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SIEF2017 13th Congress: Göttingen, Germany
26-30 March 2017

Theme: Ways of Dwelling: Crisis - Craft - Creativity

To have a roof over your head, keep house, feel at home, settle down, hang up your hat, put down roots – we use many phrases to mark different ways of dwelling. We can rent or own, squat, build, remodel, we can be hosted, institutionalized, interned; we can reside firmly in place or make a home on wheels or water. Some live in luxury, others flee and find temporary refuge in tents or in the protection that rocks, trees or other bodies provide, carrying with them shards of memories of home in sites ravaged by war or catastrophe. History and present illustrate time and again that dwelling contains its opposite: inhabitants turn into refugees, habitus gives way to improvisation.

We invite ethnologists, folklorists and scholars in related fields to look afresh at classic topics in our fields’ history -- from craft to house, from narrative to ritual, from homelands to home-work – and uncover the rich opportunities in looking at central areas of present-day research through the lens of dwelling. How are the challenges occasioned by ever changing understandings of good, efficient, economical, compatible, or ecological homes intertwined with questions of building and safety, hospitality and boundary-drawing, ownership and sharing? How do craftsmen and designers, architects, planners and policy makers maintain and transform urban spaces and the countryside? What kinds of co-operations and oppositions emerge between the planned and the do-it-yourself search for adequate housing?  How does heritage interact with notions of home and belonging, with past structures and ways of life brought into the present? How are these represented in the museum and the archive? How is dwelling marked from daily repasts to ritual feasting?

Home is a place of proliferating imaginations, an object of conflicting desires and constant shortcomings, of valuations that range from the domestic to the political, from the religious to real estate. Narrating in word and image is a powerful way to evoke dwellings that once were as well as homes that might or should be. Stories may reveal homes as a space of instability and violence – from the enslaved fairytale figure to the personal narratives of victims of domestic abuse. From oral, printed to mass mediated entertainment the home oscillates between the haunted and idyllic, a zone at once of comfort and ennui. Desires to flee from home and live differently generate narratives questioning the ways we think we should live and dwell, and striving for innovation from the ethical to the material. Old stories can be partnered with new ones, inspire ethnographies of ways of dwelling as well as co-operations with dreamers and creators drafting and building concrete alternative options.

Dwelling is a verb as well as a noun. It captures the home and its making, the material and immaterial along with the knowledge and practices needed to craft and experience space and place. Dwelling is a set of embodied skills -- social and physical, creative and critical -- that bring forth landscape. That landscape, in turn, is a product of how others, including non-humans, have dwelt. To dwell is to make sense of the world with the body, the head and the heart, turning place into home, however temporary.

Historically, the fusion of home with nation has been a winning proposal -- and a losing game. Home is a relational concept; it shelters some and excludes others. In the transition from finding to living in hovel, house, or mansion, boundaries are drawn between inside and outside, gendered spheres of activity arise, solidify or are challenged over time and manifest in countless commodities attesting to lifestyle and its aesthetic expression. All of which may be destroyed in one air strike or one tsunami. 

The 13th SIEF congress opened up to investigation the myriad ways of dwelling. Delegates were invited to join this conversation, deepen it fruitfully for our disciplines and explore cooperation with areas of practice and art, present their research, listen, debate, and work out differences, hatch projects, and cultivate friendships within the professional dwelling space of the congress and the scholarly society.

The local Göttingen congress team was composed of staff and students of the Institute of Cultural Anthropology/European Ethnology at Göttingen University and colleagues in further departments; the institute also trains in visual anthropology and thus the theme also attracted a variety of audiovisual formats.