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The Design (An)Aesthetics of Data-Driven Domesticity

Authors: Gregory Donovan*, Fordham University
Topics: Cultural Geography, Communication, Cyberinfrastructure
Keywords: smart home, social reproduction, carework, digital geographies, design, proprietary media, domestic technology
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The spectacle of the ‘smart’ home models a gendered and racialized reproduction that anesthetizes the pains of neoliberalism by expanding the emotional distance between life at home and life elsewhere. This paper thus considers the emerging 'smart' home through four popular technologies (Ring®, Neighbors®, Home®, and The Mirror®) so as to explore the digital and domestic registers of contemporary (re)production. Each technology is considered through the work of a critical feminist scholar (Cindi Katz, Simone Browne, Ruth Schwartz Cowan, and Lynn Spigel) to situate the ‘smart’ home as a site of "(an)aesthetic design" and excavate the differential ways networked and data-driven technologies shape the space, time, and bodies of the home.

While a design aesthetic typically indicates a style of stimulating thought and feeling, a "design (an)aesthetic" is here theorized as a styling of experience to distract and desensitize. Such design increasingly involves proprietary regimes that monitor and manage seemingly everything except matters of structural inequality so as to unsee and displace public problems from daily life. In doing so, these technologies offer a false promise of reorienting domestic space-time to efficiently absorb the offloading of reproductive responsibility from the state to individuals and civil society. Extrapolating from this deceptive design work, the paper concludes with a discussion of how everyday people can rework and resist the social desensitization of the 'smart' home and, instead, reproduce what Sarah Ahmed has described as a “queer use” capable of vandalizing the logic of design (an)aesthetics.

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