GEOG 571
Intelligence Analysis, Cultural Geography, and Homeland Security

10.3 From home to homeland


As we noted in lesson 9 (section 5), one of the important developments that has emerged from critical inquiries of home is the understanding that home is not limited to the highly localized scale of the dwelling or household.

In your own experience, you might refer to a neighborhood, community, municipality, state, sub-national region, or country as home. For example, when traveling or being stationed overseas, you might broadly think about the United States as home; the cultural elements shared by states that are otherwise quite different (for example, Texas and New York) might be enough to evoke a sense of familiarity or homeliness. Or, when you’re visiting friends in another state or region within the United States, you might think of the state or region (e.g., the Midwest) where you live, broadly, as home. Within a state, you might consider a particular city home. Even within a city, you might consider a particular neighborhood as home, noting some important difference between ‘your’ neighborhood and other parts of town.

As you can see, even in our everyday lived experiences, home exists at multiple scales. We actively rescale our sense of home based on the circumstances in which we find ourselves relative to other people and places. When in conversation with others, it seems, the more common geographic ground we have with our conversation partner, the finer the scale at which we think about home. The reverse seems to hold for people who have less familiarity with our places: we tend to refer to home in broader ways.

But this — that is, individuals recasting home at a different scale in moments of self-identification — isn’t the only way that home is scaled or rescaled. Home can also be discursively rescaled by powerful actors such as governments, mass media, national or international organizations, or suprastate organizations (e.g., the European Union). We see rescalings of home in academic, professional, legal, political, artistic and governmental discourses alike.

For example, Blunt and Dowling (2006) present two pieces of 19th-century art depicting England as home. The first, a painting by George Elgar Hicks, is titled “The Sinews of Old England.” The image presents an idyllic and idealized portrait of domestic life in which the husband/father is clearly associated with things beyond the frame of the painting, while the wife/mother is focused on him. Behind her, the door to the cottage is open and items of daily use — cups, plates, and trays — are visibly displayed on the wall, marking the interior of the space as the wife/mother’s responsibility. The title of the painting and the scene depicted within it actively link the home to the nation. This painting provides an excellent example of Kaplan’s observation that the word domestic (in contrast to the word foreign) “has a double meaning that links the space of the familial household to that of the nation, by imagining both in opposition to everything outside the geographic and conceptual border of the home” (2003, p. 86).

A painting of three figures (husband, wife, and child) standing before a cottage. The husband holds a pickaxe over one shoulder and has his other arm around his wife. His gaze is focused on something outside the image. The wife regards her husband with an expression of adoration. The child, looking at the ground, holds the husband’s leg with one hand and a wooden shovel in the other.
Fig. 10.1: The Sinews of Old England, by George Elgar Hicks, 1857
Credit: Wikimedia Commons. This work is in the public domain. Creative commons public domain symbol

The second, also from 1857, is a wood engraving titled “English Homes in India,” which was originally published in Harper’s Weekly on 21 November of that year. You can see the wood engraving by visiting the Sarmaya Collections page or the  Granger Historical Picture Archive (you can click on the image to zoom in and pan around to see it in better detail). In the image, we see what looks like a sitting room in a Victorian English home, in which a woman sits on a divan, suckling an infant while a child sits beside her, reading an alphabet book. On the left side of the image, two swarthy men enter, one carrying a sword dripping blood and the other holding a blazing torch. Both bear menacing expressions. The image is a depiction of the Indian Mutiny of 1857-1858, which was an early rebellion by Indians against their colonizers. The image, as Blunt and Dowling argue, “depicts the vulnerability of English homes and families in the midst of a violent uprising” (2006, p. 142). It is not just the home itself, however, that is threatened here, but England’s colonial rule — and (from a nationalist perspective), England itself.

In both of the examples presented above, we see home upscaled in artistic depictions that reflect nationalist discourses: England-as-home is an idealized site of traditional gender roles; in this context, home without the presence of men is constructed as vulnerable to violent (and foreign) intrusion (that this “foreign” intrusion takes place in a colonial setting should is an irony that needs to be recognized here)

In this way, rhetoric or messaging that upscales home to the nation or country can be a rallying cry for nationalist expansion or a motivator for defense. Consider, for example, the litany of books dealing with international politics or homeland security that have the phrase “at home and abroad” in the title:

  • Thwarting enemies at home and abroad: How to be a counterintelligence officer (by William R. Johnson, 1987)
  • Terrorism: Political violence at home and abroad (by Ron Fridell, 2001)
  • Patriotism, democracy, and common sense: Restoring America's promise at home and abroad (edited by Alan Cutis, 2004)
  • Understanding anti-Americanism: Its origins and impact at home and abroad (edited by Paul Hollander, 2004)
  • The future of freedom: Illiberal democracy at home and abroad (by Fareed Zakaria, 2007)
  • State responses to human security at home and abroad (edited by Courtney Hillebrecht, Tyler R. White, and Patrice C. McMahon, 2014)
  • Undaunted: My fight against America's enemies, at home and abroad (by former CIA director John O. Brennan, 2020)
  • At home and abroad: The politics of American religion (edited by Elizabeth Shakman Hurd and Winnifred Fallers Sullivan, 2021)

We see similar upscalings, with similar implications, in geopolitical discourses. Consider, for example, the creation of the United States Department of Homeland Security, which was founded in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks. The department’s mission statement reads: “With honor and integrity, we will safeguard the American people, our homeland, and our values.” Notice here the use of homeland. This is an intentional upscaling: in conjunction with the rest of the statement, the term “homeland” combines the emotional force of home that you read about in Lesson 9 with the shared identity of the nation. The mission statement scales home upward to encompass both the nation (the American people) and the territory of the state.


Blunt, A., and Dowling, R. (2006). Home. Routledge.

Kaplan, A. (2003). Homeland insecurities: Some reflections on language and space. Radical History Review, 85, 82-93.