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«1. The Historical Shaping of the Home Document ID Equator IRC D1.1 Status Final Type Deliverable Version 1.3 Date August 2001 Task 1. Andy Crabtree ...»

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The Sociality of Domestic Environments

1. The Historical Shaping of the Home

Document ID Equator IRC D1.1

Status Final

Type Deliverable

Version 1.3

Date August 2001

Task 1.

Andy Crabtree


Terry Hemmings

© The Equator IRC, ESPRC Project GR/N15986/01

Project coordinator:

Tom Rodden

The School of Computer Science and Information Technology

The University of Nottingham Jubilee Campus Wollaton Road Nottingham NG8 1BB United Kingdom Tel. 0115 846 6896 Fax. 0115 951 4254 Email. tar@Cs.Nott.AC.UK

The Equator IRC includes the following institutions:

The University of Bristol The University of Glasgow Lancaster University University College London The University of Nottingham The Royal College of Art The University of Southampton The University of Sussex

Authors of this report:

Andy Crabtree (andy.crabtree@nottingham.ac.uk) Terry Hemmings (terry.hemmings@nottingham.ac.uk 2 Table of Contents The Sociality of Domestic Environments Background to the study (p. 4) Introduction to the study (pp. 5-7) THE HISTORICAL SHAPING OF DOMESTIC SPACE (pp. 7-44) Pre-industrial and early industrial development (1760-1840) (pp.7-17) Industrialization and the home (1840-1914) (pp. 17-29) Radical times and the domestic revolution (1914 forwards) (pp. 29-40) Towards design: domestic legacy (pp. 40-44) 3 The Sociality of Domestic Environments


The University of Nottingham Abstract. This deliverable, the first in a series investigating the sociality of the domestic environment, sets out explicate the historical shaping of the home. We attend in particular to the socio-historical factors through the influence of which the modern domestic space has come to assume its recognisable form. Particular attention is paid to the role of architecture, technology, and the formative character of social interaction. We suggest that these three factors constitute a distinct domestic legacy, which it is important for design to build upon in constructing the home of the future.

Background to the study The following study has been undertaken as part of the EPSRC funded Interdisiplinary Research Collaboration Equator.1 The central goal of the Equator IRC is to promote the integration of physical and digital environments with the express aim of improving the quality of everyday life by building and adapting technologies fora range of user groups and application domains. The home is one of those domains and household members constitute the range of user groups. The purpose of this study is to identify significant social factors that shape the domestic environment and the everyday activities that occur there. The emphasis on social factors derives from the recognition by designers that the success of systems relies on the social contexts in which they are placed and used. The aim of this deliverable is to investigate the sociohistorical context of the domestic environment in Britain, which has shaped the home largely as a result of the process of industrialisation. The assumption here is that, as in the workplace, this historical legacy will have profound impact on design and that developing an appreciation of that legacy will serve to inform the design of appropriate technologies for the home.

1 http://www.equator.ac.uk

4 Introduction to the study The category “house” is on that we use to describe the space that we “live in” and, in so doing, we distinguish that space from others in the world.2 Most, but not all, houses are sub-divided in order to provide spaces for a common range of social activities. We call these spaces “rooms”. We take our meals in some of them, and entertain, bathe, sleep, cook, etc., in others. A major problem encountered when undertaking an analytical investigation of such concepts as “house” and “rooms” is that they play a fundamental role in everyone’s lives and yet, notwithstanding this importance, both they and the common activities that are tied to these categories, are largely taken for granted. The sheer ubiquity of the house coupled with its overwhelmingly subjective nature make the house and home poor material for abstraction.

Conventional sociological research into the domestic environment often forms part of broader undertaking designed to understand the nature of modern society.

Consequently, studies of involving the home and technology have regularly been employed as a resource to support a theoretically driven perspective. Recurring themes in this kind of study of the home or household include: the social construction of the home, the gendering of domestic labour, the family and children, and the consumption of technology in the home. While professionally defensible, many such studies fail to resonate with people’s ordinary everyday experiences of the home however, and a theoretical approach (as that notion is understood in the social sciences) is therefore eschewed here.

For many people the home is construed of as a space where they may retreat from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, a place for rest, relaxation, leisure, and entertainment; a safe haven constructed to promote the well being of its members. The common sense maxim “an Englishman’s home is his castle” illustrates the unique sense the domestic space has for the British, conveying a notions of privacy and a degree of autonomy and independence from other more public settings. Despite its uniqueness, the home is nevertheless a known in common social institution, governed by tacit rules and meanings and protected by the laws of trespass and nuisance.

Although statutory rights of entry are granted to the members of a number of 2 House here is used as a term designed to incorporate an indeterminate range of residential constructions which including: apartment, flat, tenement, cottage, maisonette, bungalow, mill, barn, oast house, penthouse etc, etc, etc.

5 organizations, such as the fire brigade or authorised personnel from utility suppliers in certain emergency situations, uninvited entry even in cases of an emergency may not be attempted without exposing the trespasser to the risk of legal sanction. For the members of society, the privacy of the home is commonly known to be sacrosanct.

Despite being a global phenomenon, albeit one that assumes varying forms, the home is a little understood environment. It is especially so with regards to its social organization and the commensurate development of computer-based technologies.

One of the primary reasons for this absence in the literature may be attributed to the difficulty of accessing the home in order to study it. The “private” character of the home makes “public” investigation a troublesome enterprise. The public-private dichotomy masks a deeper source of trouble, however, namely the tension that exists between the practical attitude that underpins everyday activities in the home and the Rational attitude that underpins scientific activities (Schutz 1964).3 Simply put, the home is a troublesome investigative site as it is not readily amenable to “scientific” methods of study. Almost by its very nature, the home is the antithesis of the controlled environment and it does not, as such, lend itself easily to the rigours of Rational inquiry. For our part, we have no interest in “scientific” approaches. We are not interested in conducting experiments, establishing control groups, or constructing theories and other general representational formats with which to account for the social organization of the home. This is not to say that we have no interest in science, whatever that might be, but that we have no interest in “scientism”. No interest, that is, in the misguided believe that everything – the sociality of the home included – may be studied through the methods of natural science. This is not to say that the sociality of the home cannot be studied through the use of the methods of natural science.

Rather, it is to draw attention to the fact that the inappropriate use of the methods of natural science serves to impose, by fiat, a version of reality insensitive to the ways in which the social world is a meaningful one and one constructed by those who live within it. In other words, [the] methods produce or construct the social reality they intend to investigate … through the [use of the] 3 Schutz, A. (1953) “Common Sense and Scientific Interpretation of Human Action”, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, vol. 14, p. 1-38.

–  –  –

Methods, whether avowedly scientific or not, must be compatible with the subjectmatter they set out to investigate. Accordingly, we reject the methods of natural scientific investigation and turn first to a consideration of the socio-historical character of the domestic environment in order to identify significant factors implicated in the shaping of the home and which are, we believe, of relevance to the design of computer-based technologies.


The history of the home is as old and complex as the human species that built and inhabited such dwelling places. Even an attempt to provide a synthesis of the history of the home and urban change covering a period of 240 years must be seen as over ambitious. A further complication faces the authors of any introductory text: what to include and what to leave out? In this section of the deliverable we focus selectively on the development of the home in the Britain from around 1760 to the present day.

This period is particularly relevant as it is characterised by the emergence of social processes that gave rise to industrialisation and developments in urban growth that have shaped the nature of modern day life. These fundamental societal changes are reflected in house building trends and the evolution of domestic space. The developments we identify in this historical synopsis should not be regarded as discrete phenomena. Rather they should be seen as convenient markers under which a discussion of significant aspects of the home’s evolution in “modern” times is organised.

Pre-industrial and early industrial development (1760-1840) The image often evoked of pre-industrial Britain is of a pastoral “golden age”. Preindustrial life was governed by very different daily rhythms to our own. Working for profit was not yet a driving concern. On the contrary, work got done as and when it needed to be done. Time, particularly mechanical time, had not yet been equated with profit (whether of the soul or the pocket), rather it was something to be enjoyed at

4 Hughes, J.A. (1993) The Philosophy of Social Research, London: Longman.

7 leisure. At the heart of this romantic idle stood the country cottage. Built solidly of stone, with a thatched roof and mullioned windows offering a glimpse of roaring fires, rustic furnishings, and well-scrubbed floors. Jovial country squires and peasant labourers alike gathered round tables laden with game to eat hearty meals swilled down with copious amounts of local ale. Life it seems was idyllic and carefree in this mythical time gone by.

The reality of pre-industrial life was of course much harsher, especially for the vast majority of the population. The agricultural labourer in particular was among the worst paid, fed, and housed of all the workers in pre-industrial rural Britain.5 The home of the labouring classes was, in general, anything but solidly built, rustically furnished and clean but, on the contrary, ramshackle, unsanitary, and very overcrowded. “Hovel” is a word that William Cobbett used to describe the average dwelling.

Look at the miserable sheds in which the labourers reside! Look at these hovels, made of mud and of straw; bits of glass, or of old, off-cast windows, without frames or hinges frequently, but merely stuck in the mud wall. Enter them, and look at the bits of chairs or stools; the wretched boards tacked together to serve for a table; the floor of pebble, broken brick, or of bare ground;

look at the thing called a bed; and survey the rags on the backs of the wretched inhabitants; and then wonder if you can that the goals and dungeons and treadmills increase, and that a standing army and barracks are becoming the favourite establishments of England! 6 This is not to say that all housing was grossly sub-standard, there still remains many well preserved and restored remnants of the nineteenth century and much older in both towns and rural settings. However, these are the exception rather than the norm, survivors are generally structures built by wealthier owners and are relatively rare examples of good craftsmanship and careful maintenance.

By way of contrast, pre-industrial working class homes were of vernacular construction, largely uninfluenced by the architectural. The labourer’s home was not, typically, a planned construction with regard to need, use and function, beyond minimal protection from the elements. Although craftsmen were employed if costs permitted for particular jobs of work, masonry, joinery and rendering, the basic 5 Heath, R. (1893) The English Peasant: Studies Historical, Local and Biographic, London: T. Fisher Unwin.

6 Cobbett, W. (1927) Rural Rides in the Southern, Western, and Eastern Counties of England, vol. 1, Dent: Everyman. Originally published in Cobbett’s Journal (1821).

8 construction of the pre-industrial working class home was a matter of vernacular expertise that any labourer might be expected to possess.7 Many dwellings consisted of a single storey and single room only, with slim partitions separating people from livestock. The standard, insofar as it makes sense to speak of such a thing, was probably the three-roomed house consisting of a single room downstairs – a kitchen in which the family lived, cooked and ate – and two small rooms upstairs used for sleeping a typically large family. Windows were few and small, running water virtually unknown, and indoor sanitation was non-existent. As Burnett (1978) describes the situation, The chief defects of such structures were that they were often dark, damp and unsanitary, difficult to warm in winter or to ventilate in summer, inconvenient for cooking and cleaning and, above all, grossly overcrowded for the often large families who had to eat, cook, sleep and sometimes work at domestic industries in them. Yet, bad as they were by any civilised standard, the greatest complaint was that there simply not enough of them.

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