Law in Contemporary Society

The Politics of Home

-- By MarcusStrong - 15 May 2012 (edited July 2012)

Is a House Just a Home?

As Americans struggle over domestic issues of immigration, gay marriage, healthcare, and the economy, I often ask myself: Is a house just a home? Since the recession, many finance experts would say that if even if you’re lucky enough to own your house, an unstable economy and slowly recovering housing market make it just a place to live in comfort with little extra value. In financial terms, I would agree, but what if we viewed a home’s value from a political and intellectual viewpoint? Though the home can be a place of comfort or family solidarity, it can also be a place of political ideas, where different ideas and viewpoints are developed, confronted, and even used to enact social change. That point is most salient for people whose home has also become their workplace in the new economy. As Americans engage in an increasingly polarized political process, they possess a vehicle for social interaction and change, where families can engage each other’s views but also where neighbors or strangers can share their opinion. The ends and means of the interactions I’m suggesting are not purely political, but rather ways in which communities can grow stronger in the wake of this nation’s difficulties. In my opinion, how we use our homes, who we invite in them, and the human values we foster in them will decide America’s future.

Even though I’ve moved a lot since I was a kid, I’ve often argued with my parents about our home, and those arguments helped evolve my political stance, and theirs as well. Our debates weren’t centered around the cost of a mortgage or the rising interest on a loan, but on issues of race, religion, nationality or sexuality. Essentially, we argued about the people we did or did not bring into our home. But why is what we argue behind closed doors, at BBQs, particularly our own, so important to me? To people who seek peaceful homes, those arguments may seem counterproductive. But to me, those arguments exemplify the larger, albeit more complex debates that politicians debate in Congress or lawyers argue before the Supreme Court. Though the issue of jobs is very important in today’s political climate, politicians use the home and who lives near it, both to forward and hinder social debates over immigration, same-sex marriage, and affirmative action. The question of who lives next door isn’t very far from the question of who’s taking my job, or what’s being taught in my child’s school. Conversely, the results of those national debates often decide the answer to question of just who will live next door. That’s not to discount people’s actions and the larger social movements that push for change in our nation’s laws. The small arguments we have at home, with a spouse, with our parents, with friends, or with our children, can be the ones that solidify or reshape our political views. The conflict that starts the course of social change is just as important as the end result.

The Modern Home

The political effect of homes is also shaped by how we use them. Up until recently, the modern home, like many parts of today’s commercial world, was a place of convenience. The goal wasn’t just a home to call your own, but one with all the comforts of automation: automated coffee machines, automated washers and dryers, and constant temperature control. To me, these qualities reinforced complacency, about both our own lives and the complex politics of the world outside. Unless we’re making a consistent effort, comfort and convenience become much higher priorities than reevaluating our own political views. For a time, the home’s legacy, instead of as a potential place of action, was a place of rest. However, that static characteristic of many in the middle-class was turned on its head after the recent economic recession. For the first time since industrialization separated the two, the home has become a workplace again, where men and women produce information instead of the domestic products of previous centuries.

But does the reintegration of the workplace into the home make for a location more or less likely for political interaction? Because the domestic workplace is more information based than past domestic employment, citizens have fewer interactions across classes, and therefore have fewer opportunities to exchange political and social views. If an employee is working from home, any customer he serves will be online, so there are fewer skin colors, classes, genders and sexualities with which to interact. Face to face interaction isn’t an indicator of social harmony, but rather one type of social interaction exempt from an online economy. The opportunity for inward and family political growth exists, but, in a world of celebrity driven media, is under threat from the entertainment meant to give our minds a break. The current situation isn’t new. It has existed since the postwar era, when time-saving appliances and new recreational devices gave Americans more time, for work outside the home but also entertainment within it. The difference now is that we’re currently at war, the economy is in bad shape, citizens are increasingly divided over what to do, and our education system is preparing fewer leaders than it needs to turn it all around.

The Home's Place in the Future

So is the home’s value as a place of political and social growth as low as its financial value? I don’t think so. Despite my reservations about the new domestic workplace, working at home gives parents the possibility to spend more time with their kids or get more involved in their community. It also can inspire professionals or activists to network and find resources they may have not sought before. The home is also a potential bastion of education, where both kids and adults can learn more about this country and the world. As we recover from the recession, I think whether we shape our homes as bastions of constructive action or convenience, will shape their political power, as talking points or sites of social change.

Certainly an improvement in clarity and force over the first draft.

Two components, one mostly stylistic, the other more substantive, are still troubling me. "Value" is a word that has different meanings in different contexts. I don't know what you're gaining by contrasting plainly different meanings in the top and tail of the essay. What reader wouldn't agree that "home," or even a house, has "value" in different senses that are uncorrelated? Why is pointing that out important enough to do in the rhetorically most significant parts of the essay, the introduction and conclusion?

Second, there's a time scale differential in the discussion that seems to me confusing. One time scale is short-term, "as we recover from recession." Another is the time scale of your life: what we fought about at home as I was growing up. The third is about the transformation of work, and the scale is either decades or centuries, depending on how much of the process we consider to be involved. Yet the three time scales are mixed up—perhaps it would be right to say, entangled—in a fashion that confuses at least one reader.

A last question: is "home" really the subject, or is it "family"? Little of this actually seems to have to do with domestic architecture, and much more to do with domestic sentiment.


Webs Webs

r5 - 22 Jan 2013 - 20:10:04 - IanSullivan
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