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Hendon, Julia - Archaeological Approaches to the Organization of Domestic Labor

Hendon, Julia - Archaeological Approaches to the Organization of Domestic Labor

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 Annu. Rev. Anthropol. 1996. 25:45–61Copyright 
1996 by Annual Reviews Inc. All rights reserved 
 Julia A. Hendon
Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Gettysburg College, Gettysburg, Pennsyl-vania 17325
KEY WORDS: gender, specialization, microscale, Mesoamerica, Neolithic
The household has emerged as a focus of archaeological inquiry over the pastdecade.Thisreviewsummarizesissuesraisedbyeconomicandfeministanthro-pologists about the meaning of the terms
and then con-siders research on household archaeology, craft specialization, and gender rele-vanttothestudyoftheorganizationofdomesticlabor.Itisarguesthatthecom-monfunctionaldefinitionofthehouseholdasanadaptivemechanismreactingtoenvironmental and social conditions underconceptualizes the household andrendersitsstudyunlikelytocontributetoourunderstandingofeconomicandso-cialprocessesinpastsocieties.Studiesofcraftspecializationandwomen’seco-nomic production that emphasize what members of the domestic group do andhow that action is valued are more successful in demonstrating the dynamic in-teraction between household and society.
Archaeological interest in the household and domestic relations has evolvedwith attempts to develop cross-culturally valid approaches to these issues incultural anthropology. Anthropological studies of modern and historic domes-tic groups emphasize the importance of activities and their culturally con-
   A  n  n  u .   R  e  v .   A  n   t   h  r  o  p  o   l .   1   9   9   6 .   2   5  :   4   5  -   6   1 .   D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   f  r  o  m   a  r   j  o  u  r  n  a   l  s .  a  n  n  u  a   l  r  e  v   i  e  w  s .  o  r  g   b  y   T   U   F   T   S   U   N   I   V   E   R   S   I   T   Y  o  n   0   5   /   0   4   /   0   5 .   F  o  r  p  e  r  s  o  n  a   l  u  s  e  o  n   l  y .
structed meaning, rather than kinship norms or family composition, in defin-ing the household. The activities considered to be the “culturally recognizedtasks” (19:47) of the household vary cross-culturally. Thus, what householdsdo becomes a matter to be investigated rather than assumed a priori. However,it is not enough to focus on activities alone. Of equal importance is the sym-bolic dimension, what we might call the “idea” of the household (see 102). Itis the practice [in Bourdieu’s (10) sense of the term] of the household—whatpeople do as members of a domestic group and the meaning assigned to theiractions—that is critical to an understanding of household dynamics (19, 83,110, 114, 122).What is the nature of the relations among household members: Feministand economic anthropologists have questioned the household as an undiffer-entiated and homogenous social entity (46, 80, 111, 122). All households ina society may be charged with the same basic tasks and interact with thesame physical and social environment. But they do not necessarily respondin the same way to external conditions nor organize themselves in the sameway. Wilk (111:25), writing about the Kekchi Maya of Belize, noted that“[h]ouseholds that may look the same, with the same number of members andthe same kinship structure, at the same state of the developmental cycle, canhave very different economic structures.” Moreover, differences in class orwealth must be considered. Although the members of the domestic group areclearly inter-dependent, they are not a cooperative unit in which individualmembers automatically subordinate their wishes to the larger good of thegroup. Nor are decisions always made at the level of the household as a whole(with the implication that there is one member whose decisions carry thegreatest weight). The domestic group consists of social actors differentiatedby age, gender, role, and power whose agendas and interests do no always co-incide.Consideration of the internal differences in power and function has led to arecognition of the importance of gender as a culturally constructed ideologythat structures women’s and men’s roles, relationships, access to resources,and opportunities for control both within the household and in society as awhole. Emphasis on the role of individuals, or of categories of people deter-mined, for example, by gender and age, forces us “to engage directly withquestions of ideology and the construction of meaning, and recognize howstruggles over resources and labor are simultaneously struggles over mean-ing” (46:121). The household is, in effect, politicized in that its internal rela-tions are inextricable from the larger economic and political structure of soci-ety (46, 80, 122).The contested and dynamic nature of domestic relations requires a reevalu-ation of the folk concept domestic as linked exclusively to the home, women,and subsistence, and therefore not relevant to the production of surplus or
   A  n  n  u .   R  e  v .   A  n   t   h  r  o  p  o   l .   1   9   9   6 .   2   5  :   4   5  -   6   1 .   D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   f  r  o  m   a  r   j  o  u  r  n  a   l  s .  a  n  n  u  a   l  r  e  v   i  e  w  s .  o  r  g   b  y   T   U   F   T   S   U   N   I   V   E   R   S   I   T   Y  o  n   0   5   /   0   4   /   0   5 .   F  o  r  p  e  r  s  o  n  a   l  u  s  e  o  n   l  y .
wealth (6, 14, 78, 102, 118, 122). Cross-cultural studies of gender have under-mined the domestic/public opposition as universal or even particularly mean-ingful (19, 46, 75, 80, 94, 95, 114, 121). The household’s role in social repro-duction is as culturally constructed as its economic role (122), and the rela-tionship between child rearing and women’s economic activities is noteverywhere the same (20, 78, 87). Domestic action and relations, defined asthose that occur within the household, are of larger political and economic sig-nificance precisely because they are not separable from the relationships andprocesses that make up the “public domain.” “[D]omestic relationships are of-ten so inextricably intermeshed with relationships of political alliance that toseparate the domestic aspects from the political aspects is to misconstrue theserelationships” (122:191). Household relations and actions are not isolatedfrom society as a whole nor do they merely react passively to changes im-posed from outside.In this review I consider recent archaeological research on the domesticgroup. I discuss the degree to which this research has dealt with householdpractice and the political nature of domestic relations as important to an un-derstanding of social and economic processes in past societies. I pay particularattention to how relations among household members and the organization of domestic labor have been modeled by this research. I discuss briefly house-hold archaeology to illustrate why little of this work has come to grips withthese issues. I then turn to studies of craft specialization and the role of women that have been more successful.Although the studies reviewed here use data from a range of time periodsand geographic regions, a good many of them deal with pre-Columbian NewWorld or Neolithic European societies. Research on pre-Columbian LatinAmerican households has been informed by assumptions of long-term cul-tural continuity allowing the use of regional ethnohistorical and ethnographicdata as sources for models (3, 5, 25, 36, 41, 54, 55, 61, 62, 100). Study of Neolithic Period European households is more recent and demonstrateshow ideas about household organization and change are developed in the ab-sence of such a rich culturally specific record (1, 2, 9, 102–108). In the re-view, I use
domestic group
interchangeably to refer to the task-oriented, coresident, and symbolically meaningful social group that forms“the next bigger thing on the social map after an individual” (45:40–41), agroup that archaeologists have tried to study based on the remains of houses,or other sorts of living space, and the traces of activities associated withthis space. Although ethnographic research shows that coresidence, domesticactivities, and the household are not necessarily isomorphic (6), they oftenare. The assumption is a practical necessity for archaeology and is acceptedhere.
   A  n  n  u .   R  e  v .   A  n   t   h  r  o  p  o   l .   1   9   9   6 .   2   5  :   4   5  -   6   1 .   D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   f  r  o  m   a  r   j  o  u  r  n  a   l  s .  a  n  n  u  a   l  r  e  v   i  e  w  s .  o  r  g   b  y   T   U   F   T   S   U   N   I   V   E   R   S   I   T   Y  o  n   0   5   /   0   4   /   0   5 .   F  o  r  p  e  r  s  o  n  a   l  u  s  e  o  n   l  y .

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