Housing Culture: Traditional Architecture in an English Landscape

Housing Culture: Traditional Architecture in an English Landscape

Housing Culture: Traditional Architecture in an English Landscape

Housing Culture: Traditional Architecture in an English Landscape

Synopsis

Housing Culture is an inter-disciplinary study of old houses. It brings together recent ideas in studies of traditional architecture, social and cultural history, and social theory, by looking at the meanings of traditional architecture in western Suffolk, England. The author employs in an English context many of the ideas of Glassie, Deetz and other writers on the American colonies. In so doing, the book forms an important critique and refinement of those ideas, and should prove an indispensable background text for American historical archaeologists in particular.

Excerpt

This is a study of old houses. It is a study of why old houses were built, how they were built and used in certain ways, and why they changed in form, style and technique through time. Central to its argument is the premise that the way people think and feel about the world around them will affect the way they live in their homes; and thus, to work in the opposite direction, that aspects of past thoughts and feelings may be “read” through the form of old houses.

Such a premise is not an implausible one. If we look around us today, we see ordinary men and women expressing, arguing, working through their views of life through their control and patterning of space and the objects within it. In England, students argue with cleaners over whether the latter group have the right to enter their college rooms without knocking. Middle-class couples buy up old terraced houses and “knock through” the partitions within, often to pointed derision from working-class neighbours, stand-up comics and other social commentators.

A thousand other examples could be given of the dovetailing of domestic architecture and social meaning, and some may think the point a fairly obvious one. But in many ways it is not so apparent. In the first place, few people recognize such patterning at an overt level: it works in implicit ways, being overtly rationalized as “normal” or “natural”. As Danny Miller has argued (1987), we are all adept readers of material culture distributed in space; we can all monitor someone’s occupation, status, class, gender, even their political views, quite accurately from a few seconds’ perusal of their homes and the material culture they possess, the objects they choose to put within that space. Further, we all know how to manipulate such impressions, creating our own identities and affiliations through our own homes and material culture. But we do so at the level of the implicit, the unspoken or rarely spoken, and the “taken for granted”. This is a familiar point to readers of Bourdieu, Goffman, Geertz and others, but is an insight that has still to make its full mark on some of the less anthropologically orientated fields of study drawn upon in this book.

In any case, we often deny these potential complexities when involved in other spheres of thought and activity. Modern Western society often appears . . .

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