Carnegie Mellon University

Public Health, Private Spaces

A conversation about the intimate landscapes of health

October 28, 2022

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As the COVID-19 pandemic brought much of the world to a close in 2020, disease control and mitigation measures began to reshape public spaces. Plexiglass barriers, outdoor dining, building ventilation, non-porous materials, pop-up vaccination or testing sites, and parks and outdoor spaces all provided different means to contain viral transmission. At the same time, with homes doubling as workspaces, learning environments, child-, elder-, and health-care spaces and more, the pandemic also brought renewed attention to intimate spaces as sites “essential” for the continued functioning of capitalist economies. Lockdowns, quarantines, and school-closures reconfigured the already blurred borderlines between personal-professional, home-work, purity-danger, public-private, and human-nature in the context of intimate spaces, just as they widened the distance between those on the front lines and those who retreated to second homes.

Since then, with private comportment superseding imperatives for public or collective health — “your health is in your hands”  —the individual, the home, and the household continue to be implied as the loci of health, even as evictions, increasing rents and the wider “racial regimes of property” circumscribe who gets to shelter in place.(1) Meanwhile, the allocation of responsibility onto the individual, and the demarcation of the public and the private as zones of contagion and safety respectively, reinforces the long-standing (common)sense of a “world (that) can be divided into a controllable space (the private-affective) and an uncontrollable one (the public-instrumental).”(2) Yet, notions of safety and health centered on the home cannot be easily disentangled from the material relationships, social practices, desires, and discourses that prop the “home” and the “household” atop inequities of gender, race, class, and nation.(3) At the same time we may also usefully inquire, following bell hooks, about the construction of “home-places”(4), where safety, care, and resistance are carefully nurtured, amidst and against the “fundamental uncaringness” of structures of racial capitalism.(5)

We will dialogue on the ways in which intimate spaces and indoor environments have become crucial sites of the intersecting crises of racial capitalism, pandemic, patriarchy, neoliberal privatization, and environmental injustice.(6) We will think about how the individualization of responsibility amidst a weakening social contract has shifted the different forms, scales, and embodiments of intimacy; how indoor environments might be seen as political-ecological spaces and as sites for the production of environmental injustices;(7) but also how the reconfigurations of intimate spaces may shape new “attunements” to collective worlds.(8)

  1. Malini Ranganathan and Anne Bonds, “Racial Regimes of Property: Introduction to the Special Issue,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 40, no. 2 (April 1, 2022): 197–207,
  2. Lauren Berlant, “Intimacy: A Special Issue,” Critical Inquiry 24, no. 2 (1998): 281–88.
  3. See Kiran Grewal et al., “Confronting ‘The Household,’” Feminist Review (blog), May 26, 2020,
  4. Bell hooks, “Homeplace: A Site of Resistance,” in Undoing Place? (Routledge, 1997).
  5. Patricia J. Lopez and Abigail H. Neely, “Fundamentally Uncaring: The Differential Multi-Scalar Impacts of COVID-19 in the U.S,” Social Science & Medicine 272 (March 1, 2021): 113707,; Abigail H. Neely and Patricia J. Lopez, “Toward Healthier Futures in Post-Pandemic Times: Political Ecology, Racial Capitalism, and Black Feminist Approaches to Care,” Geography Compass16, no. 2 (2022): e12609, 
  6. See Danya Glabau, “Covid-19 and the Politics of Care,” Items( blog), February 18, 2021; David Madden, “The Urban Process under Covid Capitalism,” City 24, no. 5–6 (November 1, 2020): 677–80,; Michele Lancione and Abdou Maliq Simone, “Bio-Austerity and Solidarity in the COVID-19 Space of Emergency -Episode One,” Space and Society, March 19, 2020,
  7. See Dawn Day Biehler and G. L. Simon, “The Great Indoors: Research Frontiers on Indoor Environments as Active Political-Ecological Spaces,” Progress in Human Geography35, no. 2 (April 1, 2011): 172–92,; Michelle Murphy, Sick Building Syndrome and the Problem of Uncertainty: Environmental Politics, Technoscience, and Women Workers, 1st edition (Durham N.C.: Duke University Press, 2006).
  8. Lancione and Simone, “Bio-Austerity and Solidarity in the COVID-19 Space of Emergency -Episode Two.”