Home Is Where the Care Is

20 Jul 2020

A new collection of essays furthers study into the multifaceted realities of the contemporary home. Co-editor Antonio Argandoña shares some thoughts on the work in this overview.

This new volume, People, Care and Work in the Home (Routledge, 2020) edited by Mohamed Gamal Abdelmonem and Antonio Argandoña, is unique in its breadth. It is multidisclipinary, as are the 27 authors themselves (a brief look at their bios reveals curious intelects that venture beyond their original or principal area of study). It is multinational, including case studies from the UK and continental Europe as well as from South East Asia and South America. Furthermore, the 17 chapters - written by scholars, researchers and practitioners - treat the varied situations relating to the home from theoretical, empirical and practical perspectives. The result is a novel global outlook on how contemporary homes are facing genuine challenges from operational, economic, spatial, social and well-being perspectives.

In the preface, Sir Harry Burns frames the story by pointing out “from the outside, a home is simply a building. It’s inside that the magic happens”. He goes on to remind us that the WHO defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease,” and argues that it is at home where the fundaments of this comprehensive health are established – or not.

The rest of the volume delves into the nitty gritty of how homes work or fail to work. This enquiry into the function and practices of today’s homes adopts “the broader conception of the home, including people (the family), place (the housing), environment (neighborhood, city, town), and society” and considers its “multifaceted dimensions: anthropological, ethical, economic, political, social, psychological, and spatial.”  

Each of the three title aspects of the home – people, care and work – serves to organize a section in the volume, each introduced by a feature article. Part one regards care in various forms: caring for others, in particular vulnerable groups like children, elderly or the sick, caring for food, health and sustainable housing. Part two considers people and the ways in which they contribute to the home, with special consideration for children, the elderly, the disabled, and caregivers. The third section treats work in the broad sense of activities to which people devote themselves in the home, this goes beyond family or domestic worker chores and the on-demand economy and working from home to include shared leisure and communication. 

The editors consider the home as “a multipurpose organization whose tasks include reproduction; nutrition; learning and socialization of children; production of goods and services; care for the sick and elderly; provision of physical, psychological and ontological security; and a means for the acquisition of a social identity”. Yet, the home “has a ‘purpose’ which is not the sum of different services, no matter how important they may be, but the development and flourishing of the person.”

Argandoña expands:

Home is a word with many meanings, because it has many dimensions. It is a physical space of residence; it is the environment of domestic life; it is a comunity of people who live together. The recent COVID-19 pandemic has revealed that its functions overlap with those of other institutions. It is also a place of refuge and defense; a common service center; a place where much work is done, including remunerated jobs; and a space in which our vulnerabilities find relief. Of course, other institutions sometimes assume some of these functions, making the home appear of secondary importance, or even redundant. However, the home is unique because of the type of relationships that take place within it. They are not give-and-take relationships or exchanges of equivalents, as in the market, but rather are relationships of generosity, in which today some give without expecting anything in return, with the assurance that at another time they will receive something quite unlike what they gave – often something priceless.