The Household

How are the worlds in which we live shaped by the ways that households are thought and made? How does the scale of the household shape the spatial and temporal scales at which we claim belonging and responsibility? And how might other understandings of humans living and working in proximity challenge these dominant conceptions? This session of Correspondences investigates how and to what effect the scale of the household is formed through finance, law, and policy, systems that rely not only on the notion of the abstract individual but also on the nuclear family, familial obligations, and the domestic realm (Guyer 1986; Yanagisako and Delaney 1994). As contributors we unite in the diversity of our theoretical approaches, commitments, and field sites to consider the ways the household matters for anthropological investigations of obligation, solidarity, and expertise.

The notion of the household suggests and enables a legibility of relations that can be understood and acted upon; households are objects of government and market expertise. Knowledge about individual and aggregate households forms the basis for social entitlements and access to financial instruments, imposing particular understandings of family and deservingness while shaping daily life in ways that are gendered and racialized. Running a household involves increasingly forward-looking practices, demanding fluency in budgeting and long-term retirement planning, all of which act upon and recruit the household into financial markets (LiPuma and Lee 2004; Stout 2016; Zaloom 2016). The contemporary mortgage, student debt, and pension crises demand anthropological attention to the ways contemporary households are formed, known, and acted upon.

If dominant forms of knowledge about the household present the nuclear family as a center of responsibility and financial planning, anthropologists must also ask how such visions of the household exclude other forms of living in proximity, and to what effects. The sense of scale and connectivity inherent to the concept of the household also points to the grooves worked into daily life by intimate ties of many kinds (Ahmad 2017; Collins 1990; Glenn 1992, 2012), including relations of slavery and servitude. How we scale the household, then, matters deeply to our studies of how relations of solidarity and inequality are formed and maintained. Investigating how households are imbricated in legal and financial systems provides a way to think and theorize the forms of inequality and solidarity that we study and live.


Caitlin Zaloom (“Finance”) is a cultural anthropologist and Associate Professor in the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University. She is the author of Out of the Pits: Traders and Technology from Chicago to London (University of Chicago Press, 2006). Her work on the cultural life of the financial economy has taken her through futures markets, evangelical churches, and neuroscience laboratories. She is currently a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, where she is working on a book about student finance and family life in the United States today.

Elizabeth DeLuca (“Transition”) is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine and Visiting Scholar at the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University. Drawing from feminist science and technology studies and cultural and political anthropology, her work is broadly interested in moral and political economies of care in the context of global health and medical knowledge. Her current project explores Turkish municipal efforts to bring elder care programs to city residents, and offers an analysis of a “caring state” cohering around efforts to develop and encourage family-centered social policy and values.

Mareike Winchill (“Remapping”) is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. Her current book project, After Servitude: Indigeneity, History, and the Antinomies of Justice in Reformist Bolivia, examines how Quechua-speaking Bolivians draw upon histories of bonded labor in their critical engagements with governmental efforts aimed at achieving indigenous justice.

Riché J. Daniel Barnes (“Village”) is Assistant Dean of Social Sciences and Associate Professor of Anthropology at Endicott College, with research affiliations at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University and the African American Policy Forum. Barnes previously taught at Spelman College and Smith College. Her teaching and research specializations are in black feminist theories, work and family policy, and African Diasporic raced, gendered, and classed identity formation. Barnes is the author of Raising the Race: Black Career Women Redefine Marriage, Motherhood, and Community (Rutgers University Press, 2015), an ethnographic study of Black women’s strategies for family and communal survival. Her current research projects focus on the impact of urban education reform on Black families and communities and Black maternal health outcomes. Her research has appeared in numerous scholarly collections, including The Changing Landscape of Work and Family in the American Middle Class and The Gender, Culture, and Power Reader

Catherine Fennell (“Householding”) is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University. Her work examines how the legacies of Fordist-Keynesian urbanism shape the politics of social inequality, collective obligation, and utopian imagination in urban America. A recent book, Last Project Standing (University of Minnesota Press, 2015), examines how an effort to demolish and rebuild Chicago’s troubled public housing projects also became one to rebuild the kinds of citizens who might prove capable of caring for themselves and others. A new project asks how inhabitants of “shrinking” cities manage and reimagine the futures of vacant housing infrastructures.


Ahmad, Attiya. 2017. Everyday Conversions: Islam, Domestic Work, and South Asian Migrant Women in Kuwait. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.

Collins, Patricia Hill. 2008. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. New York: Routledge.

Glenn, Evelyn Nakano. 1992. “From Servitude to Service Work: Historical Continuities in the Racial Division of Paid Reproductive Labor.” Signs 18, no. 1: 1–43.

_____. 2012. Forced to Care: Coercion and Caregiving in America. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Guyer, Jane I. 1981. “Household and Community in African Studies.” African Studies Review 24, no. 2: 87–137.

Lee, Benjamin, and Edward LiPuma. 2004. Financial Derivatives and the Globalization of Risk. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.

Stout, Noelle. 2016. “#Indebted: Disciplining the Moral Valence of Mortgage Debt Online.” Cultural Anthropology 31, no 1: 82–106.

Yanagisako, Sylvia, and Carol Delaney. 1994. Naturalizing Power: Essays in Feminist Cultural Analysis. New York: Routledge.

Image Credit

Photo by Dean Hochman, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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