Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Home Rules

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Home Rules

Article excerpt

Home Rules. Denis Wood & Robert J. Beck. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. 1994. 329 pp. ISBN 0-8018-4618-8. $29.95 cloth.

Not since we were small children did we so seriously think about the dos and don'ts of objects in our homes. Now we reach back to our vulnerable childhoods with help of black and white photographs and are astonished by the complicated web of behavior codes that shaped our socialization in this civilized domain. The authors of Home Rules explore these codes in a systematic way with a formidable collection of 233 rules for 70 objects in a room. As the title tells us, the book is literally about the rules assigned in the functional use of a habitat. With great sensitivity to the material culture of our environment, authors Wood and Beck reveal subtle messages of deportment in this place called home.

The handling of the rules is done with keen sensitivity, painstaking detail, and clarity. For example, stairs are described within the context of sounds on a traditional American Christmas morning. The photograph of a young boy patiently sitting at the top of the stairs contributes to the imagery. Then the object is exhibited in rule space: "No running on the stairs; it makes too much noise." The authors use a code that indicates this rule pertains to kids and the appearance and protection of the stairs. Finally, stairs are explored in the system of values and meanings of the room as a whole. Stairs can be viewed through filters such as culture, memory, economics, education, and connoisseurship.

It is always dark at the top of the stairs. The keynote of the stair is inevitably: danger. . . . But


stair presents itself as a site of many dangers recurrently encountered, each modeled on the archetypic fall, origin of the truest vertigo. …

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