The institution of home is expanding into mountain space – in stealth mode

By Tor Arnesen, research Professor at the Eastern Norway Research Institute and at the Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences.

When launching the journal Mobilities, the opening editorial statement from Hannam, Shelly and Urry (2006, p. 1) read: “Mobility has become an evocative keyword for the twenty‐first century and a powerful discourse that creates its own effects and contexts.” They see a fundamental ‘mobility turn’ transforming the social sciences, rather than just putting a new topic on the table.

The institution of home is expanding into mountain space – in stealth mode
The institution of home is expanding into mountain space – in stealth mode. Image: Mountain municipality of Hovden, Norway. Image by Booking.


Years later Bauman (2013) applied the term «liquid modernity” to describe, among other things, new forms of housing. «Liquid modernity» is characterized by dynamic social structures – a network capital. Network capital is developed, fluctuates and dissolves across different spatial and temporary places of residence and dwelling. The process, according to Bauman, is driven by individualism in a hypermobile world where actors change, switches between and serves multiple workplaces, homes, and social networks. Mobility is then a prerequisite for work, leisure, and relationships, and can change character not only throughout the life course but also throughout the year or even shorter time horizons.

Rewinding to Hannam et al (2006, p. 2), they saw that  the problem for a ‘mobility turn’ was to challenge “the fundamental ‘territorial’ and ‘sedentary’ precepts of twentieth-century social science”. Some 16 years later a ‘mobility turn’, if at all, certainly did not reform the social sciences in a swoosh – not even in a core discipline as demography on the very basic question of who lives where and when.  Knowing who lives where, when and in what mode or capacity, is such a fundamental input to our understanding of society, that insufficient tools for producing this insight will be a significant weakness for any state. The main issue of this paper is to point out that this is precisely the case in Norway.

Mountain regions in Norway – who is out there?

Take Norway as an example: In the mountain region in inland Southern Norway (Figure 1), across more than eighty municipalities, there are today as many detached (first) houses (approx. 220 000) as there are second homes – or should we say second ‘houses’ – as the distinction between ‘home’ and ‘house’ is a core issue in this discussion. Since year 2000 more than three second homes have been developed for every detached house. So, the balance of the housing structure comprised of first and second houses respectively is rapidly shifting towards second houses. This entails development stress relating to social, economic, and environmental issues, causing approving as well as disapproving reactions in communities and institutions. In this paper focus is on a very fundamental piece of information for understanding social as well as economic sustainability: who is living in the mountain regions Why specifically direct attention demography in this mountain region?

The institution of home is expanding into mountain space – in stealth mode
Figure 1: The mountain region in Southern Norway, with settlements (cities, towns, villages) according to official definition (red), and second house agglomerations (green). Source: Statistics Norway.


The mountain region currently has about 8% of the country’s population. A recent Norwegian Official Report on the demographic development in rural Norway (Normann et al., 2020), shows for the mountain region a continued decline and ageing population when counting is based on the definition of residency from the National Population Register. In this definition any individual can only be registered as resident on one address, their first house or regular home. And since second houses in the mountain region are mainly owned by households living in cities and towns outside the mountain region, they are “invisible” in the rural population analysis – it is a second house contingent population development in stealth mode in the mountains.

More than half of all second houses in the mountain area, and practically all built since 2000, are of high technical standard and connected to physical service infrastructure (water, sewage, road, digital). From a technical perspective, there is nothing seasonal or substantial inferior by modern second to first detached houses. On average second houses in the mountain region are used 60 to 90 days a year, counting weekends and holidays with a gradient towards used more if of high technical standard and grid connected.

A good half of all second houses in the mountain region are developed in agglomerations in outfield land outside the traditional rural centre structure, and 8 of 10 second houses are owned by households outside the mountain region. The development represent what could be labelled a “recreational urban sprawl” (Overvåg, 2010; Arnesen, 2014; W. Ellingsen, 2017; W. Ellingsen & Nilsen, 2021). The urban and rural residence is stitched together in a hyper-mobile society by a type of “recreational commuting” as regular for its purpose as e.g., work commuting is for its purpose. Covid-19 experiences with widespread use of remote working from a second house base, has also shown the current elasticity between the two residence platforms. The Norwegian National Population Register does not dispose of any tools to monitor this aspect of rural populations, as is the case in most countries. It would require a radical new demographic approach to monitor this circulatory pattern of first to second house population mobility in modern society (Overvåg, 2010; Arnesen et al., 2012). Thus, a required tool for understanding demographic developments in rural mountain communities in Norway is lacking.

Two cases

Let me illustrate this by two cases: one in a small town second house, tourist, and destination region at the edge of the mountain area, the other in a mountain village deep in the mountain area.

The Lillehammer region is made up of three municipalities, two rural municipalities Gausdal (6050 inh.) and Øyer (5070 inh.), and one small town municipality, Lillehammer (28493 inh). Together they have since 2010 had a growth in new second housed that increased its population of second house households with approx. 8600 individuals. 60 % of these have “settled” in Øyer, an amount equivalent to 101 % of regular inhabitants. Gausdal have “settled” 30 % of these, equivalent to 43 % of regular inhabitants and Lillehammer 20 %, an amount equivalent to a mere 6 % of regular inhabitants. For the region in total, the influx of second house (circulatory) households since 2010, amounts to 22 % of the regular population. And they are here in stealth mode as far as census data concerns, and in considerable numbers.

The next case is the mountain village Hovden in Bykle municipality (Figure 2):

The institution of home is expanding into mountain space – in stealth mode
Figure 2: Hovden in Bykle municipality. Photo: T. Arnesen.


According to Statistics Norway, the town of Hovden has 413 inhabitants. According to Cadastre data, the settlement has 157 detached first house. Is there any sensible connection between the picture and the numbers that help to understand the village of Hovden?

The picture counts a total of 2145 residential houses, with only eleven per cent first houses or regular homes. In the official definition of an urban settlement in Norway[1], 89 percent of residential houses are not counted as the urban settlement Hovden, because they are second houses. Applying this official “algorithm” a total of 1901 second houses simply “disappear”.

Statistics Norway defines a settlement as follows:  «A collection of houses must be registered as a settlement if at least 200 people live there. The distance between the houses should not normally exceed 50 meters … Clusters of houses with at least … 5 residential buildings are included up to 400 meters from the urban centre. »

Figure 3 shows the delimitation of the village settlement Hovden (red boundary line) as relevant in census data and definition of urban settlement. “The other” Hovden, with densely built-up second (residential) house areas (green boundary line) far outweigh “the official” Hovden. If one where to ask official data on population and land area in urban settlements, what you get is limited to the red areas only; “the other Hovden” would be invisible in the dataset.

The institution of home is expanding into mountain space – in stealth mode
Figure 3: Delimitation of “the official” Hovden (red boundary line) and Hovden grown by stealth as second house areas (green boundary line).

The third (wo)man

Why bother? It is all about understanding the scene. Remember the film by Carlo Reed, “The Third Man”? The third man is explained when we learn that when Harry Lime’s supposedly dead body was taken across the road there were two known people who carried him, but the porter at Lime’s apartment block is alone in saying he saw a third man (“There was a third man”), without which solving the plot would be incomprehensible. Just like understanding the mountain village Hovden or the Lillehammer region with its three municipalities would be grossly incomplete without a third man, someone between the settled and passing through tourist. But who?

Isn’t second houses and its users simply another face of tourism with its hit-and-run superficial consumption of places as the tourist hurry from one to the next? It is not (Ellingsen, W. and Nilsen, B. (2021). Second house users have two vital qualities that

separates them from the tourist[1]; they invest in a residence (tourists don’t), and they are regularly or repetitive present in the community and municipality (tourists don’t). In these respects, they are more like full time residents and could be categorized as part time residents. It is only in the main purpose of their stay, leisure, or recreation, that a second house users likens the tourist. They represent a third category of presence in a community (Arnesen et al., 2010), a part time inhabitant.

Not just a house, but an evolution of home?

Analysis of spatial restructuring is of course no novel topic. Hägerstrand (1982) and his followers introduced mapping time-space geographies of everyday life to social science. Nevertheless, in their search for spatial ordering, the social sciences have still failed to fully recognize how the spatiality’s of social life presuppose, and frequently involve conflict over, both the actual and the imagined movement of people from place to place, event to event. Travel, mobility, and its implications have largely been a black box for the social sciences, a neutral set of technologies and processes predominantly permitting forms of economic, social and political life that is seen as explicable in terms of other, more causally powerful processes. But with Hannam et al (2006, p. 3) the chickens come home to roost, so to speak, when they assert that “the home (is) transformed, as proximity and connectivity are imagined in new ways and often enhanced by communication devices and likely to be ‘on the move’. Changes also transform the nature, scale and temporalities of families, ‘local’ communities, public and private spaces…”.

What’s in a home – Etymology

From Indo-European etymology tkei or (t)koi-mo means to settle, to dwell. Its derivates found its way in later central European languages concepts as ‘ham’ in Old English and later Middle English ‘home’, the Old-Norse ‘heimr’ and the present Norwegian ‘hjem’, the German ‘heim’ and more. In how many places do we strive to tkei, and how do tkei connect us spatially and what does this connection consist of?

Issues like comfort and frequency of use are entering the definition, as do attachment in some mental or semiotic way. And then there is mobility. Aristotle made locomotion a core feature of animals, and our techné made us capable of moving or being moved readily from one place to almost any other place – and dwell. But for Aristotle happiness and maturity in commanding our powers of mobility was not the restless chasing from one place to the next, but the circular, regular and predictable patterns of movement and development[3]. Man should create a fulfilled pattern in the movements expressing the perpetual circular fulfilling movement in an apparently changing world.

So, what is a tkei? It is a home, meaning a dwelling place or places together with the family or social unit that occupies it; a household, an environment supposedly offering security, rest, tranquillity and happiness, a valued place regarded as a refuge and for some a place of origin. Or it may be several such places knit together in a network and flow? Tkei, and all its derivates into various Indo-European languages, is a complex concept, and a discussion on principal and second homes will have to face this multitude of meanings and practices even at this philosophical level. Struggling with concepts like mobility and home is even more of a challenge to make sense of our behaviour and desires in commanding several houses while expressing who we are and want to be. And modernity has not made it easier with its abundant – although unevenly distributed – wealth in the Western world, the compression of space offered by new extended transport systems and compartmentalisation of time offered by well organised societies.

Today, space has almost ‘collapsed’ compared to what was the case just a handful of generations ago, and consequently new patterns and lifestyles have emerged. As mobility increases, home may be conceived as a network of dwelling places that we command as part of our lifestyle. In one contribution Williams, King and Warnes (2004) apply Urry’s concepts of ‘scapes’ and ‘flows’ (scapes are essentially the places and transport lines that structure the flow between the different nodes) to capture this homeliness which some Western world’ers find in integrating several houses in a ‘familiar’ locomotional network in their lifestyles.

‘Conditional Symmetric Housing Development’ – or COSY

We tend to focus on urbanisation as a central feature of modernisation, draining rurality of people, especially those in childbearing age and active in the labour market, and functions to hot-spot growth regions with cities as insatiable black holes. But modernisation evidently has another aspect. The excesses and surpluses in a modern life, time allocation seems to be diverted to more recreation, and somehow the idea of a tkei is internally tied to the desire for recreating[1]? This is seen in investing resources (time, money, mobility) in a ‘second home’ in rural landscapes. This modernization process could be read as a ‘the other side of’ urbanisation. It is not counter-urbanisation in the traditional sense, it could better be characterised as a ‘conditional symmetric housing development’ – or COSY. COSY then describes a situation when household capital accumulation from value creation in the urban labour market reaches a surplus which is used to acquire a second house in the urban hinterland offering amenities for recreation.

Home, house, and dwelling – why?

Acquiring a house for recreational purposes is not an entirely new thing. It has long been part of a lifestyle in aristocratic quarters of society and in wealthy upper classes life. Even in

a country like Norway with almost no aristocratic traditions, acquiring a country side villa to enjoy more informal and casual social gatherings for family and friends became very much in vogue among a growing and wealthy bourgeoisie – industrialists, merchants etc – throughout late 19th and through 20th century (Sørensen, 2004). Emulation in life style generally propagates from upper classes through society as function of wealth creation and distribution (Veblen, 1899).

This mechanism of emulation alone does not account for the current trends in recreational houses or second homes in Norway or other countries. There are other and different blends of factors as well relevant to understand the current evolution in dwelling across countries and cultures. The “old style” “hytte”, a modest building without the luxury of in-house water, electricity, no road access, and in particular no mobile and internet facilities, emerged in Norway primo 20th century and into the 1970’ties. A modestly priced simple construction located in scenic and undeveloped landscapes on the coast, in the woods or mountain regions. Throughout the 80’ties another trend emerged to total domination as we come close the 21st century; from the simple “hytte” to the second house technically and functionally almost on par with a regular detached house. The change is one of scale and scope: Today, middle class households find a multi-house home lifestyle with a high standard second home worthy of emulation – in accordance, it might be argued, with a Veblenian type process of evolution in the institution of home.

Institutions are, according to Veblen “… habitual methods of carrying on the life process in community” (Veblen 1899). Veblen operates with the term ‘institution’ as an established social practice, a habit of thought, or a form of organisation (O’Hara, 1999), i.e. something intangible. Growth in household wealth, households’ command of wealth, time and space will have profound influence exactly on institutions, on people’s life forms, their preferences, their social practices, their decisions and transactions, their ideas, ideals, and aspirations on how to live a good life. This puts an evolutionary pressure on institutions, and ‘home’ is a susceptible candidate for change here.

To dwell and build

There is one question to be answered; why do we build? Why don’t we just dwell like a tourist moving from one place to another while enjoying leisure and recreation, and at the same time have access to variation in landscape, culture, in a stream of new consumable activities and products? Why is it not enough with the non-binding pleasures of “the tourist gaze” (Urry & Larsen, 2011; Samarathunga & Cheng, 2020) as we roam and consume, why bother to settle? Why invest in a second house, rather than consume as a tourist? Settling is shackles and chains, binds resources and limits the carefree freedom – the one sung by Janis Joplin in “Me and Bobby McGee“: ” Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose“. If you already have one house, why two?

A philosophical discussion on the meaning of building and dwelling adds some perspectives to understand dwelling, the tangible building as such and the intangible institution of settlement and home. To Heidegger dwelling is not merely taking shelter within a physical structure; man does not dwell to build. Only because we are capable of dwelling can we build. “For building is not merely a means and a way toward dwelling – to build is in itself already to dwell” (Heidegger, 2001). Dwelling cannot be reduced to building according to Heidegger, nor to residing in a building. Dwelling as such is about domesticating space (Gallent, 2006) and building belongs to this process of domestication. In these terms a second house ‘gathers the land’ as recreational landscape and defines a location as a recreational place for the dweller. So, the doing and being that culminate in a second house is an expression of dwelling, and this expression creates a recreational place. And this doing and being is part of the way dwellers search for human nature – “we build and have built because we dwell, that is, because we are dwellers. …  “The real plight of dwelling”  – according to Heidegger – “lies in this, that mortals ever search for the nature of dwelling, that they must ever learn to dwell” (Heidegger, 2001). So dwelling is a process and the nature of being and the nature of dwelling changes, driven by undercurrents causing shifts in lifestyle.

As (Gallent, 2006) points out, second homes are ”buildings and locations within the realm of dwelling and products of that dwelling. They are representatives of the way the act of being has changed; not only the act of being, but also the nature of community”. As underscored, these changes, i.e., these undercurrents causing shifts in lifestyles regarding recreation, include strong technological components as household invests in technically advanced housing structures as their second house. The challenge then is to map and conceptualize such changes in the institution of home as the act of dwelling evolves in these buildings.


‘Home’ is often seen conceived as a house and residence of a household. But following Heidegger’s discussion, the distinction between ‘house’ and ‘home’ opens a needed perspective on dwelling, work, and recreation. A house is a tangible object. Home as institution is about domestic and repetitive functions performed by members of households as dwellers, typically paid work, education, feeding, sleeping, child rearing, shelter, personal property storage and recreation. These home functions are in tied to something tangible, namely one or more houses, but should not itself be reduced to something tangible.  A simple reason for this is the growing mobility which enables access to areas attractive for leisure and recreation activities, and to perform household functions on several localities. The institution of home, and thus home functions, may embrace several houses for one household.

These modern recreational housing structures represent alternate houses that together make up home by serving as places for different household functions in one integrated life style – and where one (or more) has main function to serve recreation or leisure in time slots from a day or two, to longer holidays. (Reuschke, 2006) discuss “multilocational households” i.e. in second homes much along these lines. Contributions in McIntyre et al (2006a) discuss the several aspects of a general phenomenon of multiple dwelling in tourism – second home users included – and the concepts of place, home and identities. Mallet (2004) makes an interesting observation: ”… home is not confined to the house, but “locates lived time and space”. Rapoport (1995) and Ellingsen and Hilde (2013)  has made a similar argument of the importance of not to conflate home to the physical house. Perkins and Thorns stress a similar point of view: “Rather than seeing the primary and secondary (house) as separate we need to see them as linked spaces that together constitute a ‘home’ and a continuum of experience” (Perkins and Thorns 2006). A similar point is made by McIntyre, Williams, og McHugh (2006b): “The reality for many is a multi-centred lifestyle where work, home and play are separated in time and place, and meanings and identity are structured around not one, but several places and associated circulation among them”.

Karjalainen (1993) analyses the difference between house and home. He sees the house as something made, as a “referential complex”. References are created in the encounter(s) between the dweller and the house, and “if fused with emotions, the house becomes a home”. Stedman (2006) concludes in his analysis of place attachment in a typical recreational rural area that seasonal residents in fact exhibit higher levels of attachment than year-round residents, a conclusion that vouch for the presence of sufficient emotional references to make a recreational house a home. This is in accordance with the conclusions drawn by Williams & Kaltenborn (1999) that “the modern identity is no longer firmly rooted in a singular local place”, and – we add- may well extend to embrace more places and could well include recreational house places. Blunt & Dowling (2006) also stresses the point that “since the connections between house and home are made, analysis needs to demonstrate those connections rather than assume them”.

The multi-house home – a fundament for multilocal lifestyles

A home may well embrace more than one house. Houses integrated in a multi-house home may fulfil different or overlapping functions in a coherent functional unit called home. And this is precisely the point we wish to make, that a regularized dwelling pattern split between multiple houses (multiple, but fixed dwelling locations) in concert makes up a home for a household. As a phenomenon, a similar concept of a multi-house home is also observed among migration scholars (Green et al., 1999; Padoch et al., 2008). The multi-house home lifestyle we have in mind is when urban dwellers establish a permanent relation with rural based societies and participate in rural–urban networks and in rural land-use decisions. Our COSY-processes are driven by a desire and possibility to domesticate space as nature and cultural amenities in time slots dedicated to leisure and recreation with a second house as an extended home base. What is gained in this stricter conceptual separation of ‘home’ vs ‘house’ is making a distinction required in multilocality research between the concrete and physical structure of buildings with special functional allocations, and the abstract structure of a home and a lifestyle.

It is the institution of home seen expanding into mountain space – in stealth mode.


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[1] Recreation should not be understood or underestimated as something of secondary and insignificant value and quest in life, rather it is underpinned by cultural trends, and vital to community and personal aspirations.

[2] OK, there are some less clear-cut categories of households or individuals here, people who rent for fixed terms (thus consumes and do not invest), and there are tourists who keep coming back and back to the same location. The issue here is archetypes.

[2] Remarkable few have rebutted Aristotle on this issue. “Settle down” seems to be inherently connected to reach maturity and fulfilling a potential in life, certainly in western culture. For this reason, Olga Tokarczuk’s novel “Flights” is interesting. In the original Polish, the title is Bieguni. The bieguni are a Slavic sect (possibly fictional) who have rejected settled life for an existence of constant movement. A powerful voice of the novel, a shrouded woman bieguni, monologue states: “Whoever pauses will be petrified, whoever stops, pinned like an insect, his heart pierced by a wooden needle, his hands and feet drilled through and pinned into the threshold and the ceiling”