardens where an inhabitant can actually hide from the neighbours. Pauline Frileux also studied gardens, those belonging to detached houses in residential areas, and their inhabitants’ attitudes toward gardening. She identifies three types of inhabitants, each with a different attitude toward nature: weeding maniacs, anti-gardeners, and environmentalist gardeners. Hedges are the main point of discord between environmentalists and homeowners: the former prefer hawthorn, a local plant, to evergreen thuja (or whitecedar). But hawthorn hedges mean thorns on the ground and a view that changes in winter. In other words, they threaten the view for house inhabitants and thwart homeowners’ desire to see “green” and therefore feel they are living close to nature. The landscape here is shaped by the representations of homeowners seeking to get free of the city; they set about creating spaces that will maintain the illusion of returning to nature – as long as the sheltering hedges remain in place. Lastly, Lucie Grésillon distinguishes between three types of Paris inhabitants. Some “feel” the place they live in; that is, they take pleasure in it through their senses, making their home into a cocoon that will protect them against aggressive smells and sounds from the outside or admiring the visual beauty of Paris or “surrounding themselves” with things they care about. What others enjoy is not so much “feeling” their homes but “living near others” or circulating freely in the city. Still others cannot “feel” where they live because theirs is a situation of “ill-being” (in the psychological sense) that leads them to close themselves off to such sensations.
8It is not at all clear how Caroline de Saint-Pierre’s chapter fits with the four dimensions identified by Nicole Mathieu. The author examines how city-dwellers appropriate or react to public artworks, comparing the cases of two works located on the outskirts of Paris: Axe Majeur in Cergy-Pontoise and La Perspective in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines. Both were executed and installed in the 1980s and both are falling apart and poorly maintained, but the author observes that this only seems to degrade the image of the city in the eyes of inhabitants who do not already have a clear idea of its reputation.
9Upon closing the book, the reader realizes that several authors have used the “inhabiting mode” concept in quite a different sense than the one developed by Nicole Mathieu in her introduction. It is as though each writer had followed his or her own intuitions about how to use the concept rather than taken into account Nicole Mathieu’s complex but stimulating definition.
10Lastly, some authors do not seem to have made optimal use of their survey material. Semi-directive interviews are often cited without taking into account interview context or interviewing conditions; the only aim seems to be to create typologies and in some cases sub-typologies. It is also a pity that several authors seem indifferent to respondents’ social characteristics. For example, when Lucie Grésillon indicates that a typical way inhabitants of Haussman-era apartments on the rue Lagrange (in the Fifth Arrondissement of Paris) have of making their living spaces comfortable is to turn them into protective cocoons, she explains this entirely on the basis of place characteristics (moisture from the Seine, living on a polluted, traffic-choked street, etc.), when in fact this inhabiting mode should also be related to inhabitants’ social characteristics. Several chapters would also have been more effective if the authors had taken into account the social composition of the places studied. For example, not only does Magali Paris not indicate her respondents’ social status, but we are not told anything about their neighbours either. Whether or not an inhabitant opens her garden to others is likely to depend on her social distance from those others. It would have been interesting to know in what types of neighbourhoods (mixed, newly gentrified, posh, working-class?) people have a tendency to withdraw into their personal space rather than open up to their neighbours.