Author : Alexandra Rusu

In anthropological research, the concept of home has received several meanings, from being a simple framework for various social relationships (e.g., kinship) – a way to order society – to a symbol of distinct cultural beliefs. Recent studies advance a distinction between house (or household) and home, where the house suggests the material forms, mirroring the dominant norms of society, and the home designates the subjective aspects that influence the formation of the individual, comprising feelings of rootedness, safety and worth.

A private house is the most complex and intimate space among all public and private ones. It provides shelter – to us and our material universe – designed inside and out to transform a space into one suitable for living, a process that reflects the customs and beliefs of the community or group we belong to.

“[…]like any material culture, the house has embedded cultural values expressed through social relations. And like the language syntax, the spatial arrangements of our buildings and communities reflect and reinforce the nature of gender, race and class relations in society.”

There are societies in which the community space (city, village) takes the form of a canvas on which life is painted, and in which the house stands out as a more private area of the whole. In other societies, the house becomes the focal point, while the town or village signifies a road taken to reach the privacy of home. Considering the degree of privacy, the house can be a personal and intimate space, or an extension of the surrounding community. But the house can also be a process, a sequence of ritualized practices that do not imply a fixed, precisely located structure. In this case, the physical dwelling is replaced by the lived experience, composed of routes, feelings or actions.

To the subject, the house is an extension of the self. How exactly does a house turn into a home? Or how exactly does a house become a “home”? A house becomes a home by shaping the material layer, through actions such as renovation or decoration that join the space to personal history. The objects we group inside the house tell a particular story. By analyzing them, we can glimpse the spiritual characteristics of the owner. Therefore, for many, building or searching for an ideal home is a life project, part of a larger project, that of “taking root.”

In Western culture, the concepts of “home” and “family” are powerful, “politicized, culturally relative, historically specific, local, and multiple” symbols. The idea of “home” is a relatively new concept, expressing centuries of cultural, physical and emotional change. Among these, the rise of capitalism and the industrial revolution left a strong imprint, influencing the material universe, family relationships and lifestyles. They resulted in “the progressive separation of two domains, that of production and of consumption, represented in urban areas by work spaces and living spaces”. Throughout the 20th century, the Western understanding of the concept of “home” defined a private household, occupied by a nuclear family, having rooms with different functions, a place of comfort, familiarity and intimacy. The cultural meaning of the home took on even more shape when large-scale urban projects gave more people the opportunity to have a comfortable home. As the outside world became more complex and problematic, people valued more and more the relaxation provided by an intimate space.

Today, the home is both a place of refuge and alienation, with external-internal communication realized through media channels. For this reason, people pay more attention to their relationship with their homes, with the structure, decor, furniture and other objects that populate it. Large renovation projects follow the individual relationship with the outside (society), while small reconfigurations are more about personal feelings (eg evaluating relationships, rewriting the narratives). Therefore, architecture and design contribute to defining the home as “an experiential and relational category”, by creating divisions between public and private, by exalting the sociability or impregnating the atmosphere with stimuli that trigger feelings.

Text: Alexandra Rusu
Photo: Muzeul Vârstelor,  Cristian Oprea

Irene Cieraad, House and home: Reconsidering the anatomy of houses in Western societies, în ANUAC., VOL. 10, Nr. 2, Dec. 2021: 197-214.
Judith Flanders, The making of home, Atlantic Books, London, 2014.
Setha M. Low, Denise Lawrence-Zúñiga (eds.), The anthropology of space and place. Locating culture, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, 2003.
Farhan Samanani, Johannes Lenhard, House and Home, în The Open Encyclopedia of Anthropology:


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