Motels, Mothering and Mobility: Finding the Meaning of “Home” in a Neoliberal Era

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 09:00
Oral Presentation
Melinda VANDENBELD GILES, University of Toronto, Canada
The “home” is imagined, according to western industrialized history, as the place of “refuge,” the site of the “domestic,” the private sphere of “home-making” and child-rearing. The “home” is thus conceptualized as a private, feminine, static, normative space. In sharp contrast, according to modernist imaginaries, the “motel” is conceptualized as a public space, a counter-site, a place of transience, where the normative social obligations of the modernist era could be superseded within the bland banality of the motel rooms’ four white walls. A “motel” is a liminal space. No longer a public space of happy family frolicking, as it was positioned from the 1920s to early 1950s in conjunction with auto-oriented Sunday afternoon drives, nor a mobile space of affluent social networking as symbolized by the “hotel”, the “motel” has become a symbol of suburban modernist decay, marginality and gross inequality.

Given the pervasive home/motel dichotomous imagery, how did it become, in the late 1980s, “sensible” in North America for the state to house families in these very spaces of marginality? And how do families create “home” spaces in the places of these motels? Based on eight months of fieldwork spending time with mothers living with their children in a Toronto motel, I will discuss how these women understand “home” living long-term (some families up to two years) within such a transitory space.