Changing Spaces: What Does 'Home' Mean for Us Under COVID-19?

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Along with the health, economic and political consequences that have come along with the global COVID-19 pandemic have been an array of behavioral and social changes that could have long-lasting impacts far past the pandemic. 

Talking to Helen Rizzo, associate professor of sociology, and Noha Fikry, adjunct professor in the Department of Sociology, Egyptology and Anthropology, the two emphasized the point that the concept of “home” has taken on an entirely different meaning. 

What we are usually used to hearing are the romanticized notions of home as ‘a comfort zone’ or ‘where love is’ and sentimental claims of that sort,” Fikry said, “but now how does that space morph when you are forced (by the state and the family) to stay in there, but also remain productive?” 

People are still trying to navigate this new space as our work and family lives become intertwined, Fikry said. 

And this experience is drastically different from person to person. 

“For some families, it’s been an oppotunity for them to spend more time with each other and do more activities like game nights and cooking, and that aspect is a positive one, of course,” Rizzo said. “In families where relationships were already strained, or even worse if there's violence, that means survivors might be with their perpetrator 24 hours a day.” 

This new proximity to family is allowing for people to navigate family relations and even “de-romanticize” them, according to Fikry.

Being forced to spend entire days and weeks together without it being so much a choice is challenging to most of us,” Fikry said. “Some people are rediscovering their family members, others are trying to find ways to show love while maintaining their privacy, while others are counting down to stepping outside the home once and for all.”

Apart from navigating family relations, staying home has sparked behavioral changes in people as well. 

Fikry noted that people are trying to self-discipline during this time. This could mean anything from sticking to your workout routine despite gyms being closed, making sure that you’re not working from bed or doing anything else to recreate your outdoor routine indoors. 

“What is really common in almost all narratives is that we are all trying to create new habits or sustain old ones while staying at home,” Fikry explained. “People have mostly been struggling with instilling new routines, but I believe it’s gradually taking place, and we are all managing to stay somewhat sane during these difficult times.”

Additionally, missing human interaction with friends and some family members along with the uncertainty of resuming life as it was can have a toll on people. 

“The stress of not knowing what’s going to happen and when will we go back to normal will always be in the back of our heads,” Rizzo said. “And even when we go back, “there is this recognition of ‘ok we will have to wear masks; we will still have to maintain social distancing and keep everything clean.’ That’s going to be with us for a while,” she added.

The way coronavirus has affected people within their homes is also dependent on matters beyond an individual’s control. 

Fikry described this pandemic as a “wake-up call,” shedding light on the socioeconomic inequalities present in countries around the world and on the privileges that people might be taking for granted. These inequalities include access to health care, the ability to work from home, and access to information and educational resources. 

“Those whose work never granted them health care, health insurance or any kind of overall contractual stability are those suffering the most,” Fikry said. 

“I hope people have come to realize that health care is a right and not a privilege,” Rizzo added.

Being able to work from home is itself a privilege, Rizzo said, as people who aren’t afforded the luxury of doing so are forced to put their lives and the lives of their loved ones at risk in order to make ends meet at home. 

Internet access has been a major factor when it comes to analyzing inequities in society as well. Not only does it determine access to education, said Rizzo, but access to information that can help you take proper precautions against COVID-19. 

“I have friends who are teachers in the United States, and they said that some of their students have just disappeared from the online classroom,” she said.  

This is again a harsh reminder of our privilege,” Fikry said, speaking about internet access. “Those who can’t afford a day-time of Zoom meetings and a night-time of TikTok videos are experiencing lockdown on harsher levels.”

Both Rizzo and Fikry expressed their hopes for change spurring out of this unprecedented time, whether it be change made in health care and work policies or changes in people’s behavior and relationships. 

“Hopefully, for some people, this has been an opportunity to think about what’s important in life,” Rizzo said, “and I hope we see conversations about supporting workers who don’t have regular employment and making sure they’re safe and secure.”