Unsettling Domesticities: New Global Histories of Family and Home

AHA Session 91
Berkshire Conference of Women Historians 3
Friday, January 6, 2017: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Mile High Ballroom 1C (Colorado Convention Center, Ballroom Level)
Antoinette Burton, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Antoinette Burton, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Session Abstract

Feminist historians first introduced the history of the household into the historiography of North America and Europe, arguing that interrogating “domesticity” inside the home was equally important to and integrally embedded in histories of capitalism and industrial labor outside the house. The historians featured in this forum expand and exceed previous geographical and temporal scales by exploring domesticity through migration, colonialism, sexuality and political economy. In a conversation facilitated by Antoinette Burton, the authors will discuss how home and family have unified the human experience, and examine the limits and possibilities of “domesticity” as a shared category of historical analysis. This roundtable would appeal to historians of transnational and global history, and historians of capitalism and political economy, in addition to historians of gender and family.

Domesticity in these papers refers to the ideologies and ideals that define and describe the spaces and practices of home and family. Together the papers highlight frictions between ideology and practice. Julie Hardwick pinpoints contradictions between historians’ ideal of a sentimental domesticity shaped by the consumer revolution and the actual lived experiences of a household in 18th century France. Nayan Shah, Eileen Findlay and Victoria Haskins describe how modern states in the Americas, Australia, and UK constructed a normative ideology of domesticity to control, marginalize, and reform bodies of refugees, migrants and indigenous people. Elizabeth LaCouture and Annelise Heinz look at how popular culture shaped the global domestic ideal in 1920s China and the American postwar domestic revival. Some of the authors demonstrate how tensions between ideology and practice formed productive sites that enabled people to invent new practices of home, while others suggest that conflicts primarily led to new unattainable domestic ideals. All papers suggest that the power of domesticity has been to attempt to stabilize and define a space that was always porous, fluid and changing.

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