Cover of Fragments of Home by Tom Scott-Smith
Fragments of Home
Refugee Housing and the Politics of Shelter
Tom Scott-Smith

September 2024
250 pages.
from $28.00

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503639782
Paperback ISBN: 9781503640283
Ebook ISBN: 9781503640290

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Abandoned airports. Shipping containers. Squatted hotels. These are just three of the many unusual places that have housed refugees in the past decade. The story of international migration is often told through personal odysseys and dangerous journeys, but when people arrive at their destinations a more mundane task begins: refugees need a place to stay. Governments and charities have adopted a range of strategies in response to this need. Some have sequestered refugees in massive camps of glinting metal. Others have hosted them in renovated office blocks and disused warehouses. They often end up in prefabricated shelters flown in from abroad.

This book focuses on seven examples of emergency shelter, from Germany to Jordan, which emerged after the great "summer of migration" in 2015. Drawing on detailed ethnographic research into these shelters, the book reflects on their political implications and opens up much bigger questions about humanitarian action. By exploring how aid agencies and architects approached this basic human need, Tom Scott-Smith demonstrates how shelter has many elements that are hard to reconcile or combine; shelter is always partial and incomplete, producing mere fragments of home. Ultimately, he argues that current approaches to emergency shelter have led to destructive forms of paternalism and concludes that the principle of autonomy can offer a more fruitful approach to sensitive and inclusive housing.

About the author

Tom Scott-Smith is Associate Professor of Refugee Studies and Forced Migration at the University of Oxford. He is the author of On an Empty Stomach: Two Hundred Years of Hunger Relief (2020).

"Fragments of Home offers a highly original and timely account of all that shelter entails. In a wide-ranging study of varied efforts to provide refugee housing, Tom Scott-Smith shows how they collectively reflect the political and ethical ambiguities of displacement in built form. The result is comprehensive yet concise, at once incisive, engaging, and illuminating."

—Peter Redfield, University of Southern California

"A brilliant, expansive, and original book about the nature of humanitarian shelter. Bringing together beautifully written ethnographic accounts of refugee shelter from France and Greece to Lebanon and Germany, this book is an unparalleled account of how to address basic human need. Even in times of emergency, not all shelter is equal; Scott-Smith takes emotion, dignity, aesthetics and politics seriously, and courageously argues for the principle of autonomy as the most important factor in creating a home. A must-read for those who want to both understand and improve today's world."

—Miriam Ticktin, CUNY Graduate Center

"Beautifully written and based on meticulous ethnographic fieldwork, Fragments of Home is a must-read for anyone interested in humanitarianism. Through engaging case studies, the book offers an urgent and compelling critique of the often patriarchal design and delivery of basic shelter. Yet it is also solutions-oriented and practical, revealing that better outcomes are possible with greater respect for autonomy, and by offering displaced people greater control, even over seemingly simple design choices."

—Alexander Betts, University of Oxford