SIEF2017 13th Congress: Göttingen, Germany
26-30 March 2017

The single-family home: detecting the cultural impact of a Fordist heritage
Location VG 3.104
Date and Start Time 27 March, 2017 at 16:00
Sessions 1


  • Elisabeth Timm (University of Münster (Germany)) email
  • Ingrid Tomkowiak (University of Zurich) email

Mail All Convenors

Chair Elisabeth Timm

Short Abstract

The single-family home materializes popular dreams of the Fordist era. While family life is undergoing deep changes, and planners are wondering how to deal with all the vacant houses, affirmative images and narratives of the detached house still occupy everyday imagination and practice worldwide.

Long Abstract

The single-family home is a vast material and cultural heritage from the Fordist decades of the 20th century. It has promised and symbolized prosperity, a tangible asset and good familial order, regardless of how excluding the accompanying policies have been.

At the same time, the single-family home also has been contested: it demands large amounts of land and other resources, and is related to mass car ownership. Being confronted with the change from local, male breadwinner families to new forms of multilocal generational living, traditional social ontologies are collapsing. Yet, as planning research reveals, efforts to encourage other forms of dwelling regularly fail. Small towns especially are continuously producing areas full of these "little boxes", also critically referred to, especially in US popular culture.

Ethnographic and historical-anthropological insights are extremely valuable in shedding light on how the single-family home was established and why it still persists. Other than the USA, Britain and Australia — so-called "home-owner societies"— the suburbs of Europe have not been a particular focus of research so far, apart from Pierre Bourdieu's seminal work "Der Einzige und sein Eigenheim" (1998).

We are inviting proposals for empirically strong papers, e.g.:

• How, in the context of changing welfare regimes, is house-ownership being encouraged among the poor and in precarious milieus?

• How does the familial experience of the Fordist decade interfere with current housing practices?

• Are there any relations to forms which seem to be more deeply rooted in history, e.g. to the popular and scientific myth of the "ganzes Haus"?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


The 19th-century origins and 20th-century political career of the idea of homeownership in OECD Countries

Author: Sebastian Kohl (Institute for Housing and Urban Research, Uppsala University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper traces the political idea of homeownership throughout many OECD countries by using 19th-century reformer writings and 20th-century party manifestos.

Long Abstract

Homeownership and financial liberalization policies were one factor behind rising mortgage and homeownership levels in many countries before 2008. High homeownership countries were most affected by the Great Recession. This paper looks into the causes of homeownership policies by tracing the political idea of homeownership across time and countries in the OECD world, using 19th-century reformer writings and 20th-century party manifestos. It thus enriches the party manifesto project with housing position variables and additional historical manifestos. The idea of homeownership originated as a conservative reaction to the social question in the 19th-century and was meant to cure social ills by spreading owner-occupation of, at that time, single-family houses across the population. In the 20th century, this idea entered political parties when national housing policies became first formulated or when traditional social housing provision ran into problems in the 1970s. The findings are: conservative parties defended homeownership throughout the period, while countries differ with regard to the extent that left-wing parties have made the homeownership idea their own: in Anglo-Saxon countries left-wing parties usually favored the expansion of homeownership. Many Scandinavian social democrats were also favorable to private or cooperative ownership because it prevented exploitation through rental landlords. In German-speaking countries, social democrats, representing the urban working classes, defended municipal or state support of rental housing. Countries with Catholic parties initiated special homeownership-supporting policies and all conservative fascist regimes supported family-ownership of houses. The paper explains differences in homeownership position by the left-right scale of parties, urbanization and previous homeownership levels, using unique historical homeownership and party data.

Little boxes all the same? A film essay

Author: Ingrid Tomkowiak (University of Zurich)  email

Short Abstract

This filmic essay combines literary, photographic, musical and cinematic positions on life in the single-family-homes of US-American suburbs.

Long Abstract

Shortly after WW II, on Long Island, New York, the first Levittown was developed - a new type of suburb, totally built with prefabricated slabs from mass production. At that time, the detached house, each one for one family, has been regarded as fulfillment of the American Dream for members of the growing middle class. These homes also were thought as a guarantee for political stability in the face of cold war and lurking communism. But soon, the suburban lifestyle raised a critical debate which also became manifest in literature and photography, as well as movies and popular music. The filmic essay will present the critique of the single family home as the popular twin that accompanied this way of building and living from its very beginning.

Financialized fordism and the imagined futures of real estate development

Author: Megan Moore (University of Minnesota)  email

Short Abstract

This paper considers financialized housing development in the US and Germany. Cultures of finance, post-Fordist housing policies, and the the centrality of the single family home are juxtaposed to ask what forms of kinship are enduring in late liberalism and why.

Long Abstract

This paper considers everyday experiences and global entanglements of financialized housing development in the US and Germany. Using Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) as a starting point of comparison, cultures of finance, post-Fordist housing, and the the centrality of the single family home are juxtaposed in order to ask what forms of kinship are enduring in late liberalism and why. After President Eisenhower signed legislation in 1960 allowing the absentee ownership of development funds and projects, REITs became the primary source funding the projects that built suburban America. This was a change from what had previously been mainly locally-funded development with more community involvement (Elizabeth Blackmar 2005). However, only in the last ten years has Germany opened up their markets to REIT investment and development. In this paper, I will compare the imagined futures embedded within the design of the single family home in the US and Germany at key points in the history of capitalism under both liberalism and late liberalism. Development projects are always, at their core, endeavors that engage with and build toward an imagined future. What policies and flows of capital have made the single family home the model to work toward in the US and Germany? Where do they differ and how might we attribute the influence of REITs in shaping these shifts? At the root of all these policies and flows that continue to fundamental anthropological questions of who and what is invested in and what imagined future is being built toward.

"To the bitter end…": about imagining childhood while fading out old age in a single-family home

Author: Katherin Wagenknecht (Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster)  email

Short Abstract

The culturally widespread notion of single-family houses as lifelong homes is not only challenged by the latest financial crisis but by changing needs in different phases of life. How do families who invested in a single-family home deal with this situation?

Long Abstract

In my contribution, I discuss the cultural ideal of single-family houses being a lifelong home 'to the bitter end' as one woman pointed out. My research is based on qualitative interviews and house tours guided by the owners. It is based on a praxeological approach with focus on materiality and considers altogether 20 cases, located in three different settlements in the West of Germany. By concentrating on two specific aspects I will demonstrate how the ideal of living in a newly built single-family home for the rest of one's life is challenged by changing needs, e.g. parents considering that children may want a swing in the backyard, teenagers having an increased need for privacy, and in the own old age one may become care-dependent. To illustrate these multiple ideals and how these concepts are enacted I focus on the families' daily routines and practices. First I will discuss the ideal of a green childhood. Children are one of the main aspects influencing the families' decision of where to live. Children are thought to play in a private garden or on calm streets without being endangered by traffic. Whereas single-family houses are planned precisely as being the perfect place for children to grow up, the visions of the own sunset years in this house remain rather vague. Let alone the questions: How to climb the stairs between the floors and enter the house at all? Or: How to sell the house with profit to finance care in old age?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.