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 (Collins 1990; Glenn 1992, 2012; Ahmad 2017), 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.
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.
Posts in This Series
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Caitlin Zaloom has begun our dialogue by showing how discourses of individual financial responsibility have overshadowed concrete ways in which the household is... More
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For African American women, the household as defined by systems of “finance, law, and policy” has not been a useful tool. Unrecognized, misrecognized, or labele... More
Each contribution to this session pokes at a particular vision of the household that continues to dominate American politics and letters. That vision paints the... More