Housing and Social Theory

Housing and Social Theory

Housing and Social Theory

Housing and Social Theory


Studies in housing have often concentrated on an abstract institutionalised approach isolated from the broader base of the social sciences. This book is the first to treat housing as a subject of social theory. It provides a critique of current research and theorises housing in relation to political science, social change and welfare developing a case study to illustrate these applications. By being sometimes controversial, this book will stimulate debate among housing theorists and sociologists alike.
The Author is currently Senior Research fellow at the Swedish Institute for Building Research and Docent in Sociology at Uppsala University. He has written widely on Housing, Urban Studies and Sociology and his books include THE MYTH OF HOME OWNERSHIP and THE GREAT AUSTRALIAN NIGHTMARE.


Housing research has traditionally been concerned with measuring the extent of housing shortages and specifying its dimensions, for example in terms of overcrowding, poor sanitation, and a shortfall of dwellings in relation to households. The latter, in particular, has eclipsed issues of overcrowding and sanitation in the post-war period. Estimates of the numbers of households and the numbers of dwellings, as well as the number of ‘hidden’ households resulting from delayed household fission in response to housing shortages, comprise a key measure of total dwelling shortfall and the amount of new construction that is needed to overcome it, and have traditionally constituted the starting point for housing research (Cullingworth, 1960: ch. 1; Donnison, 1967:33-5). This practical and policy-oriented approach to housing effectively defines housing in terms of dwelling units, or what is sometimes termed ‘shelter’ (Abrams, 1964).

However, since the publication of Rex and Moore (1967) in which the first genuine housing concept—that of ‘housing classes’—was introduced, housing studies has been undergoing a slow but certain metamorphosis as growing conceptual and theoretical awareness has gradually begun to permeate research. The process was given considerable stimulus by the growth of Marxist theory, and particularly Althusserian structuralism, during the 1970s, followed by a Weberian reaction during the 1980s. As the 1990s begin, after nearly a quarter of a century of slow but sure development, the pace of change promises to quicken dramatically.

In spite of this, the theoretical development of housing research remains rudimentary and leaves much to be desired. A central problem of much of housing studies is that it retains a myopic and narrow focus on housing policy and housing markets, and neglects broader issues. Housing studies is still far too isolated from debates and theories in the other social sciences and what is needed now is further integration into these.

But, as I argue in another context later on, changes in ideas cannot be understood outside of changes in social structure. Since the mid-1980s an

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