The smart home does not care: Social reproduction and the design (an)aesthetics of domestic technologies

Authors: Gregory T Donovan*, Fordham University
Topics: Cultural Geography, Communication, Cyberinfrastructure
Keywords: smart home, smart urbanism, social reproduction, care, carework, digital geographies, design, proprietary media, domestic technology
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Washington 3, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper situates the ‘smart’ home as a site of social (re)production so as to excavate the differential ways technologies are designed to shape domestic space-time for caring and not caring. While a design aesthetic indicates a style of stimulating thought and feeling, a "design anaesthetic" is here theorized as a styling of experience to distract and desensitize. Such design increasingly involves proprietary technologies to monitor and manage seemingly everything except matters of structural inequality so as to unsee and displace public problems from daily life (Donovan 2019). From preventing SIDS with ‘smart’ cribs and wearable baby monitors to housekeeping with ‘intelligent’ appliances and virtual assistants—the spectacle of the ‘smart’ home models a gendered and racialized “conspicuous reproduction” (Spigel 2010) that anesthetizes the pains of neoliberalism by expanding the emotional distance between life at home and life elsewhere. In purporting to help care for the home, and the bodies developing therein, these technologies promise a reorienting of domestic space-time that can efficiently absorb the offloading of reproductive responsibility from the state to individuals and civil society (Katz 2017; Schwartz Cowan 1983). Building from a Marxist feminist understanding of social reproduction as both the provision of traditional care and the iterative development of a labor force (Mitchell et al 2003), this paper concludes with a call to design platforms and practices of care that are capable of connecting intimate and global problems, mobilizing “provocative generalizability” (Fine 2006) across contexts, and drawing together neoliberal bifurcations of life and work, home and elsewhere.

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