Home Possessions: Material Culture behind Closed Doors

Home Possessions: Material Culture behind Closed Doors

Home Possessions: Material Culture behind Closed Doors

Home Possessions: Material Culture behind Closed Doors

Synopsis

Although so much of the life we care about takes place at home, this private space often remains behind closed doors and is notoriously difficult for researchers to infiltrate. We may think it is just up to us to decorate, transform and construct our homes, but in this book we discover a new form of 'estate agency', the active participation of the home and its material culture in the construction of our lives. What do the possessions peoplechoose to take with them when moving say about who they are, and should we emphasize the mobility of a move or the stability of what movers take with them? How is the home an active partner in developing relationships? Why are our homes sometimes haunted by 'ghosts'?.This intriguing book is a rare behind-the-scenes expos¿ of the domestic sphere across a range of cultures. Examples come from working class housewives in Norway, a tribal society in Taiwan, a museum in London, tenants in Canada and students from Greece, to produce a genuinely comparative perspective based in every case on sustained fieldwork. So Japan, long thought to be a nation that idealizes uncluttered simplicity,is shown behind closed doors to harbour illicit pockets of disorganization, while the warmth inside Romanian apartments is used to expel the presence of the state.Representing a vital development in the study of material culture, this book clearly shows that we may think we possess our homes, but our homes are more likely to possess us.

Excerpt

In industrialized societies, most of what matters to people is happening behind the closed doors of the private sphere. The home itself has become the site of their relationships and their loneliness: the site of their broadest encounters with the world through television and the Internet, but also the place where they reflect upon and face up to themselves away from others. For this reason it is likely that people are paying increasing attention to their relationship to their own home, to its structure, its decoration, its furnishing and the arrays of objects that fill its spaces, and that they reflect back on it their agency and sometimes their impotence. It is the material culture within our home that appears as both our appropriation of the larger world and often as the representation of that world within our private domain. Yet precisely because it is a private sphere, an investigation that studies such an intimate relationship, a sharing that can only take place if we are ourselves are present inside these private homes, seems intrusive. Every chapter in this book is written on the basis of just such an experience: they are ethnographic encounters that took place behind the closed doors of domestic homes. We justified these, even where they were clearly experienced as intrusive, on the grounds that we need to understand, through empathy, the diverse ways in which this intimate relationship is being developed as the foundation to so many people's lives.

As such this is not merely ‘another book about the home’. It is a volume that attempts to change our understanding of the significance of the home as a route to social and cultural analysis and to question some assumptions about what might have been thought to be the ‘obvious’ nature and implications of the home. It does so through developing and extending certain key insights and new perspectives. Given the multitude of books that have already been published on the topic of houses and homes, the primary purpose of this introduction is to highlight the several ways in which this particular book is an original and distinctive contribution to the topic. The book does not aim to be comprehensive; it is complemented by many other recent works on the home, some of which also emphasize material culture. It does not, for example, provide the same attention to the development of domesticity found in some of the contributions to Cieraad (ed.) (1999), or examine the house as instrumental in the localization and appropriation of global forms as . . .

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