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The Household

The Household: Informal Order around the Hearth

Robert C. Ellickson
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    The Household
    Book Description:

    Some people dwell alone, many in family-based households, and an adventuresome few in communes.The Householdis the first book to systematically lay bare the internal dynamics of these and other home arrangements. Legal underpinnings, social considerations, and economic constraints all influence how household participants select their homemates and govern their interactions around the hearth. Robert Ellickson applies transaction cost economics, sociological theory, and legal analysis to explore issues such as the sharing of household output, the control of domestic misconduct, and the ownership of dwelling units.

    Drawing on a broad range of historical and statistical sources, Ellickson contrasts family-based households with the more complex arrangements in medieval English castles, Israeli kibbutzim, and contemporary cohousing communities. He shows that most individuals, when structuring their home relationships, pursue a strategy of consorting with intimates. This, he asserts, facilitates informal coordination and tends ultimately to enhance the quality of domestic interactions. He challenges utopian critics who seek to enlarge the scale of the household and legal advocates who urge household members to rely more on written contracts and lawsuits. Ellickson argues that these commentators fail to appreciate the great advantages in the home setting of informally associating with a handful of trusted intimates.

    The Householdis a must-read for sociologists, economists, lawyers, and anyone interested in the fundamentals of domestic life.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3415-0
    Subjects: Sociology, Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xviii)
    Robert C. Ellickson
  4. Chapter 1 How Households Differ from Families
    (pp. 1-9)

    An extraterrestrial visitor would immediately notice that most earthlings spend over half their time clustered together in small dwellings—working, eating, sleeping, and socializing. From on high, these household relationships plainly appear to be among the most basic of human arrangements. This book investigates, mostly from the bottom up rather than the top down, how people create and manage these domestic microcosms to which they can retreat from the hurly-burly of larger society.

    Most homes have more than one resident and many have multiple owners. These household participants must devise methods of dealing with both the mundane and unexpected challenges...

  5. Chapter 2 Household Formation and Dissolution in a Liberal Society
    (pp. 10-26)

    When a recluse solely owns and occupies a dwelling unit, interpersonal conflicts over household arrangements cannot arise. Difficulties can surface, however, when two or more co-occupants face the challenge of sharing a domestic space. Indeed, the seeds of conflict in such circumstances are so fertile that writers of novels, dramas, and other works of fiction commonly favor story lines that feature cohabitants. In particular, many leading television series have been set in multi-occupant households. Many of these have featured married couples or families—for example,I Love Lucy,The Cosby Show, andThe Sopranos. In others, such asThe Odd...

  6. Chapter 3 The Predominant Strategy: Consorting with Intimates
    (pp. 27-34)

    A person considering how to structure household relations in a liberal society faces a potentially intimidating number of choices. A graduate student who moves to a new university community, for instance, must decide whether to live alone or with others, what particular dwelling to inhabit, whether to buy or to rent that dwelling, and, if to buy, whether to bring in other co-owners. Of the three potential household relationships, co-occupancy is typically the strongest and most multi-stranded.* Many co-occupants spend as many as half of their waking hours at home and are apt not only to engage in conventional forms...

  7. Chapter 4 A Historical Overview of Household Forms
    (pp. 35-45)

    Most adults in a liberal society indeed prefer to consort with intimates when they enter into a co-occupancy, co-ownership, or landlord-tenant relationship. This chapter marshals statistics to support this basic proposition.

    Veteran observers of households—that is, all of us—will not be startled by the fact that the occupants of most households in the United States can be counted on the fingers of one hand.¹ As table 4.1 indicates, 91 percent of the Americans living in housing units in 1999 were living in households with five or fewer occupants.²

    As a nation becomes more prosperous, its households generally shrink...

  8. Chapter 5 Are the Household Forms that Endure Necessarily Best?
    (pp. 46-59)

    Many utopian thinkers, from Plato on, have placed reform of the household at or near the top of their agendas. Critics have two basic grounds for questioning the worthiness of a liberal society’s conventional household institutions.¹ The first is that the actual process of household formation in a given liberal society may be too beset with imperfections to produce sound outcomes.² More radically, some critics challenge the normative soundness of liberalism itself. The lackluster histories, in a wide variety of cultures, of experiments with collectivized living, however, suggest that conventional household institutions do have significant intrinsic merits.

    For millennia, drastic...

  9. Chapter 6 Choosing Which of a Household’s Participants Should Serve as Its Owners
    (pp. 60-75)

    The legal owners of a house typically are the grantees named in the most recent deed conveying the premises.¹ This group of owners almost always includes all the individuals who provided equity capital—that is, the funds used to defray the portion of the purchase price not financed by means of a mortgage. After initially acquiring title, these owners typically provide any additional infusions of equity, perhaps to cover deficits incurred in ownership operations or to finance improvements to the premises.² What are the powers of a household’s owners? Why, among all the various parties involved in household operations, are...

  10. Chapter 7 The Mixed Blessings of Joining with Others
    (pp. 76-91)

    Although most adults strive to avoid unwieldy households, most also choose not to live and own alone. This chapter addresses the factors that influence how many people join together in the various household relationships. Economists have produced a deep literature on the scale and scope of internal household enterprise.¹ This work focuses primarily on the questions of whether and when co-occupants can gain by adding to their numbers or taking on more activities. Less attention has been paid to the analogous issues that arise in the other two household relationships—that is, to the advantages and disadvantages of bringing in...

  11. Chapter 8 Order without Law in an Ongoing Household
    (pp. 92-127)

    Participants in each of the three basic household relationships have an interest in coordinating their efforts to augment the surplus that is available for them to share. Cooccupants, for example, can benefit from improving their system of dividing up household chores; co-owners, their system for keeping the books; and landlords and tenants, their system for dealing with a leaky faucet. Even in the informal setting of the home, participants have rules—commonly unwritten and even unarticulated—that govern the assignment of responsibilities for handling these sorts of tasks. In addition, participants can benefit from rules that restrain affirmative misconduct, such...

  12. Chapter 9 The Challenge of Unpacking the Household
    (pp. 128-136)

    Households—institutions that lie literally at our doorsteps—warrant greater attention. Many of the most valued human interactions occur within dwellings. Social scientists plainly can gain much from a better understanding of how people structure their home lives. I conclude with some thoughts about how scholars of domestic arrangements might orient their endeavors.

    Even the most eminent commentators too often muddle their depictions of home life by failing to distinguish among three closely associated, but conceptually distinct, domestic institutions: the household, the family, and the marriage relationship. A household is an enterprise that one or more adults consensually establish in...

  13. Appendix A: Data on Intentional Communities
    (pp. 137-144)
  14. Appendix B: Data on Co-housing Communities
    (pp. 145-146)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 147-198)
  16. Works Cited
    (pp. 199-236)
  17. Index
    (pp. 237-251)