Making Multitemporality with Houses

Time Trickery, Ethical Practice and Energy Demand in Postcolonial Britain

in The Cambridge Journal of Anthropology

The qualities of domestic buildings that are aimed for in the energy reduction agenda, such as efficiency and zero-carbon impacts, are often at odds with the aesthetic preferences of home-owners for keeping original features of their houses unaltered. The set of visual traits followed in the maintenance and listing of character houses in the UK, and their corresponding material affordances in relation to energy demand, can be regarded as affecting and delaying the future of carbon-emission reduction promised by the country’s own Climate Change Act. This article interrogates the temporal and ethical considerations enacted in maintaining and admiring character houses with ‘original’ features. It discusses the ways in which domestic buildings emerge as multitemporal assemblages, and the forms of time trickery these processes involve in relation to notions of history, tradition and national and cultural identity.

In Graham Greene’s short story ‘The Destructors’ (1954), set in London in the aftermath of the Second World War, a group of nine-year-old boys cause a house to collapse after breaking in and slowly pulling apart the internal structure of the building – the wall panelling, staircase and internal walls.1 The operation is designed and led by a new member of the gang who had previously appreciated the interior of the house as beautiful, with its eighteenth-century staircase and equally old wall panels. The exterior, however, was at odds with this picture. Surrounded by ruins, the house still stood after being severely damaged in the war, and its leaning side walls were supported on wooden poles; the elderly owner, who continued to live there, could not afford to repair it. The destruction – which happens during a bank holiday weekend when the owner is away – is carried out for apparently no other reasons than boredom and the need for a daring plan related to the changing leadership of the gang. There is a strong ambivalence at the heart of this story: one might wish that a house such as this could be preserved rather than destroyed; at the same time, the detailed description of the boys’ actions of carefully pulling nails out one by one for a bigger purpose can trigger some sympathy for the young protagonists.

The story has been described as ironic (Gale Literature Collections 2013), and as suggesting that destruction is a form of creation. As it is, the house stood between being a vestige of eighteenth-century craftsmanship and a war ruin. In Greene’s description, it was the last on a bombed street. The only way to go forward was to demolish it, turning the street into a blank canvas for the buildings of the future. Ambivalence comes from the fact that the demolition starts, unnaturally, from the interior, dislocating the original features and weakening the building’s structure. While in other demolition projects, eighteenth-century wall panels might have been saved before the walls were knocked down, here they are at the centre of the destruction. Their dissolution makes the reader feel uneasy, and the young protagonists’ actions seem crueller than if they had been targeting an ordinary, unremarkable house.

Dislocating the remnants of the past in order to make room for a process of renewal can be regarded as a form of ‘time-tricking’ – that is, of acting upon existing temporal frameworks – directed towards speeding up the emergence of a hoped-for future of innovative change. This type of orientation towards the future that unambiguously discards the signifiers of the past was uncommon in my fieldwork with English middle-class families. The time-trickery carried out in, and through the medium of, domestic buildings emerged instead as one affording ‘multitemporality’ (Serres and Latour 1995) – a way of regarding one’s surroundings as simultaneously drawing upon the past, the present and the future. This understanding of time as containing multiple pleats, as opposed to a dominant linear representation, is central to the philosopher Michel Serres’s method of inquiry, which consists in juxtaposing works from different eras as well as from different domains. Similarly, in my research, a juxtaposition of elements that originated in, or are aesthetically suggested by, multiple times provided the background for imagining the future rather than being an obstacle to its emergence.

Making multitemporality in and with one’s home reveals agency in creating alternative representations of time, as well as alternative narratives on the past, in relation to the linear temporal framework of history. It also provides a way of situating oneself within a specific morality and, in this sense, temporal agency can be regarded as a form of ethical practice.

The focus here on domesticity and home comes from research that I conducted between 2011 and 2014 as part of an interdisciplinary project looking at domestic energy demand in the UK. The project brought together researchers from the disciplines of building engineering, design and the social sciences, and the research involved working with twenty home-owner families. During this work, I attended many workshops, conferences and summer schools at UK universities addressing the topic of household energy demand. Although these aimed at interdisciplinary dialogue, the attendees representing social science disciplines were often a minority. As others have noted (Wilhite 2005; Sovacool 2014), the energy research agenda tends to be dominated by physical science disciplines concerned with developing technical solutions, while social scientists are given the role of ‘people experts’ (Henning 2005) and are expected to provide legitimation for, or to explain, the non-adoption of technical propositions in specific social contexts. Despite the very small number of social scientists, two specific understandings about the ways in which a dimension of cultural specificity could influence domestic energy demand in the UK were expressed at most events. The first was the saying that the ‘Englishman’s home is his castle’, which emerged during conversations about why people are not keen to compromise their domestic comfort, and about the number of energy-consuming appliances they own. Together with other similar folk notions, this trope figures and is capitalized upon in many popular explorations of cultural identity, such as Watching the English (Fox 2004) and The How to Be British Collection (Ford and Legon 2003), a set of cartoon illustrations. The other cultural understanding was the observation that ‘we love our old houses too much’, which came up in discussions about the difficulty of retrofitting specific types of buildings, and the low rates of demolition of old and energy-inefficient properties. If the current rates of demolition of domestic buildings are maintained, it is estimated that it would take over 1,000 years to replace the whole housing stock of the UK (Boardman 2008). This length of time is incommensurate with the targets set by the 2008 Climate Change Act, which legislates a reduction in the UK’s carbon emissions of 80 per cent by the year 2050 from a 1990 baseline. Resource scarcity, together with economic recession and the housing crisis, as underlying conditions of life in contemporary Britain, demand changes in the structure and materiality of domestic buildings: smaller, more compact and energy-efficient houses would assist the carbon reduction targets; meanwhile, old houses, with high ceilings and solid walls that do not allow insulation, waste energy – with gas-produced heat leaking outside, and warm air vanishing into the cold. The demolition project apparently proposed by Greene is, therefore, actually in keeping with the current energy reduction agenda.

In this article I address both these folk understandings of cultural specificity by taking a longer and maybe unusual path into homes. The literature on Western domestic spaces that has emerged over the last two decades – with UK-focused examples looking at a variety of aspects from home renovation (Cieraad 1999) and practices of housework and home-making (Pink 2004) to media and ICT usages (Tacchi 2002, 2012) and domestic possessions (Miller 2001, 2008) – is an established corpus of work that can be very helpful in looking at the meanings and makings of domesticity. Here, I take instead a literal step outside the home to look at some features of listed buildings, such as pargeted walls and original windows, in relation to ideas about morality in English middle-class thought (Strathern 1992), ethical practice (Foucault 1990, 2000) and approaches to time and history. In order to do this, I mostly draw on ethnographic material that was not directly related to my research on energy demand, but which emerged from everyday life in and around my field site.

On ‘Keeping’ Character Houses

In the countryside of Essex, we are doing what could be called ‘pargeting spotting’.2 Michael is driving, Cath is in charge of the camera and I am their guest. We drive through old villages situated far from the main roads – the harder to reach, the more of a valuable find they are; we stop to walk the alleys, and I join Cath in taking photos of thatched houses, with teddy-bears or porcelain figures displayed in their front-room windows; we have drinks in small dark pubs with low wooden beams, where Michael and I have to mind our heads when stepping in and out of the doors. On Saturdays and Sundays, we may be the only visitors who do not have a relative or friend living in these villages; who take photos of the outside walls, decorated with plastered patterns, of houses owned by strangers. Cath and Michael do not feel like intruders: they are with me, an international student whom they are hosting through a hospitality network, and they are aiming to show me a set of authentic and special features of Essex.

In the car, we pass a yellow-painted house which looks recently renovated. Cath has spotted it before, but she has never managed to take a photo of the pargeted wall displaying a stork shape surrounded by geometrical patterns. This is because the house is situated on the main road, on the outskirts of the village, with no pavement in front, but with a tall hedge instead. It looks more private than the houses in the village centre with their decorated front windows that make bystanders feel free to take a photo. Cath asks Michael to stop around the corner, and she crosses the street to get in front of the house. We wait in the car, with the engine on. She comes back in a rush, huffing and puffing, and she asks Michael to start the car. As we drive, she excitedly checks the photo on her camera, laughing, proud of her courage. Later in the evening, at home, she prints the picture and sticks it in her handmade photo album, together with other photos she took that day.

I first met Cath and Michael in 2011 when I applied to a national hospitality programme run through universities and which aimed to pair international students with British families who would host them for a weekend. While the guests need to be registered at UK universities in order to apply – so they are a specific type of temporary migrant who pays tuition fees – the hosts are encouraged to provide an authentic British experience: to show their guests the special features of their locality and to home cook for them authentic dishes. The students pay a small fee in order to enrol in the project and, after their visit, they are emailed a feedback form and asked to rate their experience and their hosts. After my first visit I stayed in touch with the couple, and they invited me to visit them again and again, informally – outside the framework of the programme – as a friend. In their early seventies and retired, they have hosted many students from all over the world through this scheme, sometimes for Christmas and New Year’s Eve. With some of their guests, such as myself, they formed long-term relationships and have made reciprocal visits. They travelled to China to stay with some of the students they had previously hosted, and one year they came to visit my parents in France for a week over Easter. Each time I visited them, over the course of four years, they always had a plan for weekend activities and places to visit: the highlights of their recent discoveries that they thought I would be interested in. They only moved to the city of Chelmsford a decade ago, for its proximity to London, where Michael was still working at the time, and for the surrounding countryside. They did not have children and their extended family lived in other parts of the country. During the week, Cath taught English grammar in their kitchen to pupils preparing for their GCSE exams. They regularly took part in volunteering activities organized by their church, such as Street Pastors and the running of a food bank. On weekends, they enjoyed exploring the countryside and discovering the hidden treasures of Essex, and they sometimes went cycling or canoeing.

More than once during our village house-spotting trips, when insisting on taking photos of me in what they called a ‘chocolate-box picture’ setting, or when feeling charmed by the perfection and delicacy of a round-shaped flowering shrub against a blue-painted front door in the late-afternoon sunlight, Cath and Michael admitted that they would love to live in a house like that: a house proudly displaying a front plate with the year of its construction – generally between 1500 and 1750; a house with a thatched roof and clay walls; a cottage bent by the years in a cute toy-like shape, with a cat lingering on the window sill. They chose to live in the city instead because they had easier access to the places they thought they might need more often in the years to come, such as their doctor’s surgery and the hospital. From their detached house, part of a new residential development, there were good bus services to the doctor, to the shops and to the church, and they would rely on public transport when driving the car might become too difficult. They were happy to do sightseeing in the daytime, to get immersed in the aesthetic of the picturesque, and come back in the evening to their warm and comfortable house where their own two cats would welcome them, and where their blooming hanging baskets looked quite attractive against the redbrick wall and the double-glazed front door.

In my research on domestic energy demand, I often came across an apparent dichotomy between retrofitting and keeping what were perceived to be older, original or ‘character’ features of a house. Homeowners usually navigated between the two poles, of living in a new-built energy-efficient house, or of living in a property with character features, such as stained-glass windows, intricate brickwork and high ceilings. The householders choosing the latter option found it technically and aesthetically complicated to make energy-saving improvements to their houses. One important technical barrier is the fact that existing wall insulation techniques cannot be implemented in solid-walled houses. Appreciation of the character features of a house, together with a sense of responsibility for keeping them unaltered, were often at odds with the need to keep the house warm in winter. For example, living in a property with an original stained-glass front door meant that creative solutions to deal with the cold air leaking in around it had to be found, such as using a thermal curtain instead of replacing the door with a more energy-efficient product. Research shows that windows, in particular, were a feature that owners of a character house did not want to replace with PVC double-glazed products, valuing the look of the original glass and frames (Mallaband et al. 2013).

The retrofit versus character dichotomy is an example of the way in which the relation between continuity and change is played out among the English middle class, where tradition is regarded as threatened by innovation (Strathern 1992). By keeping the original features of their properties unaltered, homeowners contribute to an apparent continuity of tradition. Their efforts are appreciated by tourists and pilgrims like Cath, Michael and myself, and they are supported by the existing legislation on heritage protection in the UK that does not allow the alteration of structures placed on the Statutory List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historical Interest, known as ‘listed buildings’.3 However, the stained-glass front-door feature described above was not part of a listed building, so it was not a matter of legislation but of the homeowners’ choice to keep it. What the list does, therefore, is not merely protect specific houses from being altered, but also suggest how plenty of other houses – which, in the future, could become listed – should be kept by their responsible owners. The list thus gives weight to a specific set of cultural values associated with ‘keeping’ buildings in a particular state by transforming these into law. Householders living in character houses that were not listed explained that they wanted to ensure their property was ‘in keeping’ with neighbouring listed houses or with houses ‘from its era’ (Mallaband et al. 2013: 195), even if they did not have the legal obligation to do so. The relation between continuity and change is described here as ‘keeping’ versus change, which suggests the agency of the keeper in making continuity.

Morality and/ as Tradition

During one of my visits to Cath and Michael’s, they take me with them to a prearranged meeting with the new regional coordinator of the hospitality network. We meet her in the coffee shop of a garden centre. She is excited to meet them, as they are the star hosts of the area; and they are pleased to bring me along and share the story of our relationship, recounting my numerous visits and their trip to France. We talk about what I have seen of Essex so far, and they exchange tips about good places to show to international students that other hosts in the network have already successfully tried. The coordinator then invites us to visit a listed house that her son has recently bought in a nearby village, explaining how to get there and where to find the entrance key; after our visit, she is going to mention the place to other hosts who live in the area. She reveals that the house was previously used for hoarding goods, and that her son had to take out tons of old papers, books and other old material in order to be able to get in and move around. Cath and Michael are intrigued, and we go to visit it in the afternoon.

Built in the 1600s, the cottage is in disrepair and it does not feel safe to go inside. Nevertheless, we go in to explore it and take photos. It feels dark, small and low-ceilinged; the walls are bent and the floors creak. I am not sure if I am more afraid of meeting a colony of mice or a ghost. We go upstairs by climbing a narrow stairway and we climb down a different one, equally narrow. The windows are the size of a compact car’s side windows. On the kitchen table there is a visitors’ register where we are asked to fill in the date of our visit, for insurance purposes. We leave and explore the rest of the village, which looks picturesque like the other villages in the area. At home, after dinner, when looking at the photos from the day, Cath tells me that she did not like the house and that it gave her the creeps. She cannot understand why the coordinator’s son wanted to buy it, unless it was very cheap and he was waiting for it to fall down by itself, because otherwise it would be very complicated and expensive to restore. A few months after my visit, in an email exchange, Cath lets me know that the house had indeed fallen down.

This was a listed building, apparently displaying history and craftsmanship as much as the ‘chocolate-box’, well-maintained cottages that we admired in the nearby villages. But none of us would have liked to live there; we were not inspired by the visit, and Cath did not want to print any pictures of the house afterwards for her photo album. What was it then that we admired and collected during our village trips? It was not historical artefacts per se in which we found inspiration, but the creative ways in which homeowners maintained the seemingly ‘original’ features of their properties. The recently renovated outside wall displaying the stork pargeting of which Cath took a photo was a visible sign of human activity orientated towards ‘keeping’ and ‘tradition’ that the house displayed, while bringing in a contemporary element: the fresh paint. As the derelict house had not been ‘kept’ by its inhabitants in the same way, it was telling a different story, one that was more strange and disheartening than familiar.

But to what tradition exactly do well-maintained cottages, as opposed to non-maintained ones, make reference? For Cath and Michael, it was self-evident that the ‘chocolate-box’ aesthetic was expressing something authentic about Essex – something that they wanted to share with their international student guest. Cottages decorate the UK’s scenery and are regarded as markers of the past that need to be protected and listed, whereas in my native country, Romania, only public buildings and monuments would be regarded in this manner. The former are expected to say something about English values, and what exactly they are saying is assumed to emerge from their visual and material characteristics; their presence is soothing and convincing for people like Cath, Michael and myself – but it is not clear what they need to convince us of.

Looking at middle-class English culture in what she refers to as the modern epoch, Marilyn Strathern draws a parallel between a preoccupation with self-cultivation, through which ‘persons made what lay within an explicit object of improvement’ (1992: 101–2), and the emerging popularity of domestic designs inspired by rural buildings that incorporated a relation with nature and natural elements, such as cottages. This is a process of turning the inside out, where ‘the internal (what is within persons) has been literalized as an interior (residential) space’ (ibid.: 103). An idea of domestic harmony is, thus, externalized in the shape of a cottage. An ‘abode of morality’ (ibid.: 117), the cottage becomes infused with ‘a domestic glow suggestive of an earlier and better world of decency and honesty’ (Howkins 2014 [1987]: 73, cited in Strathern 1992: 117). When we stop to take photos of a character house, one of the things that Cath and Michael’s tour thus encompasses is a specific morality related to domesticity and kinship relationships. Moreover, in their role as cultural mediators – who are required to show and explain features of Englishness to an international student – they are showing me a morality that might appear always to have been there, part of the tradition that continues alongside cottages, and that homeowners take the responsibility to help maintain by keeping the original features of their houses unaltered.

There is no danger if newly built double-glazed houses coexist with old cottages, as long as the latter continue to provide inspiration for the former type of building – through round-shaped shrubs and hanging baskets that can be incorporated in any front garden to express an ideal of domestic harmony. Cath and Michael adopted these elements along with others, such as keeping a miniature pond in their back garden. About their new-build, detached house, Cath says that she was seduced by the small living room, different from modern open-plan lounges that she disliked. Their living room could only fit a two-seat sofa, two chairs, a TV stand and a coffee table around the fireplace; for Cath, this was a cosy and non-modern setting that made her feel relaxed and at home. The visual and atmospheric elements connected to a cottage aesthetic made their house feel less modern and ‘new’ than its actual age. New-build and character houses do not have to be regarded as antagonistic, but only as expressing different degrees of ‘cottage-ness’: while retrofitted houses can make up for their newness through interior design4 or landscaped garden features, character houses have inbuilt cottage features that homeowners commit to maintaining – which is often more complicated and expensive than retrofitting. Installing home improvements and maintaining the original features of one’s house are both techniques of ‘keeping’, of looking after one’s house as a way of looking towards the ideal of domestic harmony. Activities related to ‘keeping’ can be regarded as ethical practices: they are everyday attempts at enacting a specific morality through affirming at once its past, present and future. Negligence of the historical inheritance of a building, on the other hand, can translate into the appearance of dereliction, a denial of any ideal of domestic harmony and of the morality of tradition and of the past.

I propose to regard cottages as ‘examples’, in the sense used by Robbins (2015). Following the work of the philosopher Alessandro Ferrara (2008), who introduces the idea of ‘examples’ as mediating between ‘fact’ and ‘value’, or between the real and the ideal, Robbins defines example as ‘a cultural form that realizes a specific value to the fullest extent possible’ (Robbins 2015: 18). Robbins shows that some rituals of the Urapmin in Papua New Guinea function as examples, in the sense that they fully realize specific values, while other rituals fail to become examples, as they do not realize any specific values in a complete way. Moving from rituals to buildings, I argue that cottages can be regarded as examples in this sense, as they materialize values of domesticity, tradition and harmony to a full extent. Old villages known for their well-maintained cottages become, therefore, places of secular pilgrimage where people go to find inspiration for their own attempts to reach domestic harmony. Furthermore, the existence of old cottages is expected to demonstrate that this ideal is itself old and traditional, and that history, generally, has unfolded by following such moral principles.

Multitemporality versus history

When ‘kept’, character houses are not merely historical artefacts. They are taken aside from a linearity of history by being made into multitemporal assemblages. The thermal curtain, the fresh paint, are contemporaneities that accompany old features and make them last, enabling their oldness. Similarly, the miniature pond and the cosiness of the living room as non-modern, visual and atmospheric elements are juxtaposed with the contemporaneity of a new-build house, creating a multitemporal assemblage. Besides the appreciation of tradition, in the act of ‘keeping’ there is an important orientation towards the future: maintenance is a form of work that aims at making cottages endure – making their future possible – and this has some similarity with the practices aimed at giving endurance and permanence described by Ringel (2014 and this issue). The multitemporality of cottages takes future, material endurance to be proof of the morality of the past. The derelict house that I visited with Cath and Michael was disconcerting because it did not endure, making it possible to question a view of the past as a world of decency and honesty. Making multitemporality with listed buildings can be regarded, therefore, as a form of time-tricking, a tricking of the linearity of history.

In writing about domesticity and modernity, Judy Giles argues that ‘empire building’ offered men a chance to escape domesticity and live a life of adventure and exploration instead: ‘One way, at least in Britain, of escaping domesticity was through the idea of Empire. Conceived as an all-male project; a fantasy world of undomesticated freedom and adventure with “not a petticoat in the whole history”, Empire building offered a generation of young men opportunities to avoid the settled domestic existence’ (Giles 2004: 14). Domesticity and empire building are regarded here as two poles of life that once expressed opposing values that one could choose between. This opposition is not incidental. During longer chats in their living room, Cath and Michael expressed their disapproval about some of the ways in which the British Empire was built, about Britain’s involvement in the slave trade, about the extraction of natural resources from colonized territories. Michael was passionate about history and vocal in his opinions. Cath took upon herself a form of postcolonial guilt when, in her thirties, she spent several years in Tanzania working at a school as an English teacher. She is proud to share with me that some of her former students, now adults and living around the world, still contact her to let her know about the achievements that they partly attribute to the inspiration and knowledge she provided. Cath and Michael have sponsored several children from the Global South through various charities and foundations; they wanted to ‘give something back’ since they had been lucky enough to live in relatively stable economic conditions, and they volunteered for numerous programmes and activities run through their church. All this they did with an awareness of colonial and postcolonial history. Their admiration of well-maintained cottages, therefore, did not accompany any denial of history. Quite the contrary. In relation to domesticity, tradition and cultural specificity were regarded as something different from, and parallel to, history. In their role as hosts, Cath and Michael were asked to provide an authentic British experience – to show me what was distinctive about cultural understandings and values – and not a lesson in British history, which any international student might be able to find by going to a university library. Taking further what Giles (ibid.) regards as a dichotomy between domesticity and empire building, one could argue that for Cath and Michael the two concepts are not merely polar opposites but different paths. Well-maintained cottages are not part of a linear history made of a series of events: by being made into multitemporal assemblages, they are ahistorical. The innocent prettiness of thatched cottages that Cath and Michael admire and collect, therefore, shows – and perhaps needs to show – that the reality of colonial history cannot contradict the reality of an enduring morality based on the values of domestic harmony, honesty and decency. Both realities are equally true, and ‘partially connected’ (Strathern 2004).

In response to the cultural understandings associated with domesticity that energy researchers sometimes acknowledge – and that I mentioned at the outset – I will use a different quotation: ‘The ancestral home is dear to all men, if he can enjoy there in his house whatever is right and proper in continual prosperity’ (Johnson 1999: 9). Extracted from a new translation of the Old English Rune Poem, this line describes the rune Epel, which refers to property, family and home. There are multiple temporal tropes in this: ancestral, continual, new, old. While the moral code is regarded as prone to change in this verse – ‘whatever is right and proper’ can differ with the times – home is stable and ancestral. The morality embodied in the home is beyond what happens outside, in the wider world, where empires rise and fall and what is considered right and proper changes. Through multitemporality, domesticity acquires a mythical quality: a morality that the changes brought by history cannot alter.

The house that gets demolished from the inside in Graham Greene’s story had been visibly touched by history. The marks of Second World War-bombing were clear on the outside. Despite the original features that endured inside – the eighteenth-century staircase and wall panels – the house had lost its multitemporal character through its upfront and ineffaceable encounter with an event that is a known part of linear history. The house had to be demolished, its lost multitemporality too hard to bear, as in the derelict cottage visited by Cath and Michael. It cannot counterbalance linear history and becomes fatally part of it.

Time Trickery and Ethical Practice

Foucault’s work on ethical practice (Foucault 1990, 2000) and recent work in the anthropology of ethics (Faubion 2011; Laidlaw 2014) can be used to argue for a temporal orientation towards the future. For Foucault, ethical analysis is a practice of freedom and a mode of reflexive self-formation. As Faubion remarks, Foucault’s approach to practice gives a privileged place to change and, importantly, provides ‘analytical space for attention to the subject’s capacity to change itself’ (Faubion 2011: 46). This change is continuous, as it emerges with every instance of ethical work, but its orientation is towards the future – towards one of the four parameters of the ethical field that Foucault calls the telos. The telos here represents the mode of being, or the kind of being, that the ethical subject aspires to. In performing ethical work, therefore, one attempts to look towards one’s future self.

In making multitemporality in, and with, ‘character’ houses – as a form of time-tricking and as an ethical practice - the telos is not just a mode of being based on values of domestic harmony, honesty and decency. It is the possibility of demonstrating in the future, through keeping the house’s character and achieving endurance, that this mode of being has always been the telos. Trickery in acting upon the linear temporal framework of history, therefore, does not defy ethical work, the telos of which emerges through making multitemporality.

While listed buildings and character houses are necessary for this form of ethical practice to continue, their maintenance is costly in terms of energy demand. If a demolition project such as that advocated by Greene, as well as by Boardman (2008), is to be pursued, perhaps new modalities for performing ethical work in a postcolonial context will need to be acknowledged and adopted. This might mean rendering strange the saying that ‘the Englishman’s home is his castle’: castles are damp, cold and echo, and they embody social inequalities – why would anybody want to turn their home into a castle?

Acknowledgements

This research was conducted as part of the Low Effort Energy Demand Reduction (LEEDR) project, and I am grateful to the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) for their funding (grant number EP/I000267/1).

Notes
1

Graham Greene, ‘The Destructors’ (1954). In Twenty-one Stories, 7–23. London: Penguin Books, 1970.

2

Pargeting is a form of decorative plasterwork used on the outside walls of buildings; decorations usually involve, or combine, geometrical patterns and/or botanical motifs. The revival of interest in pargeting, which today is mainly associated with East Anglia, means that new work is being commissioned, alongside the restoration of existing pargeting (Buxbaum 2007).

3

Most buildings in England constructed before 1840 are listed, as well as some buildings that were built between 1840 and 1945. See <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Listed_building> (accessed 3 March 2016).

4

See Miller (1988) for a discussion of nostalgia in relation to fitted-kitchen design.

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  • SovacoolB.K. 2014. What Are We Doing Here? Analyzing Fifteen Years of Energy Scholarship and Proposing a Social Science Research Agenda. Energy Research and Social Science 1: 129.

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  • TacchiJ. 2012. Radio in the (i)Home: Changing Experiences of Domestic Audio Technologies in Britain. In Radio Fields: Anthropology and Wireless Sound in the Twenty-First Century (ed.) L. Bessier & D. Fisher23349. New York: New York University Press.

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  • WilhiteH. 2005. Why Energy Needs Anthropology. Anthropology Today 21(3): 12.

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Contributor Notes

Roxana Moroşanu completed her PhD at Loughborough University in 2014. She is the author of An Ethnography of Household Energy Demand in the UK: Everyday Temporalities of Digital Media Usage (Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming).

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  • SerresM. & B. Latour. 1995. Conversations on Science Culture and Time. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

  • SovacoolB.K. 2014. What Are We Doing Here? Analyzing Fifteen Years of Energy Scholarship and Proposing a Social Science Research Agenda. Energy Research and Social Science 1: 129.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • StrathernM. 1992. After Nature: English Kinship in the Late Twentieth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • TacchiJ. 2012. Radio in the (i)Home: Changing Experiences of Domestic Audio Technologies in Britain. In Radio Fields: Anthropology and Wireless Sound in the Twenty-First Century (ed.) L. Bessier & D. Fisher23349. New York: New York University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • WilhiteH. 2005. Why Energy Needs Anthropology. Anthropology Today 21(3): 12.

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