Theorizing the Ontology of ‘Home’ in Diaspora Imagination




Bhagabat Nayak

 Bhagabat Nayak is a Professor in the Department of English, Rajiv Gandhi University, Arunachal Pradesh.


            Theorizing is a process of building opinions, ideologies and hypotheses in the context of explanation, imagination and conceptualization. But in theoretical praxis ontology is the philosophical study of concepts which show how the properties of the concepts are directly related to being, becoming and understanding of concept in the subject area. Assessing the ontology of home in the understanding of theory offers the realisation of the place in its locatedness, personal knowledge, psychological necessity, and existential and imaginative practice. ‘Home’ offers space for rest, quietness, health and other requisites for living a life in happiness and for self development. The purpose of building or searching ‘home’ is a search for peace or rest that frames a formative influence on human life. ‘Home’ occupies the meaning and purpose of a ‘purer place’ where individual’s heart gets enshrined with love for its infrastructural design, conceptual dimensions and formative and nurturing influences. In diaspora imagination home becomes a metaphor and metonomy for the retrieval of individual’s past and search for solace in the romantic or nostalgic imagination. The paper is an attempt to make an analysis of ‘home’ as a living environment, identity, consolation and solace. In its analysis the paper raises some fundamental notions about home and highlights its Edenic dimension in the philosophical plasterings of the immortal marbles and mosaics of individuals’ domestic myth.


Key words:  performative, epistemological, anxiety, sensory, affiliation.


Theorizing is a catchword that brings the collapse of functionalist approach which involves the location and its environment for analysis. It is perceived that theorizing is different from theory on the ground that theory is a process of explanation on certain principles already built but theorising is a process of building. Theorizing ‘home’ involves an understanding, redefining and interpreting the concept of home as a process of discovery, personal nature, and relationship in thinking and discussion of one’s locatedness. The concept of ‘home’ does not simply deal with the meaning of an architectural design in making or imagining rather a safe place and a comfort zone where one spiritually, ethically, morally and intellectually grows, becomes, exists and gets oxygenized with emotion, feeling and sentiment. It makes one’s ontological attachment to members of the family, social group and wider society in solidarity and collectivity.

Home is the sheltering place of soul and a “site of the domicile” (Terkenli 327) for its pure and permanent locale. It provides almost all emotional and aesthetic primers to life when one feels repressed in his uncanny experience either nurturing narcissism of childhood or during the creeping horrors in life and consciousness. Alienation due to migration generates both physical and cultural distancing from native space, people and culture. Through the ages home has become the ‘centre’ in diaspora imagination. Home always remains a fixed point in human life.

The study of home as a physical, emotional and spiritual landscape has its origin in the great myths of the world. In Maharishi Valmiki’s The Ramayan Rama accepts his self exile after leaving his home and enjoys a diaspora life in forest. In his vairagya (detachment and renunciation) he nurtures the philosophy of home life. In Veda Vyasa’s The Mahabharat home becomes the cause of fraternal conflict, identity and existence. The Pandavas during their exile crave for this and after return claim the space for home from the Kauravas. In Homer’s Illiad Priam kidnaps Helen from Menelaus and the woman who becomes the symbol, honour and identity of a culture becomes the cause of the destruction of Troy, the home of the Greeks. During the Trojan War Odysseus had joined Agamemnon with other Greek heroes to siege Troy and to rescue Helen in Odyssey. His long absence had made him nostalgic for home for which he ended his epic adventure. In Virgil’s The Aeneid the legendary hero Aeneas, a Trojan, travels to Italy and establishes Rome as his home which was destroyed by the Greeks. In Milton’s Paradise Lost Adam and Eve are expelled from Home, the heaven for their First Disobedience but they fail to forget their eternal home. Every time in literary surface and poetic references the imagination of home becomes frequent in its sense of loss or displacement in unwanted way.

Home is vaguely defined or under-theorized in scholarly conventions and philosophical contexts of diaspora and expatriate studies. In subjective analysis it is a space to which individuals are involved in their belongingness and connectedness. In larger context, “The definition of home rests on a dynamic dialectical relationship between home and the outside, on which people build their everyday geographical understanding of the world” (Terkenli 328). In traditional sense home refers to the understanding of landholding, emotional connection to physical landscape and a safe place which is always “warm and positive” (Yuval-Davis 10). It is defined as the centre of culture, language and an instrument of social engineering for emotional attachment. A desire for home is enhanced by the presence of family and particularly of children. In Samkhya philosophy it deals with individual’s ‘whatness’ (his existence and identity) and ‘howness’ (his condition and entity of property). It is integral to individual’s family, children and social identity. In intellectual perspective it does not simply remain as a material possession or “as the safe haven, where people, especially children, are safe” (Fitchen 316) rather functions as “a feeling which can never be completely and definitely described” (Dovey 52).

In diaspora writing ‘home’ is used both in intellectual dissemination and imaginative convenience while focusing retrospectively the countless phenomenons of one’s life. For diasporas ‘home’ is the place where the ‘compound and substance’ of ‘mind’ and ‘body’ unite, physical constituents become casualty either after losing validity or responsibility in the science of philosophy. The concept of ‘home’ in diaspora imagination cannot be understood in isolation as it deals with the physical structure for primal security, adaptation of privacy, financial investment, territory, identity, a social and cultural unit, and established importance of rootedness.

Diaspora imagination articulates the concept of ‘home’ both in traditional way and as a philosophical category. It covers a wider category of individual’s position in temporal, spatial, corporeal, epistemological and psychological manifestations. Both in physical and philosophical performance ‘home’ assimilates individual’s ‘objectivistic’ and ‘subjectivistic’ positions in phenomenal consciousness. In the ontological study of diaspora imagination ‘home’ relates to individual being’s becoming, his fundamental nature of existence, reality as well as the basic categories of his relations and reactions.

            The ontological understanding of ‘home’ relates to many essential aspects of human life and subject position in diaspora and immigrant writings. The concept of ‘home’ in diaspora writing deals with its nature of existence and structure distinguishing its ‘constitutive’ and ‘productive’ aspects. In transnational and immigrant context ‘home’ emphasizes attachment to space or place of emotional and spatial connectedness. It is the place where one feels comfortable, secured and intimate in existential sense. In literary carvings ‘home’ is argued as a place that contributes to one’s relationship with family and society in autobiographical sense, personal history, experience, relationship, memories, personal and social ties. Home remains a social, political and territorial boundary with a sort of geo-determination and imagined as a biophysical container. It is a concept of belonging that anchors one’s thought, feeling, emotion and circumstances in nostalgic sense. Any connection or relation to ‘home’ is fluid, chaotic, rhizomatic and not worked in the multiple facades of attachment. Memory of home haunts the diaspora psyche in individual’s socio-cultural, political and psychological space.

Diaspora writers have an emotional and sentimental binding with home, as it expresses their affiliation and attachment to the place with “multiple belongings” in “nostalgic exclusivity” (Walters xvi). In their ontological dimension ‘home’ is endorsed with psychological anxieties as a “historical cultural identity” (Ashcroft 425). It is the place of one’s belonging what Wendy Walters writes:

I now see that I was searching for a location where I ‘belonged’, a safe intellectual and political space that I could call ‘home’. But how could I presume to find a home in a system that at best was predicted upon my alleged inferiority and, at worst, was dedicated to my removal? (xviii).

In diaspora studies:

The notion of home therefore is much more complex than approaches to diaspora premised on the power of nostalgia would us believe. It is intrinsically linked with the way in which the processes of inclusion or exclusion operate and are subjectively experienced under given circumstances. It relates to the complex political and personal struggles over the social regulation of ‘belonging’ (Tsagarousianou 52).

Home is not only for living but for nurturing one’s emotion, feeling and sense of belongingness. It seems a life without ‘home’ is fragile, isolated and alienated. With the loss of nostalgia the concept of ‘home’ gets lost both at personal and national levels. Diaspora community live in the anxiety of ‘home’ both in their search for the lost geoposition, performance and choice in making. The phenomenon of home as a tangible structure gets lost with the flux of time but it gains intangible relationship between people and place in empirical research.

            In diaspora theory ‘home’ is used as a metaphor and metonomy for peace, shelter and safety in which one’s emotional and psychological data is rooted. In cultural texts and identity arguments ‘home’ draws attention for contributing the understanding of locations both in ‘old’ and ‘new’ nation states. Even in travel writing ‘home’ occupies an imaginary place of individual’s conscious or unconscious state in displacement, dispossession and migration. Eminent writers of diasporic identity in Australia, America, Canada and the UK such as Longston Hughes, China Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Peter Abrahams, Derek Walcott, Aime Cesaire, Meena Alexander, Kamala Markandaya, Santa Rama Rao, V.S. Naipaul, Salman Rushdie, Amitav Ghosh, M.G. Vassanji, Shani Mootoo, Bharati Mukherjee, David Babydeen, Rohinton Mistry and Hanif Kureishi who configure ‘home’ as a cultural point and nostalgia in their writings.

The African diasporas are the communities descended from native Africans who had mass dispersion from Africa between 1500s to 1800s. The Caribbean diasporas, a sizeable well-educated and affluent demographic category have their common heritage and strong connections across the region and are located in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and countries that were previously colonial empires. The Caribbean diasporas are a demographic composition of intra-regional migration and extra-regional migration, have strong sentimental and material links with their countries of origin or their homelands. The Indian diasporas as indentured category and qualified professionals in their superdiversity have their special image for hard work and dedication. However, while theorizing the diasporas and their condition it can be said that “Diasporas are people who want to explore the meaning of the hyphen, but perhaps not press the hyphen too far for fear that this world lead to massive communal schizophrenia” (Mishra 1).

The loss of homeland for the diasporas constantly haunt their mind and cause trauma when they are caught between the tensions of ‘culture’ and ‘history’. In theory ‘home’ explains its complex, multileveled and multi-dimensional construct with specific internal unity determined by relations at different levels. Home is ‘real’ and ‘ideal’ in form and a physical, psychological and social facade. In empirical and theoretical understanding ‘home’ becomes a multidisciplinary hybrid approach in its necessary formulation. Home carries the meaning and purpose of privacy, identity and familiarity explicating individual’s physical, psychological and social growth and emotional attachment. Home remains integral to individual’s consciousness in exile, alienation and migration which cannot be erased.

            Theorizing ‘home’ in diaspora imagination is an attempt to search for a ‘locus in space’ with psychological significance. In totality ‘home’ carries “a sense of belonging” and “rootedness” (Sixsmith 31) and refers to the ‘territoriality’ in one’s physical search for a spiritual accommodation. In migration, displacement and dispossession the territory of home gets lost but it anchors the diaspora imagination, emotion and feeling in the hours of need for peace. It is a physical need and psychological extension during his spiritual exhaustion. Home implicitly suggests optimism and reinforces public/private analysis of the place where one hopes to retreat after finding his position in weaker sense. In psycho-spiritual sense home is the territory for security and protection, when it is described as “... a mixture of affection, reciprocated towards the home as a nurturing environment and resentment towards the demands of the home” (Darke 11). In diaspora’s physical experience home establishes “intangible relationship between the people and places” in the “bounded definitions” (Dovey 52) of one’s locatedness.

In their respective locatedness the diasporas think of their existential reality and comprehend ‘home’ as ‘the centre’ and ‘fixed point’ of their ‘being’ and intellectual activity. The spatial and corporeal status on the foreign land enables their intellectual activity to realise

The territory of home as a type of setting satisfies a number of social and psychological needs; home is the sole area of control for the individual; home is the most appropriate physical framework for family and family life; home is a place of self-expression; and home provides a feeling of security (Rapoport 30).

Home is a necessity for psychological health, an emotional bond and spiritual epicentre for positive thinking and doing with a quest for identity, security and stimulation. Mind occupies the space of home. In diaspora’s displacement home remains as a quest for his identity. Mr. Biswas in V.S. Naipaul’s House for Mr. Biswas (1961) narrates nearly every diaspora’s existential crisis and inability to cope with the place in his search for a house. For Salman Rushdie his imagination that serves many historical and philosophical references to his novels. Similar was the case of A.K. Ramanujan whose longing for ancestral house during his thirty years of Chicago days becomes apparent in his narrative poem “Small Scale Reflections on a Great House”. In relation to family ‘home’ is a common site with positive aspects in “domestic power relationships” (Moore 212). In other words, home becomes “a prison and a place of terror as well as a haven or place of love...” (ibid) when one negates in desperation or posits in expectation. In public-private dichotomy home is economically and politically an experience of dwelling in socio-psychological consciousness.

            In feminist thinking ‘home’ is often viewed differently. Feminists contradict the motive and purpose of ‘home’ with the thinking that it is a place of confinement for women. For them home is not a place for satisfaction and peace rather a prison and a place of terror as well as a haven or place of love. Home is the space full of human experiences that covers a variety of meanings from alternative perspectives. In sociological research and experience

If house and home mean the confinement of women for the sake of nourishing male projects, then feminists have good reason to reject home as a value. But it is difficult even for feminists to exorcise a positive valence to the idea of home. We often look forward to going home and invite others to make themselves at home. House and home are deeply ambivalent values (Young 749).

In many literary and poetic references ‘home’ has been written either in exile or when it is in danger of being lost or changed in unwanted circumstances. Homelessness causes physical and psychological impairedness and a homeless diaspora never finds a ‘place of secure retreat’. In diaspora writing ‘home’ is assessed through the person’s involuntary or forced exile for many years or in preferred homelessness. Home is an inclusive space in mind and an essential space for the identity and development of the individual. In one’s historical progress ‘home’ is constructed but in the diaspora memory it is a lost territory revisited only in retrievals.

Feminist writers deconstruct the ideal image of ‘home’ that makes woman into ‘less of a person’ almost in captivity and isolation which makes her a person with ‘mental myopia’ for her drudgery of domestic work and victim of domestic violence. ‘Home’ for some women becomes “less of a castle, and more of a cage” (Goldsack 121). Home as a physical design of dwelling for ‘body zone’, and  function not only becomes the place for caring body through washing, dressing, and caring but creating a domestic environment for physical and emotional nurture as well as mental recuperation. The social and cultural aspects of ‘home’ constitute the appropriate domestic space and physiological and psychological needs and functions. Feminist thinkers believe home a problematic social or personal space in Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own (1929) and Alice Walker’s nonfiction In Search of our Mother’s Garden (1983). Many writers of twentieth century think home is ‘the central site of the oppression of women’. Feminist theorists like Mary Wollstonecraft, Simone de Beauvoir and Judith Butler consider home a feminised space. They consider home as a space for their children and it serves as an anchor of their memory, emotion and love for family. It is

Because women were so often associated with family, home space becomes seen as a private, feminized space that is distinct from the public, masculinised space that lies outside its borders ... within this gendered sphere of private and public space, women and men assume distinctive roles. Women are expected to remain in their home “place”. Avoiding the dangerous space of public streets allows women to take care for children, the sick, and the elderly, and other dependent family members. Men are expected to support and defend the private, feminized space that houses their families (Collins 67).

For women diaspora ‘home’ stands for “the happiness of the family group” and “meaning and value” (Beauvoir 449) of life. In the novels of Bharati Mukherjee the portrayal of home is a feminine space which the Indian women diasporas have left behind. Home remains a cultural space for women diasporas in Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s novels. Similarly in Jhumpa Lahiri’s narrations home remains the cultural centre for which diaspora Bengali women struggle to bridge their relationship between India and the U.S. in hyphenatedness.  In fact, the identity of Indian woman at home is usually determined in terms of a daughter, a wife or a home maker, and a mother. Domestic home is codified with psychological space and coherent familial relationship.

            In diaspora imagination ‘home’ operates on several planes in cultural, domestic and gender aspects. When these aspects are in disruption or convulsion, the living place becomes like a hotel or rented room. The second and third generation diasporas from Africa and South Asia to America, Canada and Europe fail to bridge the gap between the ancestral land and the adopted one for which they struggle. While for their parents home becomes nostalgia, the new generation view it in heteroglossia. ‘Home’ provides a romantic nostalgia which the first generation diasporas cannot alternate or depersonalize in a new place of settlement or habitation. In diaspora narratives or travel writings

Homes become symbols of selves or cultures. Whereas the residential landscape, for example, undoubtedly conveys symbolic notions of the house ... the idea of home itself becomes a symbol of the feelings, circumstances, or types of relationships that it has come to represent in distinct epochs or cultures, such as people ... a local way of life ... a family ... or sentiments of ease, relaxation, comfort and familiarity (Terkenli 327).

In diaspora imagination home is a private and personal space bustles with intense domestic activity of warming, cooking, nurturing and interacting with inmates. In social structure home is

Formed through a combination of marital and blood time, ideal families consist of heterosexual couples that produce their own biological children. Such families have a specific authority structure, namely, a father-head earning an adequate family wage, a stay-at-home wife, and children ... held together by primary emotional bonds of love and caring (Collins 62).

The location of “Home regions are culturally constructed and geographically and culturally contingent” (Terkenli 324). This makes the diasporas a psychological category who live in the status of “Trishanku”, a middle ground between their goals or desires and current state or possessions. The location of home space gains importance as it provides material comfort, rest and security from the perils that lurks outside heel hooks. It provides the feeling of safety, warmth, comfort and feeding to nurture our bodies.

            The diaspora writers of African, Asian and the Caribbean origins explicitly conceptualise home in their phenomenological and ontological perspectives either while romanticising or retrieving their memories of the past. ‘Home’ as “a site of privacy and autonomy for occupiers” (Fitchen 318) remains constant. When one is evicted or voluntarily gets displaced he analyses its attributes. The psychological concept of ‘home as a symbol of one’s self’, ‘self-identity’, ‘extension of the psyche’ and an illustration of identity one experiences in alienation. Diaspora and migrant communities imagine ‘home’ as an ‘identity shell’ while acting upon their dreams. Their ‘voluntary’ or “involuntary loss of home” (Dovey 43) make them feel the losers of personal and cultural identity, and enjoy life in an emptiness and vacuum in host land’s plenitude. Although the tendency to imagine home becomes an outcome of romantic nostalgia or neurotic heteroglossia they potentially highlight it in the facades of “psychological and sociological exploration” (Moore 207).


            Diasporas in their unhappiness explicitly evaluate home environment for their sustenance, emotional protection, security and cultural representation. In analysis home is made as a cultural epitome and a cherished institution with its practical and psychological impact on the individuals. In empirical studies they realise its psychological dimension in emotional loss, alienation and dispossession. Loss of home enables one for its tangible claim in expatriation. When ‘home’ is lost either voluntarily or under compulsion it invites the dangers of wilderness for life. The understanding of home remains simply a physical structure or a unit of construction without socio-cultural connection and other additional values. Diasporas as disposed individuals always develop the somatic symptoms in distress due to their loss of homeland which evolves their “tendencies to idealise the lost place” (Duhl 151). The diasporas, expatriates, immigrants and refugees in their dislocation and migration to other locality, country or continent think, brood, reminisce and engross with the memory of home as a social, familial and psychological space. The ‘pathology’ of diaspora psychology reveals one’s long period of involvement, attachment and close association with home without which, one feels insecure and uncertain.


            The paper assimilates diasporas as an ‘imaginary’ community that suffers from trauma for identity. Their love and longing for home in nostalgia serves as a metaphor of emotion and feeling in diaspora aesthetic. Diaspora writers narrate these transnational communities, their individual and philosophical dimensions in Weberian social context, Kantian ethical template and existential surreality. The meaning and characteristics of ‘home’ is experienced ontologically in one’s craving for it in a definite socio-cultural environment where he struggles to carve the feelings in dispossession. Home is the nurturing ground of feelings that “encompass a wide range and variety of responses” (Gurney 8) in diaspora writings. Experiencing the feelings on home is always unique that gets revealed in imagination, cultural expression and variety of responses. Through retrieving and retrospecting home in their emotions, feelings, affiliation and attachment the diaspora writers focus it as a psychological space. In their narrative parlence they experiment the concept of home in their fragmented self and homeless existence. Labouring with their fragmented self in the new location they search for a home either in settler colonies or metropolitan centres. These

.... exiles or immigrants or expatriates are haunted by some sense of loss, some urge to reclaim, to look back, even at the risk of being muted into pillars of salt. But if we look back ... our physical alienation ... almost inevitably means that we will not be capable of reclaiming precisely the thing that was lost; that we will ... create fictions, not actual cities or villages, but invisible ones, imaginary home lands ... of the mind (Naipaul 10).

The uncanny truth for them is that their sense of return is in devastation or denied in suppression of the fact in history, but it psychologically becomes “a symptom of the repressed truth and concerning the alienating results of private ownership” (Freud 69).

            The study of diaspora grapples with the meaning of ‘home’ as a belonging, a nation, and an identity in the writings of diaspora writers. Both in epistemological shifts, theoretical frameworks and modes of analysis ‘home’ has been analysed as a cultural and philosophical production in intellectual traditions.      The diasporas as “homeless wanderers, nomads, vagrants” (Said 407) inherit home as a label of identity in their “cultural insiderism” (Gilroy 3) and in “complex form of signification” (Bhabha 172). For diaspora community home may be a terminal loss but in the midst of heterogeneity, diversity and dispersement ‘home’ becomes a Saussurean ‘sign’, ‘signifier’ and ‘signified’ for their ‘rootedness’ and identity. ‘Home’ is an awareness of ‘root’ that the diasporas search and demonstrate from ‘imaginary homelands’ either in performance or perspective.

While living in host country’s ‘New World’ the diasporas struggle to assimilate and assert the homeliness of home and try to secure their “sacred homeland” in their “out of placeness” (Naipaul 19). In the matrix of home “Nations evoke feelings of belonging” (McLeod 74). For them the concept of ‘home’ functions as a constant stimulant in their thinking and imagining of ‘root’, ‘origin’, shelter, stability, security and comfort. For them ‘home’, the land of their birth, growth, and motivation remains forever. Returning ‘home’ is difficult for them spatially because of their profession, aspiration and association with the people of the new world. Compromising between the love and affiliation for the new world and comprehending attachment to the root becomes the central focus of their intellectual strategy for a consolation.

            To conclude, it can be said that ‘home’ is an extensive body of experiential phenomenon which diaspora writers encompass in wide range and variety of responses. ‘Home’ is an extensive body of research in literature, culture, feminist studies and social sciences where it has a complex and multi-dimensional amalgam. The formulation and surrounding of ‘home’ as identity has familial, cultural and nostalgic connotations within the broader concept of nation and identity. The socio-cultural facets of ‘home’ have the direct association with family life. Although ‘home’ as a ‘place’ and ‘space’ is idealized conceptually in literary, cultural and national paradigms; in legislation and judicial policy, it conveys different connotations. In pluralistic and functional approach ‘home’ claims more in doing with everyday living and thinking. It is the only territory that enhances memory, dream, aspiration, privacy and nostalgia for family and nation.

            Home remains the centre of enlightenment where one grows intellectually with free spirits, ideologies and consciousness. In the imagination of home a diaspora remains engrossed in his past and visualises his future. Researchers, home lovers, home makers, policy makers, legal experts and social scientists agree to the view that ‘home’ is an “affective anchor” and “sacred connotation” (Fitchen 317) in individual’s cultural moorings and ‘stream of consciousness’. Although the migrant and diaspora professionals work on fat packages in different sectors at distant places they romanticise their homelands and ‘home’ as the Edenic world of their imagination.


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