I recently saw a Norwegian film called Kitchen Stories. Set in the 1950s, it follows Sweden’s Home Research Institute: an organization that studies domestic habits and has had great success in rationalising the kitchen for Swedish Housewives (see diagram). In the film, the Home Research Institute moves to Norway to observe the kitchen routines of single Norwegian men. On call 24 hours a day, the observers live in caravans outside each subject’s house. Observations are made from high custom-made chairs strategically placed in each kitchen with observers allowed to come and go as they please, but under no circumstances must they be spoken to or involve themselves in kitchen activities. Each observer is tasked with mapping every movement the subject makes in his kitchen.
I found the film extremely compelling as it reflects strongly some of the work that many of us do in GIScience/ Quantitative Geography. The concept of tracking a person’s or population’s movements, for example, is very common; Fabian Neuhaus does just this when looking at Urban Rhythms and CASA‘s CAPABLE project tracks children’s movements. Indeed, I may wish produce a diagram similar to the one below where kitchen areas are substituted for regions within a country and the housewife replaced by flows of migrants. Kitchen Stories has made me think a little harder about the interplay between the observer and the observed and also how easily positivism can be taken to almost laughable extremes. I therefore strongly recommend the film, not only because it is entertaining, but also for its frank and insightful take on the “top down” view of the world.