Useful Materials to Consult When Critically Investigating the Concept of Smart House in Media and Cultural Studies

On: January 6, 2010
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About Liliana Bounegru
I am a Research MA candidate in Media Studies, University of Amsterdam, and Project Coordinator at the European Journalism Centre, Maastricht. I work on new media and digital culture, specifically the intersections between news media and the digital environment, with a special focus on open data and data-driven journalism, which is the topic of my master thesis. I published on the potential of contemporary interactive media art projects employing urban screens to generate meaningful individual engagement and agency, and on multimodal metaphor in editorial cartoons. On my blog (, you can find some of the work I’ve been doing at the University of Amsterdam during my master in New Media and Digital Culture, and now as part of the Research Master in Media Studies. The posts cover topics such as: blogging, networks, search engines, Google, locative media, protocol, augmented reality, and media art from a media theory perspective, as well as classical media theory.


In doing research for my master thesis on smart houses as technologies of government ‘at a distance’ last year (which you can read here), I found it very difficult to find materials which treated this topic from a media and cultural studies perspective, as well as historically, which is what determined me to share this list with you. Most of the publications on smart houses treat the technical, design and technological innovation aspects of the subject and are usually written by technology designers as documentation for their experimental projects. There are extremely few books dedicated to smart houses as sole subject of investigation from a media and cultural studies perspective, but you may find references to the topic in books which treat broader related topics such as (new) media, domestic technologies, augmented reality, ambient intelligence or ubiquitous computing, and, more recently, life-assisting technologies for the elderly. Below are some of the most useful materials I consulted for a historical and critical media and cultural studies perspective on the topic:

  • Heckman, Davin.  A Small World: Smart Houses and the Dream of the Perfect Day. Durham: Duke University Press, 2008. In my opinion, the most recent and most comprehensive study of smart homes from a cultural and media studies perspective until August 2009. Heckman critically examines the history of smart homes in the United States in terms of technological developments and their representations in various media. He also analyzes contemporary smart home designs and offers an incisive critique of these commercial technological visions of domestic space, in line with the humanist tradition of the Frankfurt School.


  • Berg, Anne-Jorunn. “A Gendered Socio-Technical Construction: the Smart House.” In Donald Mackenzie and Judy Wajcman, eds. The Social Shaping of Technology. 2nd ed. Buckingham, Philadelphia: Open University Press, 1999. From a social sciences perspective, the author argues that the smart house is a gendered construction, the design of which represents the interests of its male producers, who overlook the meaning of home from a female perspective, as a place for work, namely housework.


  • Allon, Fiona. “An Ontology of Everyday Control: Space, Media Flows and ‘Smart’ Living in the Absolute Present.” Mediaspace : Place, Scale and Culture in a Media Age. Eds. Nick Couldry and Anna McCarthy. London: Routledge, 2004. pp. 253-274. From a media studies perspective, Fiona Allon highlights the smart house as a strategic locus in the network of control engendered by information capitalism, which promises to “enable individual empowerment and connectivity, while simultaneously enhancing surveillance, isolation and control.” [1]


  • Spigel, Lynn. “Designing the Smart House: Posthuman Domesticity and Conspicuous Production. European Journal of Cultural Studies. 8(4). pp. 403-426. In this essay Spigel is concerned with smart home designs from the perspective of the new forms of social interaction which they engender, the way they reconfigure domestic activities and the mode of subjectivity which they demand, which she calls ‘posthuman domesticity.’


  • Hay, James. “Unaided Virtues: The (Neo-)Liberalization of the Domestic Sphere.” Television & New Media 1: 53, 2000. pp. 53-73. The essay discusses smart domestic technologies as technologies of government.


  • Hay, James. “Designing Homes to be the First Line of Defense.” Cultural Studies, 20:4, 2006. pp. 349-377. The essay discusses smart domestic risk management technologies (home security technologies) as technologies of government ‘at a distance.’


  • Gold, Rich. “How smart does your bed have to be, before you are afraid to go to sleep at night?”Ars Electronica Catalogue.  19 August 2009. This short essay enters the category of artistic critical interrogation of technological innovations. It comprises of a series of critical interrogations about the notion of intelligent house in a humorous and sarcastic tone, from the perspective of an artist which worked with Mark Weiser at PARC on the ubiquitous computing program. The questions are meant to generate reflection about the potential transformations and effects produced by living in an intelligent domestic environment.


  • Spigel, Lynn. Welcome to the Dreamhouse: Popular Media and Postwar Suburbs. Durham: Duke University Press, 2001. The book discusses the American postwar suburb, imaginary which contributed to the apparition of the smart house concept.


  • Harper, Richard. Inside the Smart House. London: Springer, 2003. Besides the predominant design and user interaction orientation of the book, pages 18-21 contain a brief genealogy of smart houses.


  • Gann. David, James Barlow and Tim Venables. Digital Futures: Making Homes Smarter. Coventry: The Chartered Institute of Housing, 1999. Pages 8-20 offer a brief overview of the turning points in the introduction of technology into the domestic space, which contributed to the concept of smart house.


Please share with us if you happened to come across other useful resources.



[1] Allon, Fiona. “An Ontology of Everyday Control: Space, Media Flows and ‘Smart’ Living in the Absolute Present.” Mediaspace : Place, Scale and Culture in a Media Age. Eds. Nick Couldry and Anna McCarthy. London: Routledge, 2004. p. 271

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