9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN20 Qualitative Methods

2009-09-05 11:00:00 2009-09-05 12:30:00 Saturday, 5 September 11:00 - 12:30 Innovative Analysis Building II, B2.01

Housing, Materiality and Sociality - an investigation into the social topologies of the Danish single-family home

The emergence of the industrially produced single-family home in the 1960s and 70s completely altered the social and natural landscape of post-war Denmark, as it democratised access to home ownership for the masses. Through an historical analysis of this phase of transition using archival sources, the paper aims at demonstrating the methodological importance of analysing the social and the material symmetrically in order to illuminate the complex socio-material processes that led to the formation of a particular figuration between home-owning middle classes and the Danish welfare state. It is argued that the specific case of the modern single-family home should not be seen in isolation; on the contrary it poses a challenge to social enquiry and modes of explanation as it emphasises the roles of materiality, space and place in the formation of the social.
To undertake such analysis, the paper uses a topological methodology as a mode of investigating principles of space and distribution. Originally developed within Science and Technology Studies as a way of questioning the spatial presuppositions of social theory, this methodology has the advantage of remaining sensitive to the complexity and multiplicity of social relations as they are enacted in and with the material. Therefore, this approach is also highly relevant for research into the formation of societal structures as well as modes of agency.
The three topologies in the paper are the region, the network and the fluid, and they are to be seen as methodological devices for analysing the shifting relations between the social and the material. Hence, the region helps us analyse the creation of sameness and difference along the axes of inside and outside, while the network illuminates assemblages of heterogeneous actors stabilizing particular objects. Finally, the fluid topology opens up for an understanding of slow, incremental change in socio-material relations. These three methodological tools point to a renewed understanding of structure and agency in society as the topological analysis highlights the dynamic character of socio-material processes of formation, and in this way the paper raises methodological challenges to sociological enquiry.