China and Inner Asia
Lingnan University, Hong Kong
This study examines the impact of housing and spatial inequality on family lives by investigating individuals’ everyday family practices. While past research on family and housing has tended to focus on the interaction between housing status and family formation, little attention has been paid to the actual family practices of the inhabitants of informal housing. This study focuses on cubicle apartments in Hong Kong – a tiny, informal housing unit subdivided from a larger domestic quarter – to explore how residents employed situated spatial strategies to negotiate physical and structural constraints. Data was generated from ethnographic observations and in-depth interviews conducted since January 2021 with tenants living in subdivided units concentrated in a low-to-middle-income neighborhood in Hong Kong. The findings demonstrate that housing attributes, such as space, quality, security, and stability, intimately shaped spousal and intergenerational interactions. The study also illustrates how individuals struggled to “do” family within such limited domestic space by adopting a variety of spatial strategies, including creating usable spaces, transforming spaces, using partitions, retaining empty spaces, performing time-space management, and domesticating shared and public spaces. Through these spatial strategies, tenants of cubicle apartments cultivated their family lives within unfavorable household settings and survived difficult circumstances, such as the COVID-19 crisis. Resonating with the experiences of many metropolitan cities and urban areas in Asia and across the globe, this study sheds light on the consequences of growing housing difficulties and spatial injustice, and reveals how these structural inequalities are operated, reproduced, and negotiated in everyday family practices.