Household Chores and Household Choices: Theorizing the Domestic Sphere in Historical Archaeology

Household Chores and Household Choices: Theorizing the Domestic Sphere in Historical Archaeology

Household Chores and Household Choices: Theorizing the Domestic Sphere in Historical Archaeology

Household Chores and Household Choices: Theorizing the Domestic Sphere in Historical Archaeology

Synopsis

Presents a variety of archaeological case studies on daily life in a wide range of locations and circumstances. Because archaeology seeks to understand past societies, the concepts of "home," "house," and "household" are important. Yet they can be the most elusive of ideas. Are they the space occupied by a nuclear family or by an extended one? Is it a built structure or the sum of its contents? Is it a shelter against the elements, a gendered space, or an ephemeral place tied to emotion? We somehow believe that the household is a basic unit of culture but have failed to develop a theory for understanding the diversity of households in the historic (and prehistoric) periods. In an effort to clarify these questions, this volume examines a broad range of households-a Spanish colonial rancho along the Rio Grande, Andrew Jackson's Hermitage in Tennessee, plantations in South Carolina and the Bahamas, a Colorado coal camp, a frontier Arkansas farm, a Freedman's Town eventually swallowed by Dallas, and plantations across the South-to define and theorize domestic space. The essays devolve from many disciplines, but all approach households from an archaeological perspective, looking at landscape analysis, excavations, reanalyzed collections, or archival records. Together, the essays present a body of knowledge that takes the identification, analysis, and interpretation of households far beyond current conceptions.

Excerpt

Maria Franklin

The social unit that we refer to as the “household” has been the subject of intensive study within anthropological archaeology, most notably since the 1970s, and particularly within prehistory (for example, Flannery 1976; Gero and Conkey 1991; Wilk and Rathje 1982). For archaeologists, the household is often the most basic social unit of analysis “accessible” through the archaeological record, typically via residential structures and activity areas. The focus on households, however, cannot simply be reduced to the issue of archaeological “visibility.” Unpacking the household archaeologically may be as close as any of us gets to comprehending the experiences of past individuals and as far as we may go in revealing the intimacies of their lives. Moreover, its influence regularly transgresses the domestic, as the household is both a microcosm of society and an active agent instituting change within that society. As James Deetz (1982:724) once wrote, “Whether a structural, functional, or evolutionary approach is taken to obtain this information, the household reveals relationships of thought and substance that can aid immensely in understanding the past.”

While it is certainly true that historical archaeologists have greatly concerned themselves with the “domestic” since the discipline's emergence, it also holds true that we have yet to develop a substantial theoretical body of work concerning historic households. Mary Beaudry's (1989a:84) observation still carries weight today: “if one uses the anthropological definition of households that stresses the dynamics of this highly variable social grouping as the yardstick for evaluating what has been done, it is clear that domestic sites of the historical period have seldom been examined from what can truly be called a household-oriented perspective.” We typically fail to even define “household” while we regularly employ the term. The end result is often an uncritical imposition upon the past of our contemporary notions of the household. Since the dominant American household norm, or “domestic” realm, relies heavily on the intact, nuclear family for its definition, many of us presuppose that the . . .

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