We’ve established how home can exist at multiple scales, and we’ve seen several examples of how home can be upscaled to refer to the nation (e.g., “at home” vs. “abroad,” and the use of homeland in geopolitical contexts). Now we want to turn our attention to the concept of domicide.
Coined by Porteous and Smith in their book Domicide: The global destruction of home, they define domicide as
the deliberate destruction of home by human agency in pursuit of specified goals, which causes suffering to the victims. In addition, we specify that the human agency is usually external to the home area, that some form of planning is often involved, and that the rhetoric of public interest or common good is frequently used by the perpetrators. (Porteous & Smith, 2001, p. 12)
So, domicide involves the deliberate and planned destruction of one or more homes to cause suffering to people in a move that is often presented as being for the common good.
Domicide is so effective, they argue, because “place is meaningful to people, and that the place called home is the most meaningful of all” (Porteous & Smith, 2001, p. 6). What’s more, Porteous and Smith recognize from the outset that home is multiscalar: “home is not simply one’s dwelling, but can also be one’s homeland or native region” (Porteous & Smith, 2001, p. 6).
They note that while domicide often happens in the course of war, it can also happen in everyday contexts, though often at a more localized scale. Initiatives that carry the weight of the law (or the right of eminent domain) behind them, such as urban redevelopment, economic restructuring, the creation of new infrastructure such as roads and airports (but also dams, reservoirs, or Olympic stadiums), and even the creation of national parks, can result in domicide. This may be a less violent or extreme form of domicide than what we see in wartime contexts, but it is domicide all the same.
The effects of domicide can be devastating. Beyond depriving someone of a place to live, domicide has a variety of potential consequences that strike at the intangible and psychological:
the destruction of a place of attachment and refuge; loss of security and ownership; restrictions on freedom; partial loss of identity; and a radical de-centring from place, family, and community. There may be a loss of historical connection; a weakening of roots; and partial erasure of the sources of memory, dreams, nostalgia, and ideals. If home has multiple, complex meanings that are interwoven, then so does domicide. (Porteous & Smith, 2001, p. 63)
Thus domicide can be a powerful tool, or a powerful weapon — one that knows no geographic limits. There have been examples of domicide throughout the world, from the destruction of separatist Eritrean villages in the early 1960s in Ethiopia, to the redevelopment of Shanghai between the late 1980s and the early 2000s. The United States itself is no stranger to domicide, especially for marginalized communities. Fullilove (2004) documents case studies in Black neighborhoods in three US cities where urban renewal resulted in domicide (though she never uses the term), and domicide via the mass removal of Native Americans from their ancestral lands to reservations in the 19th century is a major part of US history (see, e.g., Porteous & Smith, 2001, pp. 77-80).
As you can imagine, like home, domicide is something that can unfold at a range of scales — from a single dwelling to an entire ethnic homeland. Think back to the two pieces of art we mentioned in section 10.3. In the second (“English Homes in India”), we see an example where the threat of domicide for a single home can be interpreted as a threat against the nation itself.
In the reading by Ó Tuathail and Dahlman (2006), we see domicide as a central part of the ethnic cleansing perpetrated against Bosnian Muslims during the Bosnian War in the 1990s. In their assessment of domicide, they note that the destruction of home extended beyond houses and into communities. In this context, the destruction of home was linked directly to the desire to create a pure ethnoreligious homeland; there is a kind of twisted scalar inversion in which the attempt to create a (broad-scale) homeland meant destroying other’s homes at the scale of the building and the community.
Yet this is just one interpretation with regard to home and scale in an instance of domicide. The Bosnian War and the centuries of history that preceded it are intricate and complex, and the post-domicide results have proven to be equally so. As you read Ó Tuathail and Dahlman, pay close attention to the ways that home and scale interact — but also to the ways that cultural landscapes, identity, nationalism, and mobility tie into these for both pre- and post-domicide Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Ó Tuathail, G., and Dahlman, C. (2006). Post-domicide Bosnia and Herzegovina: Homes, homelands and one million returns. International Peacekeeping, 13(2), 242-260.
Bell-Fialkoff, A. (1993). A brief history of ethnic cleansing. Foreign Affairs, 72(3), 110-121.
Black, R. (2002). Conceptions of ‘home’ and the political geography of refugee repatriation: Between assumption and contested reality in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Applied Geography, 22(2), 123-138.
Sells, M. A. (1996). The bridge betrayed: Religion and genocide in Bosnia. University of California Press.
Porteous, D., and Smith, S. E. (2001). Domicide: The global destruction of home. McGill-Queen's University Press, 2001.
Fullilove, M. T. (2004). Root shock: How tearing up city neighborhoods hurts America, and what we can do about it. One World.