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Understanding home: a critical review of the literature

Shelley Mallett
In recent years there has been a proliferation of writing on the meaning of home within the disciplines of sociology, anthropology, psychology, human geography, history, architecture and philosophy. Although many researchers now understand home as a multidimensional concept and acknowledge the presence of and need for multidisciplinary research in the field, there has been little sustained reflection and critique of the multidisciplinary field of home research and the diverse, even contradictory meanings of this term. This paper brings together and examines the dominant and recurring ideas about home represented in the relevant theoretical and empirical literature. It raises the question whether or not home is (a) place(s), (a) space(s), feeling(s), practices, and/or an active state of state of being in the world? Home is variously described in the literature as conflated with or related to house, family, haven, self, gender, and journeying. Many authors also consider notions of being-at-home, creating or making home and the ideal home. In an effort to facilitate interdisciplinary conversations about the meaning and experience of home each of these themes are briefly considered in this critical literature review.

n. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7.a. 12. 14. The place or a place where one lives: have you no home to go to? a house or other dwelling. a family or other group living in a house or other place. a person’s country, city, esp. viewed as a birthplace, a residence during one’s early years, or a place dear to one. the environment or habitat of a person or animal. the place where something is invented, founded or developed: the US is the home of baseball. a building or organization set up to care for orphans, the aged etc b. an informal name for a mental home. a home from home a place other than one’s own home where one can be at ease. at home in, on, or with. familiar or conversant with.

© The Editorial Board of The Sociological Review 2004. Published by Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, 02148, USA.

Understanding home

25. bring home to. a. to make clear to. b. to place the blame on (Collins English Dictionary, 1979: 701)

Introduction: dream home
Sometimes when I am lying in bed at night awake and restless I play a game to induce sleep. I imagine all the houses I have lived in since I was born. My imaginary journeys invariably begin and end with a stroll through my childhood home – a place that I lived in for the first 18 years of my life, a place my family left nearly 20 years ago. Starting at the front door I proceed through all the rooms in the house. As I walk I try to remember the house fittings and furnishings in each room. Memories of my early life, our family life, flood back to me as I move through the space. These memories show no respect for chronological time. Nor do they come with an accompanying autobiographical narrative. A certain equality prevails in this remembered world. Eventful moments in my family life hold equal sway with the mundane activities of domestic life. More recently these imaginary journeys have taken me to places beyond our house, to our street, and the park across the road. Sometimes I see myself playing with friends and neighbours, going to kindergarten, catching the train to school, and walking along the pier or on the sand at the local beach. I observe myself in these places, but mostly the places and me seem as one. Are these happy memories? Perhaps they are best described as benign. Here in this imaginary terrain painful memories are leached of their power. I feel comfortable and secure. I am at home. Sleep comes quickly. Wide awake, poised to write a theoretical reflection on home, it struck me that these nighttime experiences mirror many of the ways home is defined and discussed in the relevant literature. My journeys inflect ideas of home integral to the modern Anglo-European imaginary. In this realm, at once personal and social, house and home are related but not conflated. The birth family house holds symbolic power as a formative dwelling place, a place of origin and return, a place from which to embark upon a journey. This house or dwelling accommodates home but home is not necessarily confined to this place. The boundaries of home seemingly extend beyond its walls to the neighborhood, even the suburb, town or city. Home is place but it is also a space inhabited by family, people, things and belongings – a familiar, if not comfortable space where particular activities and relationships are lived. In my account home is a virtual place, a repository for memories of the lived spaces. It locates lived time and space, particularly intimate familial time and space. Thankfully my nighttime recollections are not burdened by the need to provide a comprehensive account of contemporary meanings of home. Sleep would be elusive if that were the case! Absent in my story, yet present in the diverse multi-disciplinary research literature, is the idea of home as home© The Editorial Board of The Sociological Review 2004


My reflection. any attempt to develop a dispassionate social scientific analysis inevitably stimulates emotional and deeply fierce argument and disagreement. My intentions are more modest. Research on the meaning and experience of home has proliferated over the past two decades. This project is designed to promote conversation about home in the literature and facilitate discussion between the disciplines that both reflects and accommodates people’s complex and diverse lived experience of home. for liberals. However. Many researchers now understand home as a multidimensional concept and acknowledge the presence of and need for multidisciplinary research in the field. with the exception of two exemplary articles by Després (1991) and Somerville (1997) few have translated this awareness into genuinely. the relationship between home. anthropology. who see it in the crucible of gender domination. ethnicity and sexuality are overlooked. who identify it with personal autonomy and a challenge to state power. human geography. psychology. for socialists. They explore similar issues about home yet speak in their own disciplinary voice. This should not surprise us because as Saunders and Williams write: Precisely because the home touches so centrally on our personal lives. particularly within the disciplines of sociology. provides no sense of home as a space of tyranny. gender. The home is a major political background – for feminists. Of course there are elisions in my own analysis of the field. Nor is it my intention to produce a definitive interdisciplinary approach to the study of home. who approach it as a challenge to collective life and the ideal of a planned and egalitarian social order. oppression or persecution. architecture and philosophy. 1997).1 Instead researchers generally limit their analyses to particular dimensions of home – typically those aspects that routinely fall within their own disciplinary orbit. place 64 © The Editorial Board of The Sociological Review 2004 .Shelley Mallett land. home is not simply recalled or experienced in positive ways. While memories of home are often nostalgic and sentimental. (1988: 91) It is the task of this paper to bring together and examine the dominant and recurring ideas about home represented in the literature. history. Most obvious among them is my regrettable lack of discussion of the cross-cultural perspectives on home. Where criticism is leveled at research in the field it generally focuses on the efficacy and political implications of particular theoretical and methodological approaches used to understand the meaning of home. the land of one’s forebears. In the following paper I review and critically reflect on these and other ways home is understood and discussed in the literature. however. Equally. interdisciplinary studies of the meaning of home. This expansion of the field followed several key conferences on home and the publication of a number of edited collections (Gurney. This is not a reductive exercise aimed at reconciling disparate dimensions of or disciplinary perspectives on home. often confining their discussion to interested researchers in their own discipline.

Sir Edward Coke. Is home (a) place(s). is imbued with the sense of home (see also Rykwert. feeling(s). In an effort to reflect the multi-dimensional nature of home each of these themes are briefly considered below. this phrase was popularly appropriated to define and describe home as a haven which comprises both house and surrounding land. At the same time the idea of home became the focal point for a form of ‘domestic morality’ aimed at safeguarding familial property. heem. Later simplified in the nineteenth century to ‘The Englishmen’s house is his castle’ (53). Many authors assert that contemporary Anglo-European. Rykwert (1991: 53) notes that the association between house and home was consolidated in English case law in the early 17th century by the Jacobean Judge. it means something like a place to lay one’s head. 1991). and/or an active state of state of being in the world? Home is variously described as conflated with or related to house. In English. estate or town (Hollander. The concept of homeland was appropriated by the ruling classes to promote a form of nationalism and patriotism aimed at protecting and preserving their land. gender.Understanding home and space. defined and described across the relevant theoretical and empirical literature? This question invokes another that is central to. creating or making home and the ideal home. 1991: 53). as well as his defense against injury and violence. wealth and power. ham.. thought of as a building where people live. are derived from the Indo-European kei meaning lying down and something dear or beloved. Many authors also consider notions of being-at-home. how is home understood. or a dwelling place for a family. flat. It is a place where space and time © The Editorial Board of The Sociological Review 2004 65 . institution or caravan (Bowlby et al. The judge declared. the term ‘home’ derives from the Anglo-Saxon word ham. Hollander (1991) notes that the Germanic words for home. women and children. self. Giddens. family. He suggests that the German word for house. these perspectives fall beyond the scope of this paper. discussion and recurring debates about the meaning of home in the literature. meaning village. 1997: 344. ‘two kinds of moralists’ have subsequently displaced this meaning of the term. Although important. such as a house. 1991). although not always explicitly stated in.2 The question then remains. Berger (1984: 55) notes that with the seventeenth century rise of the bourgeoisie. House and home Many researchers have examined the etymology of the word home as part of a broader agenda to examine the historical antecedents of the term. 1984). (a) space(s). practices. AngloAmerican or more broadly white Western conceptions of home privilege a physical structure or dwelling. including estates. haven. In an expansive essay on the uses of the term in particular Western languages. and journeying. In other words. as for his repose’ (Rykwert. Heim. ‘The house of everyman is to him as his castle and fortresse.

governments of advanced capitalist countries such as Britain. The expansion of the middle classes that occurred during the 1950’s and 1960’s and the global economic downturn of the late 1970’s are cited as some of the reasons for the re-structuring of economies and welfare states that has occurred in these countries over the past two to three decades. household furnishings and technologies since the Middle Ages and particularly from the seventeenth century onwards. (1990) indicate. Witold Rybczynski’s (1986) book. Douglas. they assert that the spatial organization of domestic dwellings both influences and reflects forms of sociality associated with and/or peculiar to any given cultural and historical context. 1990. It can also provide a sense of place and belonging in an increasingly alienating world. In other words. household designs. 1996).5 These ideas gradually took hold in other parts of Europe and among other classes as the widespread social change heralded by the 66 © The Editorial Board of The Sociological Review 2004 . so too do governments with particular social agendas. Canada and New Zealand have actively promoted the conflation of house. particularly architects and historians. owner occupied housing has increased. particularly in the Netherlands. Rybczynski examines historical and cultural ideas of home especially as they are inflected through the design of American and European houses. Second. have examined the ways design. and furnishings of domestic dwellings influence and inflect concepts and/or ideologies of the home. spatial organization. These governments have attempted to shift the burden of responsibility for citizens’ welfare away from the state and its institutions on to the home and nuclear family (Madigan et al. He asserts that during the seventeenth century ideas about privacy.3 As Madigan et al. intimacy and comfort emerged as organizing principles for the design and use of domestic spaces among the bourgeoisie. As a consequence of this restructuring in these contexts. 1998). furnishings and technologies constrain or facilitate cultural and historical modes of relating between the people who share these spaces.4 Research of this kind is premised on at least two inter-related ideas. First. economically. Dupuis and Thorns. aesthetically and morally’ and where domestic ‘communitarian practices’ are realized (Rapport and Dawson. In fact. 1998: 6. While the building and real estate industries clearly gain from a community’s valorization of home ownership. as some researchers note. Australia. most authors uncritically conflate house and home. In attempting to elucidate the relationship between house and home many researchers. home and family as part of a broader ideological agenda aimed at increasing economic efficiency and growth. the literature on the significance of home ownership variously argues that it is a source of personal identity and status and/or a source of personal and familial security (Dupuis and Thorns. domesticity.Shelley Mallett are controlled and ‘structured functionally. typically as a means of selling real estate and promoting ‘home’ ownership. House and home are often conflated in the popular media.. A prominent example of this kind of research is the architect. 1991). Home: A Short History of an Idea. public housing has decreased and housing tenure has increasingly featured in the meaning of home.

Reflecting on the 1995 British Ideal Home Exhibition. this body of work both reflects and perpetuates common ideas about the ideal home in Anglo-American and Australian contexts. The narrative also included descriptions of negative. privacy. descriptions of the house of tomorrow were overwhelmingly positive. Interested in the forces that influence people’s perceptions of. the authors who address this issue continue to privilege the relationship between house and home. the authors note that ideas about home are not simply shaped by the interests of capital and the manufacturers’ marketing departments. 1999a. For example Porteous (1976) states that independent studies conducted in Australia. are also prominent and recurring themes in contemporary analyses of the meaning of home. that reflects on past and present models of the ideal home in Britain (see also Chapman and Hockey. 1999). 1999. Britain and the United States on notions of the ideal home reveal that people from diverse backgrounds express a consistent preference for a free-standing house with a yard and occupied by a single family (see also Cieraad. Hepworth. Changing patterns of employment. Chapman and Hockey (1999b). Ideal homes?: Social change and domestic life (Chapman and Hockey. 1991). particularly © The Editorial Board of The Sociological Review 2004 67 . The exhibition Guide booklet emphasized the inadequate design features of the historical houses. Wright. drawing attention to house designs and technologies that impacted on people’s comfort. intimacy. a version of the home shows that occur in many large Western cities. de-emphasizing other idealised meanings of home. 1999). The aesthetics themselves also reflected culturally and historically specific ideas about home.Understanding home industrial revolution effected the constitution of households and participation in and organization of work. Brindley. security and budget. domesticity and comfort that Rybczynski identifies. Ideal house/home The relationship between house and home has also been examined in extensive research on the notion of the ideal home or house (Chapman and Hockey. 1999a). cultural and historical contexts. even calamitous. Typically focusing on physical structures. Of course how these ideas were manifest aesthetically varied according to social. draw attention to the manipulative marketing techniques employed by the exhibition designers. Show visitors walked through sub-standard mockups of yester-year houses to finally arrive at a fully and luxuriously furnished. 1999b. Some of the social. historical and political antecedents of this aspiration are explored in an edited collection. and desire for the ideal home. 1999. Although the notion of an ‘ideal home’ is problematized in this work. Rather they assert that people’s personal and familial experiences as well as significant social change. The ideas about privacy. brick house of the future. influence their perceived needs and desires in relation to house design. In contrast. Chapman. the collection’ s editors. social events contemporaneous with each historical house.

it is generally recognized that the relationships between the terms house and home must be established in varying cultural and historical contexts. 1991. researchers routinely claim that home is a multidimensional concept or a multi-layered phenomenon (Bowlby et al. 1999). 1998. The association between home and the physical dwelling or house is commonly acknowledged in the relevant interdisciplinary literature. distinguish between house. Geographical factors. transformations in peoples’ ideas about community. engineers and builders. Even so people have very limited choice about the design of their houses. architects. interior designers all of whom have their own ideas about what is a desirable. Somerville.. including the location. the home ‘is the crucible of the social system’ (85) representing a vital interface between society and the individual. and size of the home. As such home is a ‘socio-spatial system’ that represents the fusion of the physical unit or house and the social unit or household. together with issues such as class. the household should not be conflated with the family as the ‘kinship system has arguably declined in significance as a structuring principle of social life’ (82). 1976). Saunders and Williams (1988). Moreover. While rejecting any form of environmental or physical determinism the authors argue that the physical aspects of the home. As noted earlier. As such they stress that there are many and varied household types. Rapport and Dawson. even the good life. the physical dwelling or shelter is described as simply one aspect of home. Saunders and Williams (1988) argue that the household. Shove. 1999. ‘both enable and constrain’ different relationships and patterns of action’ (82). especially residential location. they define as ‘simultaneously and indivisibly a spatial and a social unit of interaction’ (82). 1997. all impact on the notion of the ideal home.Shelley Mallett the organization and location of work. explain some of the varia68 © The Editorial Board of The Sociological Review 2004 . ethnicity and housing tenure. Although it is the ‘core domestic unit’ of society. Wardaugh. home and household. gender and age are the ‘key dimensions’ that differentiate household members’ perception of the meaning of home. It is invested with diverse cultural meanings that differ within and between households and across cultural and social settings. Porteous. family. It is the physical ‘setting through which basic forms of social relations and social institutions are constituted and reproduced’ (82). 1992). Whether they build a new home or live in an established dwelling their choices are constrained by cultural and economic factors as well as developers. rather than the individual. Within households. As such. Home is conceived by these authors as a locale which. As part of a broader attempt to define home and clarify the relationship between home and physical shelter. politicians. following Giddens (1984). with some social researchers arguing that such a conflation reductively represents home as one-dimensional (Douglas. Like Pahl (1984: 20). urban planners. In this social constructionist formulation. design. is the most ‘basic economic unit’ through which the relationships of production and consumption can be analyzed. appropriate and acceptable living space (Chapman and Hockey. 1999b: 5. together with shifts in the distribution of wealth. for example.

i. under a given set of constraining circumstances’ (184). Saunders and Williams (1988) remind us of the need to develop a complex view of home that takes into account the interaction between place and social relationships.’ One’s ‘actual home tends to be our best approximation of our ideal home. By developing a theoretical approach to the meaning of home that neither conflates home with house or family.g. In making this argument he points to the fact that there are many institutional contexts where the term home is invoked (e. Moreover he asserts that even if we were to accept that the notion of household is a useful construct in defining home (see Jones.e. 1989). Saunders and Williams offer no theoretical explanation of the mutually constitutive relationship between these so called physical and social units of interaction and their role in the reproduction of social action. a sentimental and nostalgic journey for a lost time and space. home for the aged) in which the notion of household simply does not apply. For example. It may also be a religious pilgrimage or ‘search for a Promised Land. as Somerville (1989) argues in a wide-ranging critique of their work. Tucker (1994) suggests that ‘most people spend their lives in search of home. In so doing they appeal to and inscribe a valorized notion of the real home. Saunders. In other words the real and ideal home are established as oppositional terms. dry land] and the particular ideal home where they would be fully fulfilled’. This may be a confused search.. the actual and remembered home References to the symbolic potency of the ideal or idealized home recur throughout home literature.Understanding home tions in the meaning of home that exists between households (Saunders and Williams. However. the proposed relationship between house and household in Saunders and Williams’ formulation of home is highly problematic. 1988. This approach is at odds with the views of researchers such as Somerville (1992) and Jackson (1995) and Rapport and Dawson (1998). Critics of the ideal home reject exclusively positive descriptions and assessments of home as naive expressions of false consciousness that do not reflect people’s diverse experience and understanding of home. This critique could be usefully extended to most of those who write on the ideal home. Between the real and the ideal. at the gap between the natural home [conceived as the home environment conducive to human existence. He takes issue with both their underlying concept of society as an atomistic entity comprising ‘basic units’ and their understanding of culture as discrete and autonomous. Somerville (1989) argues that empirical evidence suggests that it is ‘far from obvious’ that home is ‘necessarily or always’ a fusion of house and household (114). Those who promote the ideal home are thought to have a diminished grasp of reality or the real. 2000). Discussion of the ideal home generally focuses on nostalgic or romantic notions of home. Somerville © The Editorial Board of The Sociological Review 2004 69 .

the local and the global. . Rather. and memory. or the real and the imagined in tension rather than opposition. that remembering. 1984). 1997). It is an approach that resonates with Doreen Massey’s (1992. The identity and meaning of a place must be constructed and negotiated. Massey writes that there is ‘no single simple “authenticity” – a unique eternal truth of an (actual or imagined/remembered) place or home – to be used as a reference either now or in the past’ (1994: 119). It is a point that is reinforced by Rapport and Dawson (1998: 8) who argue that home encompasses ‘cultural norms and individual fantasies’. It is depicted as a place and/or space where people can retreat and relax (Moore. ‘Home brings together memory and longing. . The boundaries of place and/or home are permeable and unstable. Somerville. the spatial and the temporal. and must take account of the significance of home experiences and memories at various stages of the life cycle (Csikszentmihályi and Rochberg-Halton. Others suggest that the relationship between home and memory is complex and fluid. Accordingly the real and the ideal are not pure and distinct concepts or domains. 1992: 14). 1991) and their view of the ideal home. Some who write on home and memory suggest that people’s home histories. following Hooks (1991). nostalgic longing for something to be as it was in an idealized past. Home as haven Home is often described in the literature as a haven or refuge. [It] may evoke security in one context and seem confining in another’ (122–3). a tension. home. 1994) discussion of place. 1993. 1989). are crucial to their understanding of the meaning of home (Perkins and Thorns. Place is constituted by the particular social relations that occur in a specific location. places have no fixed or essential past. the social effects that arise in this interaction and its ‘positive interrelations with elsewhere’ or outside (1992: 13). Although they write on home from quite different theoretical perspectives both authors promote a way of understanding home that holds ideas of the real and the ideal. Massey suggests. However this does not mean that there is no role for remembering or that remembering will always be a counter-productive. . the positively evaluated and the negatively’ (see also Saunders. 70 © The Editorial Board of The Sociological Review 2004 . 1991: 147. . 2000. 1981) and in varying kinship and household configurations (Armstrong. They are mutually defining concepts and experiences. [home] always begets its own negation. . Massey. including their tenure in any given home. By its very nature then the identity of a place is ‘provisional’ or in flux. Equally. Writing from a phenomenological perspective Jackson (1995) writes that home ‘is always lived as a relationship. the affective and the physical.Shelley Mallett (1992) argues that the concepts of home as ideal and home as reality are integral to the social construction of this term. even memories of the traditional can be important for they ‘illuminate and transform the present’ (Hooks. Giulani. [L]like any word we use to cover a particular field of experience. the ideational. .

According to this dichotomy the inside or enclosed domain of the home represents a comfortable. 1980). As a consequence. Cooper. Altman and Werner. It is more diffuse.Understanding home This understanding of home is founded on several related ideas. 1989. places and things. caring relationships. as a refuge is the idea that it is a private. 1994). All reject the idealized view of home perpetuated by such ideas. Where once all able members of © The Editorial Board of The Sociological Review 2004 71 . The organization of these households was predicated on sociability rather than privacy. Bachelard. 1985). 1999. the outside is perceived as an imposing. if not threatening or dangerous space. in time. work/home. 1999). 1976. As industrialization took hold. Privatism is the process whereby people are increasingly withdrawing from communal life and centering or orienting their activities around the home. 1985) and scope for creativity and regeneration (Allan and Crow. work was relocated away from the home and. households were increasingly seen as a domestic retreat for the nuclear family. often familial realm clearly differentiated from public space and removed from public scrutiny and surveillance. security (Dovey. Different performative expectations exist for people in this outside space. Privatization refers to the shift away from public or state owned housing towards owner occupied housing and privatized consumption. Hareven (1993) states that this view of home emerged among bourgeois households in Britain and France in the mid-eighteenth century and in urban middle class American families in the mid-nineteenth century as a consequence of industrialization. Prior to industrialization work was primarily situated in households which comprised family members and other non-kin workers and boarders. Wardaugh. public/ private. The public sphere is associated with work and political engagements and non-kin relationships. Saunders and Williams (1988) argue that our understanding of home as a distinct private sphere is informed by three related concepts: privacy. Related to this view of home. the private realm of the home is typically understood as a space that offers freedom and control (Darke. comfortable/uncomfortable. the distinction between public and private. the State assumed greater responsibility for education and health care. and the inside and outside world (Wardaugh. Some say it is a feminine space. 1984. 1985). safe/unsafe) underpinning this notion of home. 1995. privatism and privatization. secure and safe space (Dovey. urbanization and the related transformation of family life and work. less defined. There are different rules of engagement with people. It is an intimate space that provides a context for close. Most critics take exception to and focus their arguments on one or more of the binary oppositions (inside/outside. For example. Finighan. Some argue that home as haven is an historic and culturally relative idea which is integrally linked to equally fluid concepts of the family. In contrast. most obvious among them. KorosecSerfaty. In contrast. In this context privacy at home refers to freedom from surveillance and external role expectations. 1969. yet others dismiss this idea as simplistic.6 Challenges to the view that home is universally understood and/or experienced as a private haven abound in the research literature (Sibley. It is a confined space.

As many historians. 2000. particularly middle class professionals and the self-employed. Home for these people is a site of fear and isolation. email. Goldsack (1999). safety. free or regenerative space (Wright. Like Hooks (1991) and Ahmed (1999) and Massey (1992) 72 © The Editorial Board of The Sociological Review 2004 . 1999. safe. houses were never exclusively private and/or restricted spaces. others welcome the flexibility it enables. internet services and the mobile phone has made it possible for more people. privacy. 1990. the fax/phone. home based labor in these spheres. the division between domestic and workspaces and relations. The advent of technologies such as the personal computer. but include transformed gender relations and the consequent need for more flexible child care arrangements. parents and/or children’s retreats. argues that in contrast to men who face risks of violence in the public sphere women are ‘more likely to be raped. 2000. fear and insecurity are not necessarily located in the outside world.Shelley Mallett households contributed to work or related activities. 1993). 1995. Goldsack. a prison. Contemporary house designs. Similarly. 1996). women have always worked within the home sphere. and studies or home offices increasingly challenge simplistic notions of home as a private haven or refuge from work and the outside world. in the new era women and children were marginalised from these activities and consigned to a transformed and valorized domestic realm. between the private and public realms. incorporating open plan or flexible living spaces. social spaces such as the parlor also featured in historical house designs and people other than the inhabitants of the house entered. 1999). had by the mid-twentieth century extended into working class families. children and young people who are subject to violence and sexual abuse in the home environment (Wardaugh. 1984. Also. What began in the upper and middle classes. Jones. Men too have engaged in different and varying forms of domestic. romanticized even nostalgic notion of home at odds with the reality of peoples’ lived experience of home (Jones. security. Accordingly. Public. rather than a place of absolute freedom and ontological security (Giddens. sociologists and human geographers attest. 1999). Other critics suggest that the characterization of home as haven is an expression of an idealized. for a significant percentage of women. Dupuis and Thorns. to engage in paid work from home (Duncan. was never as neat as the home as haven idea implies. They reject the view that this so-called private haven is a secure. favoring a phenomenological understanding that ‘counterposes inside with outside space’ (96). Wardaugh. as writers such as Hepworth (1999) and Tosh (1996) suggest. danger. While some experience this as an intrusion. Wardaugh (1999) rejects the characterization of home as haven. 1998). comfort and refuge are not necessarily associated with the inside or home but may be found beyond its reaches. The reasons for such shifts in the organization of domestic life and work are obviously complex and beyond the scope of this paper. Whether engaged in paid or unpaid labor. assaulted and even killed at home than in any other place’ (123). worked or socialized in this sphere.

1995. Similarly. Papua New Guinea. with fixed and impermeable boundaries. Oakley. Rather it equates to the lands and places where one’s matrilineal forbears stayed or dwelled. ‘for whom dwelling is not synonymous with being housed and settled’ do not focus on ideas of home as a private place clearly differentiated from the outside world. enclosed dwellings. though not always visible. 1987). but it also suggests the places one has camped. Rather it is as Sibley (1995) suggests a space of unavoidable ‘tensions surrounding the use of domestic spaces’ (94). He states that for the Warlpiri of the Tanami Desert in Central Australia .Understanding home she argues that home is not some purified space of belonging. Bernardes. Finch and Hayes. suggest that the link between home and family is so strong that the terms are almost interchangeable (Crow. Wardaugh also argues that subscription to the home as haven idea actually contributes to the ‘creation of homelessness’. 1994. . . So too is the meaning of family. When conceived as inter-related or overlapping terms. 1976. She notes that ‘those who are abused and violated within the family are likely to feel “homeless at home” and many subsequently become homeless in an objective sense. 2000. sexuality and class might be both symbolically and literally ‘excluded from and notion or semblance of home’ (97). for the people of Nuakata Island. they are possessed spaces or territories with defined. . Some authors.. Jackson (1995) implies that nomadic peoples. however the nature and significance of this relationship for the meaning of home remains keenly contested. Bowlby et al. While these spaces are not private. boundaries that must be observed and respected by those who do not belong there. ‘home is where one hails from . 2003). This resonates with Sibley’s view of home as a potential space of ‘exclusion’ where a ‘fear of difference’. so-called traditionalists. A more radical critique of the understanding of home as an enclosed. . home is variously translated as matrilineal village(s). For example. and is not a private physical dwelling that is clearly differentiated from an outside world (Mallett. activities or artifacts’ can be projected onto the ‘objects and spaces comprising the home’ (1995: 91). home typically symbolizes the birth family dwelling and the birth family or family of origin © The Editorial Board of The Sociological Review 2004 73 . in that they escape – or are ejected from – their violent homes’ (96–7). private space – a haven from the outside world is provided by some of the cross-cultural research. Equally those who reject or are unable to conform to conventional ideas and expressions of gender. 1997). . or the island itself. Ironically many researchers who reject the idealized characterization of home continue to conflate home and dwelling and thereby preserve a clear demarcation between inside and outside. 1989. of ‘non-conforming people. sojourned and lived during the course of one’s own lifetime’ (122). Home and family An association between home and family has been noted by many researchers (Jones.

It also symbolizes the family relationships and life courses enacted within those spaces. cradles our thoughts and memories and provides us with a sense of stability. but at others it may be largely irrelevant. 1994). For example. environmental groups) promote an ideological trinity of family. 1980. spiritual) in defining the types and expressions of ideal family relationships (Watson and Austerbury. Typically children only belong there when they are young and have little power and authority although they have increasing status as evidenced by the increased space accorded them within modern house designs (Jones. 1982). Finch and Hayes. 1995: 86. Under this definition the home belongs both materially and symbolically to the heterosexual couple who enact and promote particular gendered roles and relationships (see Barrett and McIntosh.g. economic. Throughout our lives the house in which we are born remains “physically inscribed in us” ’ (Jackson. Leonard. however they argue that it is ideologically laden and premised on the white. Saunders and Williams (1988) argue that the nuclear family is increasingly irrelevant in contemporary Western societies.. Leonard. place and belonging also suggests that the nuclear family and the nuclear family house are of limited relevance to the meaning of home and family for many people.Shelley Mallett (Gilman. 1996. see also Domosh. 1990). Hence.7 A vast literature on cross-cultural notions of kinship. 1997. Home and gender Within the literature. 1986). Ainley.. and that other household forms might be equally pertinent to the constitution of home. Hooks. religions. 1995. Munro and Madigon (1999) suggest that governments and other institutions (e. 1998). 1997. Home encompasses the house or dwelling that a person lived in immediately after birth and/or their childhood family house(s). exile and that on home leaving suggests the significance of the relationship between home and family can change over the course of an individual life or in different spatial contexts. 1999. Without the family a home is ‘only a house’ (Gilman. Wardaugh. Hunt. Jones. These institutions have a vested interest (material. Similarly research on migration. Bowlby et al. 1995. middle class. 1980. As such ‘it shelters our daydreaming. social. the family comprises extended family members and home might encompass the places where these extended family members reside. According to Bachelard (1969) this house or dwelling is our ‘first universe’. Passaro. at some points and places in a person’s life it may be pivotal. 2000). 1980). home and community (107). heterosexual nuclear family (Wagner. reflections on the significance of family to the meaning of home invariably occur as part of a broader discussion of the relationship 74 © The Editorial Board of The Sociological Review 2004 . Critics of this view of the relationship between home and family concede it has currency in the Western popular imaginary. As such it is the place where children are nurtured and reared and finally depart when they come of age (Bowlby et al. 1991. 2000. 1989. 1980). 1993.

In contrast. identify home as a site of oppression. Although their work in creating and maintaining (a clean.. for men home is a space in which they have ultimate authority. effectively. 1984). particularly second wave theories have often privileged women’s experience. 1999).. Home is a haven from the pressure of the outside world. In these contexts women are often socially isolated. 1990). they remain socially isolated.. even a site of leisure and recreation. As Gurney (1997) notes. 1990). comfortable. Feminist theories. valued. 1994. spaces including house design. © The Editorial Board of The Sociological Review 2004 75 . including feminist researchers. 2003). Munro and Madigan. Rainwater. economic and political status accorded their male partners who engage in paid work in the public domain (Madigan et al. 1990. Analyses of the relationship between gender and the meaning of home generally focus on issues of: work or production. social psychology. second-wave feminist writers (of the 1970’s and 1980’s). 1956. anthropology. second-wave feminist research on the interaction between gender. Accordingly. 1990). The impact of and implications of segregated housing estates on women has also been examined. architecture or history – is inspired and informed by feminist theory and debates. human geography. yet limited responsibility for the domestic and child-rearing duties that take place in it. Early writers on gendered perceptions of home claim that men consider it to be a signifier of status and achievement whereas women view home as a haven (Somerville. tyranny and patriarchal domination of women. This is not surprising given that much of the relevant research – whether it is in sociology. they often lack both authority and a space of their own within this realm (Darke. Women are often the focus of this material. Despite home being generally considered a feminine. While they manage household consumption they do not have economic control of it. aesthetically pleasing) home and family is. domestic interiors and technologies (Goodall. to some extent. Eisenstein. Seeley et al.. it is in this private realm that women are consigned to a life of reproductive and domestic labor (Oakley. Related. if not intentionally conflating women and gender (Mallett. 1990a. 1966). nurturing space created by women themselves. 1997. Almost without exception. have a diminished capacity for paid employment and participation in wider communal and political spheres and often feel fearful. 1974. space and home noted how these social and historical ideas about gender roles and relationships in the home environment are inflected in housing designs. While home is a source of status for men.Understanding home between gender and home. Their emotional and spatial needs are secondary to those of their husband and children. particularly but not exclusively socialist feminists. Over the last decade or so these feminist critiques of home have been subjected to increased scrutiny by a range of social researchers. with few opportunities to achieve the social. consumption. and/or housing tenure and the house as an expression of status. physically vulnerable and insecure (Madigon et al. the work of Saunders (1989. paid work and other activities in the public realm provide them with alternative and highly valued identities. Madigan et al.

Convinced that socialist feminist critiques of home were skewing debates within the social sciences. 1995. however. England. for example. Despite this. washing ironing. there is a growing body of feminist literature that valorizes women’s experience of domestic labour and mothering within home environments. this situation was reversed over time. the shed a male one. etc. As such researchers claim that despite some evidence of men’s increasing participation in household labor. 1992. cooking. House designs reflected stereotypical gendered relationships peculiar to a given social and historical period (Hunt. 1996b. view of home as a private. Equally. Saunders (1990a) claimed his empirical research revealed that there was an enormous disparity between feminist critiques of home and women’s descriptions of the meaning of home. routinely engage in paid work from home. impacts on family members experience and their perceptions of home and familial relationships (Massey. Many researchers have demonstrated that the sort of paid work men and women engage in.Shelley Mallett 1990b) on gender and the meaning of home provided impetus for some of this work. 1996. For example contemporary research on both rural and urban outworkers or home workers reveals that many women engage in paid work such as sewing. 1990). Gurney (1997) refutes his claims on the basis of his own episodic ethnographies of working class owner-occupied households in East Bristol. 1993. More recent research on gender. Phizacklea and Wolkowitiz. Gurney found that while women initially provide emotional and positive accounts of home whereas as men are more likely to offer ‘negative and instrumental meanings of home’. Lupton. 1995. More recent discussions of gender and space have argued for a more sophisticated analysis of the ways space is negotiated and lived in the family house/home. particularly selfemployed tradesmen and professionals. Women remain primarily responsible for domestic labor and over and above this they now choose or are expected to engage in either full or part-time paid employment. There is. While many researchers in the field of urban sociology and housing studies have critiqued Saunders’s work on methodological and theoretical grounds. 1995). some men.). be it full or part-time. when and in what spaces within the house. in subsequent or later conversations (see also Richards. Accordingly the women in his study did not describe home as a place of oppression. and child minding in their own home environments (Oberhauser. increasing recognition that rooms or spaces in the family home are not effectively gen76 © The Editorial Board of The Sociological Review 2004 . work and home has challenged the somewhat narrow. Early work on gender and space argued that certain rooms or space in the family home were gendered (e. 1989. Buckley. Discussion of women’s increased participation in paid employment both within and beyond the home generally focuses on the double burden experienced by women. clerical and administrative tasks.g. domestic and female realm where reproductive rather than productive work occurs. 1996). the kitchen was a female space. Duncan. Sparke. women continue to experienced and/or describe home as a site of oppression. 1997).

Understanding home dered even when they are designed to meet the requirements of a man or a woman (e. 1997. sexuality and ethnicity and age is also forgotten or elided in most of these analyses. Home/journeying Cultural studies and anthropological literature detailing the experience of migrants and refugees as well as sociological and psychological empirical research on family formation and home-leaving claim that ideas about staying.. 1983. 1993. be it defined as a dwelling.g. 2003. 1990). age. For Ginsburg (1999) home is less about ‘where you are from’ and ‘more about where you are going’ (35). notions of dependency. Rather it is the activities that are performed in these spaces at given times and in given relational contexts that reflect and/or subvert particular ideas about gender. For example many researchers in the field of urban sociology. among other things. Both Hooks (1990) and Crenshaw (1994). 1999. continuity and dis/location. Saunders. Gatens. 1997. or even a constellation of relationships. a homeland. gender and sexuality when reflecting on people’s understanding and experiences of home (see Madigan et al. who stresses that ‘home-searching is a basic trait of human nature’. and role (Munro and Madigan. Bowlby et al. As such. Mallett. and housing studies continue to conflate house and home and take little or no account of the widespread critiques of fixed and bounded notions of sex. for example write about the experience and meaning of home for African-American women and women of color. Massey. if not simplistic. 1990. Gurney. This sentiment is also expressed by Tucker (1994). Although detailed critique of the research on gender and home is beyond the scope of this paper it is clear that there is a great need for such an analysis in the field. interdependence and autonomy.. 1989). These ideas are in turn linked to. The intersection between gender. Consequently many researchers unthinkingly privilege gender rather than say sexuality or a combined sex. leaving and journeying are integrally associated with notions of home. Young. Despite these advances. one which © The Editorial Board of The Sociological Review 2004 77 . gender and sexuality that have occurred within feminist and queer theory in the last decade or so (Butler. general debate about gender and the meaning of home remains problematic. There are exceptions of course but these largely fall outside of the dedicated literature. Hooks (1990) acknowledges that home is a potential site of patriarchal oppression for African-American women yet she also argues that it need not be seen as a politically neutral place. It is potentially a site for radical subversive activity for both AfroAmerican men and women who may feel marginalized in public spaces. 1994. It is a place of origin (however recent or relative) as well as a point of destination. home. 1990. 1996). Crenshaw views the home as a site of oppression and disempowerment for women of colour rooted in the intersecting issues of race and gender. Grosz. is represented as a spatial and relational realm from which people venture into the world and to which they generally hope to return (Case. 1996). height of kitchen benches).

According to this construction home is thought of as a nurturing environment underpinned by stable relationships that provide continuity of care and foster interdependence while also facilitating a capacity for independence. sexuality and age are reinforced.e. in some postcolonial literature home is a space of belonging and being with clearly defined. work or go to university) are culturally and historically contingent. The pathway taken out of home. to get married or establish an independent household. 1995. gender. people’s experience of home influences the meaning and significance of their journeys beyond it. refugees and people living in exile. Accordingly the conditions under which people leave their homelands. class. Home encompasses both movement and strangers. are thought to constitute both home and traveler. Ideas about the age and manner in which young men or women should leave home (i. Many who write about these experiences represent the relationship between home and away as oppositional. Ahmed (1999) like others who write on home and travel (Bammer. present and future) homes are identified and defined (Jones. Nonetheless usual and socially acceptable routes out of home remain and those young people who take alternative pathways risk social exclusion or marginalisation. ethnicity. Journeys away from home. For example. it is commonly expected that young people will reach a point in their life when it is appropriate for them to leave the birth family home.Shelley Mallett arises out of the propensity of humans to migrate as a means of ensuring their survival (186). for no matter how trivial or routine a purpose. ideological and ethnocentric view of home. at rest. fixed boundaries in which the subject is free of desire. This expectation is premised on. in Western contexts at least. 1999). migration and nomadism are conceived as exceptional and extraordinary encounters with strange lands and strangers that engender homeless states of being or identities in perpetual flux. Home can be experienced as strange and/or familiar: 78 © The Editorial Board of The Sociological Review 2004 . Considered a realm where socio-cultural and historical ideas about family. At this time they will ideally establish an independent place of their own without severing all ties to their birth family or the family dwelling. Similarly. is often crucial in how these young people and/or their (past. secure and comfortable. particularly boundarties associated with time and the experience of being at home. what many see as an idealized. She argues that home is not a pure bounded and fixed space of belonging and identity that is as familiar as the away is both strange and inhabited by strangers. it is also a space where ideas about who may take particular journeys are enacted.. Wardaugh. As Ahmed (1999) notes. their journeys beyond and away from home and their destinations are all said to impact on their identity and understanding of home. In contrast. These ideas resonate with some of the literature on migrants. 1999) rejects the idea that home and away are oppositional experiences and concepts. Dovey (1985) claims that these journeys establish the thresholds and boundaries of home. 1992. Olwig. whether chosen or imposed. to travel.

Phenomenologists do not attempt to define the essence of home or circumscribe people’s experience. defining ‘what one smells. those who arrive and those who leave . . home starts by bringing some space under control’ (289). ‘Home is located in space. 1997. feels. following Brah (1996). Ingold. These homes hold differing symbolic meaning and salience. They are interested in the dialectical relationship between self and object in the intentional production of home and accord ‘epistemological status to the subject’s meanings and experience’ (Somerville. . home is a (stative) verb rather than a noun. as if these two different trajectories simply lead people to different places. remembers’. it is part of the very ‘constitution’ of home itself. 1991: 101. It is also usefully the presence or absence of particular feelings. Instead they focus on practice. Being at home involves the ‘immersion of a self in a locality’. It cannot be simply equated with shelter. 1985. Somerville and others. For Ahmed. hears. Being at home (in the world) Ahmed’s work is consistent with a significant stream of phenomenological research on home that describes the experience of ‘being-at-home’ in the world. It may be other places or relationships. These temporal processes can include routinized © The Editorial Board of The Sociological Review 2004 79 . 1995. . The locality ‘intrudes’ upon the self through the senses. There is movement and dislocation within the very forming of homes as complex and contingent spaces of inhabitance. touches. (340) In making this argument Ahmed (1999). . 1995) rather than the ways that they think about home. a state of being which is not necessarily bounded by a physical location. like Massey (1992) and Hooks (1990) asserts that home is not necessarily a singular place or state of being rather it may be one’s country. As such many explore the ‘dynamic processes and transactions’ that transform a ‘dwelling unit . Equally the self penetrates the locality. 1997: 230). of affect or feeling. as the lived experience of locality. Accordingly the boundaries between home and self and between home and away are permeable. Korosec-Serfaty. but it is not necessarily a fixed space . Rather ‘homes’ always involve encounters between those who stay. into a home in the context of everyday life’ (Despres. some or all of these categories at the same time. where one’s family lives or comes from and/or where one usually lives. see also Dovey. on the diverse ways people ‘do’ and feel home (Gurney. 1985).Understanding home It is not simply a question then of those who stay at home. along with Gurney. As such when one moves away from home the movement itself occurs in relation to home. . It is possible to be homeless in one. city or town. at least in part. Jackson. home and more particularly being at home is a matter. and those who leave. . Understood in this way. This view resonates with Mary Douglas (1991) view of home as a ‘kind of space’ or ‘localizable idea’. house or household.

It is a physical space that is lived – a space that is an ‘expression of social meanings and identities’ (95). even accuracy of the representations of people’s experiences. Michael Jackson’s work. particularly his (1995) book. but rather it relates to the activity performed by.g. without appealing to fixed notions of society. Home and homelessness exist in a dynamic. some critics. Wardaugh asserts that the concept of home cannot exist without the concept of homelessness. Home is lived in the tension between the given and the chosen. a thing or a place. The use of quantitative and semi-structured interviews is particularly perplexing 80 © The Editorial Board of The Sociological Review 2004 . an apartment. swinging between ‘world mastery’ and alienation. His work on home arises form a broader intellectual project to ‘describe how in different societies. inspired by. All too often the dialectical tension between shaping and being shaped by the world goes too far in one direction. Prominent among these are the feminist critiques which claim that gendered experiences of home are often overlooked or misrepresented. Home then is not simply a person. These writers de-emphasize without necessarily dismissing the notion of the intentional subject. things and places. people work-in reality and through illusion. alone and in concert with others – to shape the course of their own lives’ (123). Wardaugh (1999) following Dovey (1985) notes that while home maybe located in space as a particular place (e. 1999: 93) that emerge and unfold in and through time. a house. fixed oppositional terms. Surprisingly there has been very little sustained analysis of the methodologies employed by phenomenologically inspired researchers. here and there. culture or even the person. episodic ethnographies. Jackson comments that ‘we often feel at home in the world when what we do has some effect and what we say carries some weight’ (123).Shelley Mallett activities as well as seasonal and/or cyclical events such as birthdays (Saile. As such ‘[h]ome is grounded less in a place and more in the activity that occurs in the place’ (148). phenomenology retain their fascination for people’s experiences of being at home in the world. but not wedded to. then and now. dismiss phenomenological approaches for failing to adequately consider or acknowledge the social and discursive fields that impinge upon and frame experience. etc). with or in person’s. dialectical relationship. At Home in the World is a prominent example of this approach. as some suggest. even quantitative surveys have all been claimed as legitimate phenomenological methods. Wardaugh’s (1999) work on homeless women is a recent example. 1985). Many who employ phenomenological approaches to understand the meaning of home are attuned to people’s experiences of injustice and inequality in the home sphere and draw attention to this in their work. Critiques of phenomenological or phenomenologically inspired accounts of home take one of two conventional forms. even though ethnography. particularly sociologists. Rather they refer to ‘complex and shifting experiences and identities’ (Wardaugh. Other critics focus on the adequacy. They are not. Others writers. an institution. in-depth interviewing. it is always more than this. As Somerville (1997) notes.

shelter refers to the physical structure or dwelling place that offers protection. (530) Here Somerville makes a questionable theoretical distinction between cognition and experience and offers no account of how ideological forms emerge.Understanding home given that phenomenology is first and foremost a study of people’s accounts of their everyday practices and experiences. Craig Gurney. © The Editorial Board of The Sociological Review 2004 81 . Somerville (1992) is perhaps typical of those theorists who claim that phenomenological accounts of home fail to adequately theorise the social and discursive worlds that impinge on people’s notion of home. . however unstable. However. claiming that the emphasis on subjective experience integral to phenomenology is at odds with the focus on objective and discrete notions of society (and person) implicit in the social constructionist metaphor (Somerville. By employing the social construction metaphor he appeals to a notion of a passive.8 He identifies six to seven key signifiers of home: ‘shelter. Like Gurney (1997). family. Some researchers avoid using phenomenological and social constructionist theories together (Jackson. Gurney (1997). he cannot be described as a phenomenologist. Gurney stresses the importance of emotion (love. discourses and practices are elaborated. as part of a broader agenda to affirm and consolidate both a sociology of emotions and a feminist epistemology that does not separate reason and emotion. . Accordingly he argues that home is an ideological construct that emerges through and is created from people’s lived experience. conceptual construction of the meaning of home. employs a range of methods including in-depth interviews. ontological social world or society upon which ideas. 1997). among others) in the discursive construction of the meaning of home. privacy. . He writes: Home is not just a matter of feelings and lived experience but also of cognition and intellectual construction: people may have a sense of home even though they have no experience or memory of it. where one can stay. episodic ethnographies and survey data to analyze how people make sense of home through lived experience. Gurney’s work is premised on a belief that the worlds people inhabit are socially constructed. for example. Elaborating upon the empirical work of Watson and Austerbury (1986) Somerville postulates a provisional. This contrasts with a very minimalist notion of home as abode – a place. 1995). We cannot know what home ‘really’ is outside of these ideological structures. roots. abode and (possibly) paradise’ (332). Where hearth refers to a welcoming. People make sense of these socially constructed worlds through lived experience. many researchers and theorists of home slip between and/or strategically employ the two approaches. depression. Although his interest in process and lived experience reflects his considerable debt to phenomenology. intimacy. hearth. Somerville argues that home is an ideological construct but rejects the view that the meaning of home is only established experientially. This is perhaps best exemplified with brief reference to the work of sociologist. anger. In this construction.

the free-standing house on the ground. and relaxing physical environment. Home as privacy means a space where one has the capacity to establish and control personal boundaries. However in striving for a singular theory of home founded on consistent epistemologies and ontologies Somerville’s overlooks the benefits of keeping potentially contradictory theoretical approaches to the study of home in creative tension. Somerville concludes that the most important thing to know is ‘what the home means to different people and to attempt to explain the range of different meanings that we find’ (115). Cooper draws on the Jungian concept of the collective unconscious which links people to their primitive past and is the repository of fundamental forms of psychic energy known as archetypes. 1991). historically and culturally contingent nature of social relations. Clare Cooper’s (1976) article entitled the House. Accordingly she speculates that one of the most fundamental archetypes. 1990). Home. In making this tentative claim. is an expression or symbol of the self. evident in but not confined to the other key signifiers. There is a sense in which he believes that it is possible to achieve a definitive theory of home. which they typically conflate with house. Tucker also suggests that home may be an expression of a person’s subjectivity in the world. He argures for a unitary social phenonomenology founded on a belief in the socially. self. secure and stable environment that provides emotional and physical well being. identity and being Many authors refer to the relation between home and identity and/or the concept of the self although few elaborate on the nature of this relationship Some claim for example that the home. Despite his emphasis on the ideological construction of home. is a frequent symbol of the self (Horelli. as Symbol of the Self is a prominent example of such work. Alternatively he states it may simply be a space where people feel at ease and are able to express and fulfill their unique selves or identities.relations that are understood to be ‘constructed by the intentional activity of free agents’ (238). The term roots denotes home as a source of identity and meaning in the world and finally paradise refers to a constellation of positive idealized notions of home. and one that uncritically relies on a notion of the intentional subject. heart refers to a loving.Shelley Mallett warm. one that ‘strikes at the heart of the matter’. In a later article Somerville (1997) elaborates on this view. The home of which he speaks though is not conflated with the 82 © The Editorial Board of The Sociological Review 2004 . Symbols manifest these unconscious archetypes in space and time. and the decorations and use of space all reflect the occupant’s sense of self (see Després. Accordingly the house itself. positing a mulit-disciplinary hybrid approach that attempts to reconcile and integrate (hetero)phenomenological theories with constructivist sociological analyses of the meaning of home. the interior design of the house. supportive.

For philosophers such as Kuang-Ming Wu (1993) home refers to the intersubjective relationships that brings a self. man would be deprived of himself. Havel writes. Deprived of all the aspects of his home. We build the intimate shell of our lives by the organization and furnishing of the space in which we live. of his humanity’ (1992: 31. It may be an emotional environment.the very homeland of our thoughts (Merleau-Ponty. Havel. stresses the importance of building or making to our notion of home and our very existence. When you accept me as I am. to say that I am at home means ‘I am at home in you (singular plural)’. the nation. (31) © The Editorial Board of The Sociological Review 2004 83 . family. As such ‘I’ comes into being in relation to an-other and the other can become my hell and my home. like Ingold argues that ‘human beings are homemakers’. Kuang-Ming Wu claims that ‘home is being-with-other(s)’ (193). Ginsburg (1998). . social environment. ‘All the circles of our home . Not necessarily by constructing them. In short the forms that we build. a culture. Following Buber. Kuang-Ming Wu understands the ‘I’ as relational. a house etc. village or town. Our residence is where we live. professional environment. Drawing on the work of Sartre and Martin Buber. whether they be material or imaginary arise out of our immersion in the world. Accordingly. and an inseparable element of our human identity. 1994).Understanding home house. These circles represent an aspect of existential experience that include. . like Hollander (1991) imagines home in terms of concentric circles. He writes: We make our homes. within that womb called other people. house. a political system. Authors such as Havel (1992. 1995: 76). We need time to make our dwelling into a home. cited by Tucker. . Heidegger claims that our building activities are integrally associated with and arise out of our capacity to dwell. are an inalienable part of us. . a historical time and place. Home is therefore understood as fundamental to being. . ‘Home is where I both was born and am being continually born. person or I into being or existence.. the civilization and the world. and a combination of all of the above (1994: 184). It gives expression to a relation while also generating a relation. in their being not me’ (195). 1962: 24. This being with others constitutes the person. It is not conceptualised as a place or space. a geographical location. but our home is how we live. although some people do that. civic society. 1994) conceive of home as an inalienable source of identity. How we function as persons is linked to how we make ourselves at home. Another strand of research on home and person or more correctly home and being. cited by Tucker. which has largely been inspired by Heidegger (1971). and I accept you accepting me then I am at home and ‘I am born in this reciprocal acceptance’ (194). Each is equally important and must be given its due although some may be more important to people at different times in their lives. Ingold.

globalisation and nationalism. It can be fundamental and/or extraneous to existence. ease intimacy. things. The boundaries of home can be permeable and/or impermeable. gender. familiar and/or strange.e. class. alienable and/or inalienable. Together. It can be associated with feelings of comfort. age and sexuality. It can be a dwelling place or a lived space of interaction between people. inter-related and at times contradictory socio-cultural ideas about people’s relationship with one another. ethnicity. how home is and has been defined at any given time depends upon ‘specification of locus and extent’ and the broader historical and social context. should and could home be understood?) theoretical and methodological approaches to the study of home. especially family. citizenship and human rights. . Home can be an ideological construct and/or an experience of being in the world. and things. How then is home understood? How should home be understood? Or. an atmosphere and/or an activity. In responding to these questions interested researchers could usefully reflect on people’s diverse experience and ways of understanding home while also considering actual and potential (i. places. It can constitute belonging and/or create a sense of marginalisation and estrangement. spaces.Shelley Mallett Conclusion: it all depends. Home can be an expression of one’s (possibly fluid) identity and sense of self and/or one’s body might be home to the self.. Briefly. Hollander (1991) puts this succinctly when he argues that both the meaning and study of home ‘all depends’. They also need to recognise and acknowledge the limitations of their work and the implication of these limitations for their own and others’ understanding of this term. how could home be understood? Clearly the term home functions as a repository for complex. The University of Melbourne Received 12 December 2002 Finally accepted 28 October 2003 84 © The Editorial Board of The Sociological Review 2004 . the three questions listed above are relevant to interdisciplinary debates and studies of home. relaxation and security and/or oppression. fixed and stable and/or mobile and changing. As such researchers in the field need to be clear and transparent about the motivation behind and purposes for their own research. tyranny and persecution. family. and the role of government and governmentality. Home can be singular and/or plural. kinship. how is. Home can be given and/or made. It can be a crucial site for examining relations of production and consumption. It can or can not be associated with family. or perhaps both. . Clearly both the experience and the study of home is value laden. a relevant and/or irrelevant concept. . and with places. Equally it can provide a context for analysing ideas and practices about intimacy. Such ideas can be inflected in domestic architecture and interior and urban design.

2003. Rapoport 1981. as demonstrated by an emphasis on rooms and external surrounds bounded by walls. control and privacy and living/sleeping space are the key dimensions of home identified by their participants. and Lawrence-Zún ˇ iga. (eds). Mallett.. and Lawrence-Zún ˇ iga. ‘Home and Away: Narratives of Migration and Estrangement’. 9 Watson and Austerbury (1986) claim form their empirical findings of a study of homeless that material conditions. 2 (3): 329–347. (1999).. loving and caring social relations. 6 Heidi la Mare takes exception to view that the Netherlands was the place where this happened first. emotional and physical well-being. S. locks and keys. This research was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health. Their commentaries were both invaluable. 3 This project on the relationship between home and homelessness is being undertaken as part of Project i. doors. © The Editorial Board of The Sociological Review 2004 85 . (2003). following the 19th century land wars the colonial governments appropriated indigenous Maori land which was them leased or sold to European settlers to farm. D. Notes 1 Wardaugh (1999) and Jackson (1995) draw on a diverse range of home literature. 5 This approach has been pursued by Hepworth (1999) and Tosh (1996) in their discussion of the design features of the ideal Victorian home. D. Birdwell Pheasant. UCLA. colonial governments extended this offer to include urban home ownership. 1998: 400). although they do not set out to posit an interdisciplinary approach to the study of home. I wish to thank Jen Johnson and Alina Turner for discussing the ideas in this paper. See Brindley (1999) for a discussion of the Modern house in England. (1999).Understanding home Acknowledgements I would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their incisive critiques. Hepworth argues that the design and organization of Victorian homes valorized notions of security. USA Grant MH61185. In New Zealand for example. place and space see for example. Both reviewers approached this paper with generous spirits. Fox. References Ahmed. S. The home was conceived as a fortress from the potentially deviant realms of the outside world. 4 This is not to suggest that housing and land tenure did not figure in the meaning of home prior to the latter half of the 20th century. Feld and Basso 1996. longitudinal study of homeless young people in Melbourne and Los Angeles. economic and political relationships both within and beyond the home. a cross national. 1997. 8 Somerville (1989) rejects this claim. Low. Later as the urban centres developed. Paul Myers for chasing references and Doreen Rosenthal for her academic support. 2 For a discussion of cross-cultural significance of home. International Journal of Cultural Studies. 7 Somerville (1989) dismisses Saunders and Williams (1988) analysis of privacy claiming it is simplistic and fails to grasp that the private domain is constituted by social. I also wish to thank the Project i team at the Centre for Community Health. As Tosh notes the bourgeois Victorian home was a gendered domain that valorized a form of domesticity founded on the separation of home and work that occurred as a consequence of industrialization. arguing that it needs to be supported by empirical research. Legislation introduced at the beginning of the 20th century aimed at ‘extending home ownership to the working class’ led to nearly 60% owner occupancy rates in New Zealand by 1921 (Dupuis and Thorne. privacy and respectability.

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