Shrinking domesticities: towards a global research agenda on urban micro-living

Dr Mel Nowicki, Dr Ella Harris, and Tim White

Funding period: 1 January 2022 – 1 July 2022
Type of funding: Seminar Series

Host institutions:Oxford Brookes University (UK), University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa), The University of Tokyo (Japan), and Universidad de Buenos Aires (Argentina)
Dates: January 2022 (Johannesburg), March 2022 (Tokyo), and May 2022 (Buenos Aires)
Lead organisers: Dr Mel Nowicki (Oxford Brookes University), Dr Ella Harris (Birkbeck, University of London), and Tim White (LSE)
Team members:Dr Margot Rubin (University of the Witwatersrand), Dr Yasushi Sukenari (The University of Tokyo), and Dr Mercedes Di Virgilio (Universidad de Buenos Aires)
Contact: Dr Mel Nowicki

Abstract: In cities across the world, small spaces are becoming big business. From co-living developments to micro-apartments, there is a growing urban trend for housing models that shrink private living space. Our work seeks to critically examine shrinking domestic space in the context of neoliberal capitalism, whereby shrinking living space is repackaged as an aspirational urban lifestyle rather than the consequence of diminishing choice. In particular, we have observed a significant gap in urban studies that critically explores the issue of shrinking domestic space outside of the Western European, US and Australian context. The core purpose of this seminar series therefore is to expand discussion on urban shrinking domesticities beyond the Western context, with an eye to developing a global research agenda on the topic. We will run seminars in Johannesburg, Tokyo, and Buenos Aires bringing together scholars researching micro-living across sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia, and South America. These will open the space for examining the relationship between different iterations of shrinking domesticities–especially those that are market or state driven versus those that are autonomous or citizen-led. In Johannesburg and Buenos Aires in particular, new real estate concepts framing micro apartments as aspirational are emerging while nearby informal iterations are being systematically disinvested, de-legitimised and marginalised. In Tokyo, in contrast, micro-living has an extensive cultural history, and is arguably where much of the idealised imaginary of small living space in anglophone countries stems from. Through these three seminars, and a final virtual plenary bringing participants from each region together, this series will contribute to the international literature across geography, sociology, urban studies, housing studies, architecture and planning, in addition to incorporating early career researcher training and policy outreach activities.