A Cat and A Human's Home

The Constructed Situation of Home


June 2020

Indicidual project
Master’s graduation project.

We often feel that we love our cat very much: “I prepared the best cat food for it, the most beautiful collar, and even castrated it.” Then we will complain: “It doesn’t understand my kindness at all.” This kindness is that the owner has shaped the image of the cat according to his preferences.

In this design, “human” and “cat” are a kind of both reality and representation: they are both human and cat, as well as insider and outsider under the capitalist system. Through the concretisation of the national machine, ideology, and constructed situations, showing the human “home” has become a shaped category. By comparing cat’s instincts, behaviours, and its “views of home”, it reflects on an instinct demand that is free from consumerism.


The Construction of the "Home"

The design model consists of five layers. At the top are state machines, including the Supreme Court, the Department of Culture, the Department of Education, the State Administration of Radio, Film and TV, and Cyberspace Administration. These five institutions are the representative cultural management institutions I selected. Through norms, management and incentives, these institutions shaped the ideology of the entire society like gardeners pruning branches. The second layer is ISA’s methods, which are school education, paper media, TV broadcast media, Internet media and theatre. As the first layer, these five methods are also the most common. For example, the church, which is common in the Western world, is not a conventional ideological method in China. These methods form a layer of fog, stripping people from their real lives, and blindly pursuing a false appearance.

The middle layer is “home”. The upper part is the human’s “situational rooms”, and the lower part is the cat’s “instinctive rooms”. The human and cat worlds are connected but separated here. Human lives in a high-level, refined, and struggling world, while cat lives in a low-level, rough, and instinctive world. What I wants to discuss and show is a “situational home” under a “cat-human relationship”. On the one hand, the audience under the capitalist situation accepts spectacle as the cornerstone of its definition while thinking they are independent. On the other hand, cats, considered domesticated, escape from the capitalist situation. Through such an interesting and stark contrast, I hope to show the contradictions under the capitalist situation and the fragmentation of different groups of people.

The lower layer is the cat’s behaviours, including eating, playing, cleaning, relaxing, rubbing, hiding and observing. These behaviours ultimately determine how the cat views home and home items. Different from human’s view on value and situation, the cat’s view is more real. These behaviours are ultimately determined by the fundamental needs, which is the bottom layer, survival and reproduction.

The central significance of the research is to illustrate the status of the young people in the “situation”. By thinking about how the social alienation and consumerism invade the personal space and impact the personal autonomy.


A Cat's Morning

Another design outcome is a series of comics of a cat in the morning. I anthropomorphise cats and live in situations set by human. In this situation, the cat takes a loan for the exquisite cat cage, gets up early to exercise, shares the steps on the Internet to get praise, eats non-added organic cat food, wipes with the hair softener of famous brand, and chooses the most suitable collar before going out. This series of behaviours is placed on a cat, which is in high contrast with the natural behaviour of the cat itself. As the survey found, few cats like cat cages, and they are more willing to find a random place to rest. Few cats like “healthy cat food”, and it is their pursuit to eat delicious food.

From this, it is not difficult to think, is it the pursuit of young people to buy an apartment with a loan? It may be a good thing to insist on going to the gym every day, but is this really what we want out of ourselves? Living long with self-discipline or dying soon with unfettered lifestyle may have been a matter of controversy, but hiding the right of choice could never be the correct approach. I hope to use this comic to reflect on whether we can wake up in the situation.

I hope to use this design to reflect on whether we can wake up in the situation. I hope people can think about whether they are doing “what they should do in their class” and gain a sense of security and accomplishment. When the sense of security and accomplishment comes from the meaning of being shaped and deceived, it just highlights our class’ refusal to strip away the situation and symbols.


Social Alienation, Constructed Situation and Ideological State Apparatuses

When we label different items, we have already drawn a distance between the subject and the object. When we call a cat a “cat”, it belongs to the category of “cat”, but not just a “cat”; when we call ourselves “human”, part of the self is also covered up, became a generic term. We call the Chinese hardworking, the British polite, the German rigorous, and the French romantic. Is there no lazy Chinese or rude British? It is impossible.

Similarly, people from London to Shanghai wearing the same clothes, living in the same apartment, and using the same furniture. Everyone has become an atomized individual, a small part of a big social machine. Under the development of contemporary capitalism, the occupation of people has changed from primitive survival needs to ubiquitous “situation”. All living things are merely representations.

The main scope of the research lies in the sociological category of Marxism. Marx believed that the class of the proletariat “feels annihilated, this means that they cease to exist in estrangement; it sees in it its own powerlessness and in the reality of an inhuman existence”. Guy Debord stated that “constructed situation” is “moment of life, concretely and deliberately constructed by the collective organisation of a unitary environment and a game of events”. In the advanced capitalist society, capitalists no longer squeezed labourers through survival resources but developed into a unique “situation”. As a result, capitalism changed the way people live from existence to possession, and from possession to appearance. As sung in the song:

When the world crashes in into my living room
Television man made me what I am
People like to put the television down
But we are just good friends
(I’m a) television man

The main research areas include Situationist International and Structural Marxism, such as “The Society of The Spectacle” by Guy Debord, and “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses” by Louis Althusser. Debord believes that the dominant nature of contemporary advanced society (the advanced capitalism) manifests itself as a displayed picture. The situation is an illusion constructed by perceptual observability, which is a cover for the real existence of society. Althusser has unique insights into the Ideological State Apparatuses(ISA). He believes that a material form or ritual makes people subtly accept the laws of the existing society, namely ideology. As a result, the construction of the symbol links the social situation together. The literature research also includes “Revolution of Everyday Life” by Raoul Vaneigem, and “Dialectic of Enlightenment” by Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno. Repeated produced situations involuntarily replace the lives of contemporary young people (although they always think that their lives are unique and exquisite). From the following-the-rules taught by the school to the fighting-for-the-first required by the company, from the petty bourgeoisie lives in TV series and movies to the autobiography of successful people, young people continue to bring themselves into the situation, and big data has continuously strengthened their substitution. They were trapped in the stratosphere of information and were shaped as slaves to the situation.

Capitalism separates labourers from the products they produce, art from life, and production from consumption. People seem to have equal consumer status in front of a sophisticated spectacle. “When the real world changes into simple images, simple images become real beings and effective motivations of a hypnotic behaviour.” Capitalists rely on the generation and transformation of the situation to manipulate social life, while people pursue spectacle and lose their desires and demands for real life. People use external visual representations to define the basis of social ontology, and labourers fall into a “situation-audience relationship.” Educational systems, democratic systems, consumer products, sports and entertainment, media, culture, architecture and design are all caught in the situation. The audience cannot help observing and accepting spectacle and defines themselves according to the symbols:

“If you tell grown-ups, ‘I saw a beautiful red brick house, with geraniums at the windows and doves on the roof…,’ they won’t be able to imagine such a house. You have to tell them, ‘I saw a house worth a hundred thousand francs.’ Then they exclaim, ‘What a pretty house!'”

As a result, the real world is reduced to images, but the image is upgraded to seemingly real existence. Fictional things make people unconsciously “hypnotized”. If the individual’s reality cannot be reduced to an unreal situation-like “fame”, the individual will have nothing.

Besides, this research also refers to Karl Marx’s description of social alienation, and the discussion of dog-human relationship in Donna Haraway’s “The Companion Species Manifesto”, and consider a relative relationship between “domestication” and “social alienation”.

Research and Analysis

News Studies

The survey began with the current situation of Chinese youth’s life, mainly through the collection and sorting of news and topics. In the relationship between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, capital has alienated people. The bourgeoisie has gained more income and higher status, while the proletariat has relatively lost its value and meaning of work. In the past, this alienation was apparent. Workers had to become working machines, using all time and energy in exchange for compensation only enough to feed themselves. In contemporary China, this alienation hides in the highly developed capitalist background and creates a desirable “situation” through the construction of ideology. Young people choose to become slaves to the situation for a “decent life”.

In China, “996” has become the norm of enterprises. A “996” work schedule refers to an unofficial work schedule (9 a.m.–9 p.m., six days per week). Even though people’s lives have been squeezed to the extreme, Jack Ma, as the leader of Alibaba, said “Many companies and many people do not have the opportunity to work 996. If you do not work 996 when you are young, when can you ever work 996?” Similarly, Huawei, as another well-known enterprise, is also known for its “Wolf Culture”. Ren Zhengfei hopes that his employees can work hard as “overworking, eating and sleeping on the site”. These are not unique examples of Chinese society but have become a common phenomenon. This phenomenon is so widespread that some people think labours should work overtime so they can have “a chance to struggle”.

In the past few decades, China has experienced the most significant wealth changes. The national GDP has undergone a nearly 100-fold change from 149.54 billion dollars in 1978 to 14.34 trillion dollars in 2019. Uneven distribution of wealth makes people hope for all possible ways to obtain wealth. The reason people are addicted to this “situation of struggle” also lies in a vision of “class rise”. By buying and displaying their spectacles, people separate themselves from the “lower class”. So piano, oil painting, skiing, second language, and many other items, their situational significance is more important than functional meaning. China has become the second largest market for luxury goods, and a large number of young people prefer to carry huge loans to buy fashionable items for themselves. “The social relationship between people is alienated in the mist into the relationship between people and money. In such an illusion, people cannot see the close relationship that they should have, so they ignore the real relationship with themselves. The man became a slave of things.” The “taste” of the middle class has become a symbol for distinguishing dissidents and solidifying divisions, forming the basis of self-esteem and self-worth.

“Cat” is also one of the exquisite items. Some people buy cat breeds because they can get much attention on social media and because they can show their “love” and “decent life”. Stray cats caused by college students discarding pets after graduation have become a severe problem for some Chinese universities. For the cat itself, it does not constitute the situation as a factor that affects thinking. Whether it is a domestic cat or a wild cat, it possibly will only eat the food it likes to fill its stomach, and will not go to the Michelin 3-stars restaurant on purpose.

Jack Ma Defends Overtime Work Culture As "Huge Blessing"
Huawei's "Wolf Culture" Helped It Grow, and Got It Into Trouble

Cases Studies

Several fascinating examples of illustrating the capitalistic activities were found during case studies. In “The Invisible Apple” by Zigeng Wang and Tanli Liu, the production of the iPhone is represented as a building through a space grafting method, which contains many different places such as factories, electronic malls, universities and apple stores. Through such an approach, the relationship between Apple and the labours becomes more efficiently and dramatically. Therefore, people can better understand the contradictions under capitalist activities and the separation of different groups of people. 

Another example is the “Utopian Gourmet House(乌托邦美食の楼)” drawn by the online cartoonist “Utopian Lord DBZ (乌托邦主DBZ)”. The comics reveal a virtual connection between making food and the autonomous behaviour of the creature as an ingredient. This series of comics also demonstrates a split between consumption and production, and a separation between different people in the same environment.

Questionnaire of Chinese Young Cat Owners

This questionnaire is surveying at cat owners in China who are between 20 and 29 years old and have a bachelor degree or above. This limitation allows the research object to be limited to young people in the middle class of contemporary China. Although young people are exploited and not valued, they have not yet been entirely oppressed by family and work, and have a certain degree of freedom. Besides, I also plan to study the life and needs of cats raised by people for comparing them with people alienated by society . Through peers in social software (WeChat) and online questionnaire software (Tencent Questionnaire), a total of 330 questionnaires were distributed, and 107 were answered. Here are some data and analysis below.

The Life Pattern of Chinese Youth

  • Are you living alone, flat-share, living in a couple, living with family or other? What is your ideal living situation?
  • What rooms do you have in your house? What rooms will you have in your ideal home?

What these questions try to investigate is the living environment accepted by respondents and their ideal living environment. 

48.6% of the respondents lived with their families, and 29.0% lived alone. In contrast, as many as 47.7% of the respondents’ ideal living status is lives in a couple. The ideal is to live alone is 28.0% with little change. Only 16.8% of the respondents prefer to live with their family. The lifestyles expected by respondents are living alone, or with the one they choose. This result confirms the status quo of contemporary young people escaping from traditional marriage, which also shows resistance or subconscious resistance to the inertial lifestyle.

In the investigation of functional zones, the needs of respondents for privacy space are more significant than other areas. Most people want to change the existing one toilet or bathroom into two. Besides, respondents also expect to reserve or have additional work and study space (existing 31 [study room 30, computer room 1]; expecting 47 [study room 39, studio 4, computer room 4]) and leisure and entertainment space (existing 1[ Gym 1]; expecting 29 [gym 8, audio-visual room 5, game room 5, swimming pool 3, computer room 3, loft 3, tea room 2]). The contemporary young people’s expectations of personal life begin to focus on individual interests and hobbies and look forward to actively separating living and working space.

The Hobbies of Chinese Youth

  • Quickly recall your home, and list the five items that came to mind first. Quickly recall your home, and list five items of the least commonly used.
  • What cat furniture does your cat have? What cat furniture does your cat dislike?
What these questions try to investigate is the effect of social alienation and consumerism on respondents. Through these two questions, a better description of the current respondents’ understanding of the physical and cultural space of “home” and the contradiction between this cognition and its actual use could be derived.

The stereotyped impression of “home” is still undeniable among the respondents, TV (48), sofa (47) and refrigerator (42) significantly surpass other items (the 4th, computer [32]). Only a few people think that “home” is related to personal interests and traits, such as flower pots (7), game consoles (3), and photos (2). Consumerism also obviously affected the lives of respondents. The fastest remembered item TV is also the fastest recalled useless item (30). Human-made stereotyped interests (fitness, cooking, etc.) also have a significant impact. A total of 64 people mentioned special cooking tools as useless (such as ovens, juicers, yoghurt machines, etc.), and 12 people referred sports equipment (such as treadmills, yoga mats, dumbbells, etc.).
The “TV” in the cat’s space-the unwanted object brought by the inertial stereotype-is the “cat kennel”. 82.2% of the respondents purchased cat kennels, but 26.2% reported that they are useless. These two data are the highest in both question surveys except “no”. Similar to the analysis of questions 12-13, people think that cats need a fixed “cat kennel”, but cats don’t think so. Similarly, funny cat stick also has a 65.4% purchase rate and 19.6% useless rate.

The Cat-human Relationship of Chinese Youth

  • Do you think you are the same person in the company/school and at home? Do you think you are the same person working/learning at home and resting at home?
  • Where is your cat’s nest? Where is the usual range of your cat’s activities?
  • How do you think you are related to cats? Do you think cats agree with this relationship?
What these questions try to investigate is the work/study invasion of living space/time and respondents’ feedback on the status quo, and the cat-human relationship in respondents’ eyes. The cat-human relationship can be compared to the relationship between the superior and the inferior in work/study, which has many possible forms in the current social environment.

Compared with 2/3 of the respondents who think they are another person at the company/school, only 1/2 of the people believe that they are different working/studying at home from the usual. People who work/study at home can be regarded in the middle of public, formal, regulated occasions and private, casual, interest-driven occasions.

Most respondents place cat kennels in the living room (37) or bedroom (27). In some people’s consciousness or subconsciousness, cats exist as shared or private goods or subordinates. Some people choose to put it on the balcony (14) or storage room (2), which may reflect the need to make a distinction between the cat as a different status. However, except for the bathroom and the entrance, the proportion of cats involved in all places exceeds 30%. This outcome also reflected that cats’ perception of home is “territory”, and they supervise their territories by inspection.

53.3% of respondents think they are a friend relationship with cats, and 27.1% think they are a parent-child relationship. Compared with past generations, contemporary young people are more willing to face their cats with an equal attitude. When answering “Does the cat agree with this opinion”, 64.5% of the people thought that the cat agreed, and only a few thought that they could not represent the cat’s opinion. From this point, the respondents acquiesce in their identity as the cat’s spokesperson, which may still contain a potential concept of hierarchy.

Design Process

Items Classification of Different Needs

I thought about extracting the “functional need” and “situational need” by separating the definition of objects. The item itself is produced for its functional need, but in an advanced capitalist society, the thing is gradually stripped from its original function, emphasizing its situational need. An example is Nike Air Jordan sneakers. Some young Chinese are crazy about these “rare and unique” sneakers and spent a great amount of money on them.

Referring to the questionnaire survey done earlier, I divided the survey items into 22 groups according to function in items of home, and 23 groups in useless items. I selected top two items in each group to analyze the functional need and the situational need. If there is only one item in some categories, it will be selected.

By extracting and separating functional need and situational need in items, I tried to use these items as a symbol to show a constructed situation with all the spectacles found in the survey, and their corresponding functional space. The two spaces are in and out of each other, which is a “look in the mirror” relationship. Therefore, I also hope to express this relationship in a similar way.

The Functional and Situational Need of Items From Items of Home

The Functional and Situational Need of Items From Useless Items

Discussion of Spectacles and Situations

The data obtained through the questionnaire survey can reach some fascinating information. The respondents began to resist or subconsciously resist their inertial lifestyles. They have also begun to focus on personal interests and hobbies. However, consumerism also affected the interviewees’ lives. According to stereotypes and constructed spectacle, people buy items that they do not need. People will also buy cat kennels and other “necessities of life” for their cats following constructed spectacle, but many people responded that cats do not use them.

The information obtained by the survey is a good indication of the current social situation’s invasion or occupation of people’s daily lives. ISA imperceptibly impersonates people, and people cannot help pursuing their labelled lives and interests. People do not know the meaning of their hard work day after day, but choose to use homogeneous consumption to entertain themselves.

I tried to combine these items spatially through digital modelling to explore a symbolic space. However, the form of the model is not enough to show a clear difference between the “real world” and the “situational world”. Therefore, I used a way by adding symbolic images/tags (such as the chatting box of WhatsAppp or the interface of Instagram) to visualise the constructed perception of human under captalism.

The Construction of Ideological Layers

Based on the model and image practice, the spacial design is built by establishing the “human” layers of the ideological system and the “cat” layers of the natural instinct. The human space is divided into the home, the ISAs and the state machines. The layers of cat and human are connected in the “home” to form a comparison of opposites and unity. The other layers are connected through “pipes” or “pillars” to demonstrate a related influence. During modelling, the connection between different small rooms was repeatedly thought.

With the advice of the supervisor, the cat’s behaviour and its purpose were observed and rethought. The cat data relys on the assistance of several cat-owner friends of mine. By observing and recording how cats use some items in the home (could be very different from human), the way of cats that exist but transcend the capitalist situation deal with capitalist spectacle from a non-human perspective could be imagined. This aspect also refers to some documentaries about cats, including “The Story of Cats” and “The Secret Life of Kittens”. It can be found that the fundamental needs as creatures are survival and reproduction, and it leads to different needs and activities, which demonstrates the way cats treat home items. Therefore, the cat layers reclassified into the instincts, the needs and the view of home, and connected accordingly.