EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

(P006)
The government of the house, 'life' and 'the good life'
Location U6-6
Date and Start Time 20 July, 2016 at 14:30
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Adam Kuper (Boston University) email
  • Benoît de L'Estoile (Ecole normale supérieure/ CNRS, PSL Research University) email

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Chair Stephen Gudeman (University of Minnesota/ Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)
Discussant André Dumans Guedes (Museu Nacional/UFRJ)

Short Abstract

Starting from the various renderings of oikonomia, as 'domestic economy' or "government of the house", we invite papers that explore the house as at once a socio-spatial and a moral category, and an institution that is central to concerns about family, making a living, and leading a 'good life'.

Long Abstract

Oikonomia, a Greek term usually translated as domestic economy is used by Aristotle to refer to the "government of the oikos", the house/ family, by contrast with politikè, the government of the citizens in the polis (de L'Estoile 2014). We aim to bring together in a comparative perspective, papers based on a diversity of ethnographic situations that analyse the house as at once a socio-spatial and a moral category, and an institution that is central to concerns about family, making a living, and leading a 'good life'.

For many, the house is a physical shelter essential for maintaining 'life', in the hope of providing a safe place from the "world" (as the English say, a man's house is his castle). It is also a "base" (Gudeman) for making a living, in contrast to and in association with the market. Finally, it is often central to the project of leading a 'good life', and to being recognized as a proper person. Striving for autonomy (self-government), the house is confronted with politikè, both with other houses, and various governing bodies (chief,landlord, public policies and state agencies, NGOs). The notion of oikos may also be related to Lévi-Strauss's characterization of la maison, as a "moral person possessing a domain".

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Between Oikonomia and Politiké: emplaced conviviality and urged reciprocity in the Yanomami roundhouse village.

Author: Alejandro Reig (University Of Oxford)  email

Short Abstract

Going beyond the often cited micro-macro cosmic correspondences of the Yanomami communal house, this paper examines the secular, affectionate geometry of the elementary family dwelling. Inserted in the moral panopticon of the village, two opposite poles reveal an unstable balance of community life.

Long Abstract

This paper examines the relation between the Yanomami family house (yãno) and the roundhouse-village (shapono), as two poles in a dialectical enactment of central societal values. Micro-macro cosmic correspondences of the communal house have been over-emphasised in scholarly literature, calling for an interpretation of the secular interaction between house and village. Despite a variety of architectural types, all such Yanomami houses share the basic arrangement of beams around the hearth, the "elementary yãno".Cooking, eating, suckling, mutual grooming and caring, news exchange and visitor interaction take place here. These incorporate and reproduce the constitutive Yanomami morality of care and reciprocity.

A house is a roof, built to protect one or several elementary yãno, strung in a circular succession around a plaza, and expressing a defining feature of society as an aggregation of units of domestic production. But the circular arrangement of open houses performs a panoptic function, rendering visible the actions and food production of all domestic members. The perceived increase of wealth -such as as when privileged relations with outsiders provide tools, food or clothes- triggers negative reciprocity. Discursive demands of restitution by the person offended underscore the moral values of productive gardening and generosity. Significantly, these are expressed as the term "urifi noamai" ("valorising-defending the place"). The dialectics between the family unit and the village that emerges configures an emplaced tension between the domestic and the political, two poles which reveal the unstable balance of Yanomami community life, taking the house-village as a privileged scenario.

On houses, citizens and proper persons: politics and everyday life in past and present Azerbaijan

Author: Sascha Roth (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)  email

Short Abstract

This paper investigates the impacts of the Soviet housing regime on contemporary constructions of national values, morality and ‘leading a good life’ in urban Azerbaijan. It argues for the crucial albeit neglected role of urban housing in understanding state politics and citizens’ everyday life.

Long Abstract

The aim of this paper is to demonstrate the heuristic value of the house and the relevance of anthropological theory in the context of urban post-/Soviet societies, politics and economies. By drawing on ethnographic and archival data from urban Baku in Azerbaijan, I argue that the house constitutes a central category for the analysis of transformation processes in people's everyday life and state politics. In contemporary and Soviet Azerbaijan, the house can be understood as a 'total social fact' that is of equally crucial importance for citizens' and the state's vision of a proper person and citizen. For Azerbaijanis, the house embodies 'traditional' socio-cultural values and is strongly connected to issues like marriage, family and patrilineal continuity. Furthermore, houses have regained significance for economic prosperity and objectify social status. Generally, having private residential property is seen today as a prerequisite for marriage and has become the basic resource for the reproduction of social and moral values. However, instead of a one-sided, ahistorical cultural interpretation of houses' contemporary importance, my historically-informed ethnography points to the prevalent impact of the Soviet housing regime. In that context, specific registration and mass housing policies made housing the legal basis for all kinds of citizenship and social entitlements. Housing became the main criteria for citizens being recognized as proper persons. I ask, therefore, in how far the Soviet state itself can be understood as a "government of the house" and how it influenced the role of housing in the postsocialist era.

Houses made out of eyes: an ethnography of brick walls at the urban fringe of Rio de Janeiro

Author: Thomas Cortado (Museu Nacional)  email

Short Abstract

Unlike some who argued that enclosing walls jeopardize the urban way of life, our fieldwork in a Rio de Janeiro poor neighborhood suggests that brick walls and fences are a common way of relating to others, and contribute to the making of everyday life.

Long Abstract

Unlike some who argued that enclosing walls result from both negative individualism and the fear of violent crime, and jeopardize the urban way of life, our fieldwork in a poor neighborhood located at the urban fringe of Rio de Janeiro suggests that they actually are a common way of "relating" (Carsten) to kin, neighbors and strangers. First, fences indicate that the enclosed land plot "has an owner" (tem dono), who is "taking responsibility" (tomando conta) - the true "owner" or "master" (dono) is not the person who is legally entitled to use his plot, but the one who publicly cares for it. Second, thanks to walls and fences, people can see without being seen. Having a say about what people can look at is an important aspect of housekeeping: according to popular beliefs in the "Evil Eye" (olho grande), others' envious gaze is a potential source of trouble. Third, people build on a same plot different walls to assert their "freedom" (liberdade) and "privacy" (privacidade), two central - and identical - values of domestic and family life: nobody wants to live together with one's own kin in the same "house" (casa). Thus building walls allow various families to live on a same plot, but in different houses. This work suggests that the house functions as both a socio-spatial and a moral category.

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Oikonomia/ Politiké or governing the house: state policies, domestic practices and the 'good life' in rural Brazil

Author: Benoît de L'Estoile (Ecole normale supérieure/ CNRS, PSL Research University)  email

Short Abstract

Oikonomia (or 'government of the house') offers a privileged tool for an ethnographic exploration of the house in Land Reform settlement projects in Brazil as object of State policies and focus of everyday living practices, in order to insure life and a 'worthy life'.

Long Abstract

Oikonomia, or 'government of the house', offers a privileged tool for an ethnographic exploration of the house as both object of State policies and focus of everyday living practices. Aristotle, usually credited as being a pioneer of « domestic economy », was in fact mostly concerned with « government » in the sense of governing oneself and the other. Oikonomia offers a template to reconceptualize everyday practices, usually seen as belonging to "domestic economy", as "government of the household", thus highlighting the political, moral and affective aspects crucial for our interlocutors in the field. Drawing on a long-term ethnography in Land Reform settlement projects in the Northeast region of Brazil, I look at the ways the house has become a focus of tension between government by the State agencies and beneficiaries' practices. As the State Land Reform program gives a central role to production concerns, Brazilian government agencies set up projects of "housing units" in settlements in order to provide shelter for the labour force in charge of exploiting the land under the regime of « family agriculture ». By contrast with this economic framing, a 'casa', for project beneficiaries, refers to a material and moral construct, whose physical and symbolic boundaries shift across time and changes in family configurations. Concerns for "sustaining the house", as a means to insure both life and worthy life are linked to efforts to accommodate the tension between the double striving for autonomy and protection, and imbued with the claim for the recognition of one's moral worth (reputation).

Configurations of houses, mobilities and autonomy in transitory sites

Author: André Dumans Guedes (Universidade Federal Fluminense)  email

Short Abstract

Ideas about the house as a "stable", "controlled" or "quiet" place are here considered by the consideration of how these houses are always related and compared to less "enduring" or "familiar" spaces: camps, single rooms for rent, construction sites, prison cells, barracks and huts.

Long Abstract

My starting point in this paper is what my interlocutors have been describing as the "estabilization" of Minaçu (small city located in the North of the Brazilian state of Goiás): once considered an unstable and turbulent town, as its history has always been associated to transitory economic activities such as gold mining and the construction of dams, now it is becoming, in the words of those who have remained living there, a more "familiar" and "quieter" place. These changes are clearly expressed in the recent construction boom in the city, and by the way public works and domestic improvements are both oriented by the necessity to signal a disposition to invest and stay in the city. This context offers a privileged perspective to investigate native ideas about "stability", "control" and "peace", especially because the production of these states require settling in, building and/or reforming a house. What is at stake here is the counterpoint of these "proper" houses to the quite relevant experiences of these persons in less enduring or solid living places: small scale mining camps; single rooms for rent; accommodations in farms, mining company areas or construction sites; barracks and huts of all kinds. Following the stories that connect these different spaces I intend to show how "the question of the house" cannot be separated from the issue of mobility; and how this inseparability shape certain economic practices and moralities and orient my interlocutors' relationship with large companies and the agencies of the State.

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Black tent: nomad's house in nature

Author: Ayse Hilal Tuztas Horzumlu (Yeditepe University )  email

Short Abstract

Living in black tents all year round is considered to be the essential difference between nomads and settled people. This paper aims to evaluate the tent within social-spatial and socio-political category and analyze how nature-human-animal relationships have an impact on dwelling new place.

Long Abstract

Space is a place, one which is conceived, perceived, and inhabited by humans. Humans have both physical and cognitive relations with space. Thus, creating a dwelling place is to make a living and to provide a safe place in this space. In different geographic zones of the world, there are lots of communities with different social and economical conditions, maintaining various life styles. One of these is "nomadic pastoralism", i.e., groups which migrate seasonally from one place to another in order to find more productive fields for their animals. In many regions in The Middle East, especially in Turkey, nomads reside in black tents all year round and they carry their house and belongings with them during migration. Nevertheless, this situation does not mean that nomads maintain placeless and rootedness life. If house is considered as a socio-spatial and moral category, We must evaluate black tent "as it is called by Turkish nomads, a palace with forty windows" and interpret its value in pastoral nomadic life in Turkey. Black tent, was made from goat hair, symbolizes family, culture and solidarity. On migration route, each station where nomads pick up their tents is based on some nature-human- animal relationship. A black tent's location sometimes indicates a "memory place", a map or a spatial place to compare over the years. Additionally, this way of living gives us a chance to reconsider importance of settled place to feel safe and to compare between oikonomia and politikè.

Wheels standing still: the mobile dwelling in present-day Europe

Author: Hege Leivestad (Stockholm University)  email

Short Abstract

Based on fieldwork among British and Swedish caravan dwellers, this paper explores the interlinking relationship between the mobile home, property ownership and concerns about the “good life”.

Long Abstract

Mobile dwellings are familiar features of leisure life around Europe. But far less is known about these dwellings' transformations into "permanent" - and static - housing for the working- and lower middle class. Based on fieldwork among Britons and Swedes that have sold their homes and moved to a campsite, this paper looks at the relationship between the house as a socio-material category and human concerns about the "good life". While caravans are concealed behind cladded awnings and furnished terraces, caravan dwellers still tend to associate their life with one of mobility. By disentangling the domestic economy of a home on wheels, I examine the interrelations between property ownership, material downsizing and the notion of "freedom". Scrutinizing how caravans are deemed as temporary in national legislature and campsite policy, I furthermore point to the potential conflicts surrounding the category of the mobile dwelling. A caravan introduces a range of ambiguous issues to the creation and maintenance of a home, in terms of legal classifications, ownership and material standards. Classified as private property and not as real-estate, it falls into a range of legal voids that to its owners can be both advantageous and potentially risky. And while caravanners see the caravan as a relief from a "claustrophobic" house-lead life, caravan realities still trespass and challenge moral categorizations of "proper" Western homes.

The goal of the "good house": seasonal work and seeking a good life in Lamen and Lamen Bay, Epi, Vanuatu

Author: Rachel E. Smith (University of Manchester)  email

Short Abstract

For rural Ni-Vanuatu, the construction of a modern durable 'good house' makes concrete household-oriented goals and visions for the future. However, the increasing prominence of the household sits in tension with expectations to share, cooperate and live together well with wider kin and community.

Long Abstract

The house is the site for the negotiation of often-contradictory obligations, values and visions of the 'good life'. This is evident in Ni-Vanuatu households' decisions and goals in 'making a living'. Based on sixteen months' fieldwork in a rural Vanuatu community with a high degree of engagement in New Zealand and Australia's Pacific seasonal worker programmes, I explain how the construction of a durable 'good house' has become a preoccupation for Li-Lamenu households. The transition from a thatched home to a concrete house materialises changing moral and material standards of living, and the house's durability makes it an apt icon, standing for future household concerns. Li-Lamenu kinship idioms and ritual practices emphasise the house as a domain dependent on, but situated in tension with clan alliances upheld by senior men. The house is gaining increasing prominence as a base and end to making a living, but this has intensified tensions between household-oriented goals, and wider expectations of sharing and cooperation. These tensions are also arising in life-cycle rituals, which are increasingly aimed at the reproduction and provisioning of the household, but this paradoxically leads to a critique of ritual expenditure vis-a-vis other uses of money. Whilst theories of 'householding' and 'oikos' have often been developed in areas of peasant agriculture, understandings of morality, personhood and economy in Melanesia have been dominated by debates about reciprocity and exchange between clans. In adopting the perspective of the house, I contribute to ideas of domestic moral economy and Melanesian anthropology.

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Houses as moral categories of kin cooperation and individualization in rural Kosovo

Author: Carolin Leutloff-Grandits (University of Graz)  email

Short Abstract

With respect to the role of migrants, the paper discusses houses as moral categories of kin cooperation and individualization in rural Kosovo.

Long Abstract

In Albanian language, the term shtepia can be used for the house, the household, and the family. In rural Kosovo, care has been traditionally provided within a patrilocal, complex household, often financed by male labour migrants. From the 1990s on, with changing migration regimes and the resettlement of women and children abroad, nuclearization processes unfolded. Still, various migrants hold on to the idea of a complex, patrilocal village household and finance the building of a joint house with their brother(s) or sons. Other migrants are eager to create nuclear housing units for themselves and their brothers, which serve as signifiers of "same-ness". In this line, there are rows of three, four or even five equal houses throughout Kosovo that have been built after the war. Again other migrants left the kinship union and built a nuclear house for themselves.

In this paper, I want to discuss the different ways migrants invest in housing and link this to practices and imaginations of houses as units of care, security and responsibility, but also to symbolic dimensions of belonging, identity and family. I want to argue that the different ways of house building depend on various factors like the position of migrants in the village and abroad and the need of family members. They always express a moral perspective on quite conflicting ideas of cooperation or individualization, as well as diverging future visions.

Dwelling, magnitude and the magnanimity of life in Beirut

Author: Samar Kanafani (University of Manchester, UK)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the relationship between notions of the quality of life (magnanimity), and changing spatial magnitude of domestic and urban space in Beirut-Lebanon, as a way to reveal the conditions of possibility for dwelling in a city undergoing rapid urban renewal and gentrification.

Long Abstract

From fieldwork in Beirut, Lebanon, this paper explores how literal and metaphorical notions about the size of domestic and urban space articulate with residents' concerns about prestige and the quality of life in a changing city. I start with focus on people's perceptions of the "old Lebanese houses" (tall ceilings, large rooms, broad staircases, surrounding gardens), which have populated the imagination of cultural heritage but are erstwhile doomed to disappear from urban renewal. I attend to representations of dwelling in such houses as having been more economically plentiful, culturally authentic and affectively generous with their spacious domestic quarters and interspersed urban environments allowing more time and space for meaningful sociality. I understand these expressions as laced with nostalgia, embedded in experiences of socio-economic mobility (upscaling/downscaling/gentrification) and concerns about social status prevailing in Beirut. I situate this discussion within the encompassing urban reconstruction and "growth" that the city has experienced since the early 1980s, which relies on agglomerating smaller and older properties into larger parcels for the construction of new high-rises. Life in these new buildings of varying proportions and standards of luxury are heavily advertised as the penultimate havens of "the good life," while also being exclusive of the majority of the urban population, which is increasingly impoverished and displaced to the suburbs. I ask how a sense of the magnanimity of life is transformed through the emergence of new special magnitudes of dwelling, and what does this say about the conditions that make such dwelling possible.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.