The notion of ‘inside’ connotes not only physical space, but a whole social and psychological landscape.
To be inside can mean to be safe, to be part of a group, to share in privilege – or even to be locked up in prison.
Inside and outside become dichotomous states, or perhaps poles of a continuum.
The sociologist Erving Goffman used the metaphor of theatre to understand how we humans, as social beings, construct ourselves for different audiences. He suggested that – depending on circumstance and audience – we have ‘front of house’ selves and ‘backstage’ selves. The further inside the theatre of our lives we allow people the more of our backstage selves is revealed to them.
Those on the outside are witness to our most managed performances, while those we permit inside the workings of our theatre witness the make-up and costumes, the props, backdrops, wings and general chaos of the performer’s work.
In The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1990, Penguin Books) Goffman says
Very commonly the back region of a performance is located at one end of the place where the performance is presented … In general the back region will be the place where the performer can reliably expect that no member of the audience will intrude. (pp.115-116)
I think private homes are a really interesting instance of the inside-outside continuum. We invite people inside our house, but there is (at least in my social circles) an implicit agreement that some parts of a home are ‘public’ spaces for the duration of the invitation, whilst others are private. Even within this interior space we construct ‘inside’ and ‘outside’.
My partner and I have lived in our house for 14 years, and couldn’t count how many people we have invited in during that time. I do know, though, how many have been upstairs. Up the stairs in our home is our bedroom, en suite and my office. It is private space. It’s not that it’s messy – we make the bed and don’t leave our laundry strewn over the floor. It is actually quite a beautiful, tranquil space – but it is ours. It lies inside the sphere in which we live out our most private, spontaneous and unguarded life – the area of love and trust and intimacy.