Micro-Habitats: Bunkers, Sheds & Space Capsules

“Just as fish die if they stay too long out of water, so the monks who loiter outside their cells or pass their time with men of the world lose the intensity of inner peace. So like a fish going towards the sea, we must hurry to reach our cell, for fear that if we delay outside we will lose our interior watchfulness.” St Anthony the Great, c. 300AD

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Here are my slides for my presentation at today’s Occursus/University of Sheffield symposium on ‘Micro-Habitats’. As my title will already have revealed, I used the opportunity to talk again about bunkers. This time my focus was on bunkers as micro-worlds. Through a clip from Lost I highlight the two faces of ‘the bunker’ in popular culture – the space-age bachelor pad and the abject, dank crisis space of last resort. I also took the ‘bunker as womb’, ‘bunker as shed’ and ‘bunker as man-machine’ riffs for a walk again. So far, so good (or at least, so far so familiar), then I ventured – via the Unabomber’s shed – into Outer Space aided by key scenes from the 1971 motion picture Silent Running, and in doing so invoked Paul Virilio’s conceptualisation of the spaceship as the bunker transposed into orbit. I then focussed in on the space-bunker’s hermetic nature – both in its sense of sealed off from the outside world, and as an essence of monastic retreat. I concluded with images of Lowell (Silent Running’s eco-hero) as lone bio-pod space shepherd to the remaining fragments of Earth’s vegetation, of Saint Anthony withdrawn from the world into the Egyptian desert and dwelling within its abandoned Roman forts, praying for his and the world’s salvation and of Desmond (Lost’s bunker dweller) now revealed as less the carefree bachelor enjoying his well equipped pad, more like a modern day Sisyphus typing code numbers regularly into his keyboard – as he believes he must – to prevent the detonation of some unspeakable device to which he is in thrall. So – bunker as hermitage…


 Oh, and the ‘men and bunkers’ riff was challenged by the audience – and a great discussion had around whether women and men equally attach to machines, objects, intimate spaces. Yes, they probably do. But we all agreed that conditioning plays a role too. Kitchen vs Shed does seem to have a gendering, and both can be domestic.


Finally, the slides don’t have citations – but these can be found in the two papers that this talk drew from:

  • Bennett, L. (2013). Who goes there? Accounting for gender in the urge to explore abandoned military bunkers. Gender, Place and Culture. 20 (3), 630-646 
  • Bennett, L. (2011). The Bunker: metaphor, materiality & management. Culture and Organization, 17 (2), 155-173.

Pictures: two views of The Temptation of St Anthony

1) Heironymus Bosch,  (detail), c.1500: http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/bosch/tempt-ant/

2) Anon, Star Wars mash-up of Salvador Dali’s 1946 painting: http://mentalfloss.com/article/52970/11-great-salvador-dali-art-mash-ups


This post is New Uses for Old Roman Forts #38

About lukebennett13
Associate Professor & Course Leader, BSc Hons Real Estate, Sheffield Hallam University, UK. I TEACH: built environment law to construction, surveying, real estate and environmental management students. I RESEARCH: metal theft; urban exploration & recreational trespass; occupiers' perceptions of liability for their premises. I THINK: about the links between ideas, materialities and practices in the built environment. I WAS: an environmental lawyer working in commercial practice for 17 years before I joined academia in 2007. I EXPLAIN: the aims of my blogsite site here: https://lukebennett13.wordpress.com/2012/02/15/prosaic/ LINKS: Twitter: @lukebennett13; Archive: http://shu.academia.edu/lukebennett. EPITAPH: “He lived at a little distance from his body, regarding his own acts with doubtful side-glances.” James Joyce, Dubliners

6 Responses to Micro-Habitats: Bunkers, Sheds & Space Capsules

  1. Philip says:

    Interesting. All very Peter Sloterdijk – have you used his work at all?

    • Thanks Philip – I’ve only read Sloterdijk’s ‘Terror From The Air’ – but I’m aware of his Bubbles:Spheres work – and can see the connection, if that’s what you have in mind? Bunker as a bubble of space/concern, in a relationship with other/wider spheres of space/arrangements: working outward in scale from the womb/placenta ‘bubble’/nexus.

      • Philip says:

        Yes, something along those lines. I’m only just beginning to read his stuff myself (waiting for the English translation of Spheres II and III, as I’m sure many people are). This interview is interesting:

        Click to access COSMOGRAM-INTER-GB_Spheres.pdf

        Towards the end he talks about space stations as environments in which the necessary conditions for life are made absolutely explicit. It reminds me of nuclear bunkers, which are basically space stations underground in this abstract respect – they are the logical conclusion of fortification; when the air itself becomes fortified (i.e. air-conditioned) there is no more fortification to be done, this history is at an end!

        I’m presenting a paper at RGS/IBG this year in the technology and geopolitics session. It may end up on being about this kind of thing though I’m not completely sure yet (I’ve left my options open with regard to what I’ll talk about empirically). I’m hoping that I’ll get to attend your bunkers session, too. It looks fascinating.

  2. Excellent! – many thanks for these pointers Philip. It would be great to chat at RGS 2014, so maybe meet you then? It looks set to be a particularly interesting conference this year, with loads on ruins, military geographies, neo-materialism, speculative realism, the geologic turn, legal geographies etc…

    • Philip says:

      Sure, I’ll look forward to it. Never been to RGS-IGB before – in fact I’m new to geography so I’ll be very interested to see what it’s all about!

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