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Ideas Shaping Practice: Philosophy of Home Economics/Human Sciences

Vol. 19, No. 1
ISSN: 1546-2676

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Everyday Life: A Home Economics Concept

Sue L. T. McGregor
Mount Saint Vincent University

2012

Keywords: home economics, everyday, home, routine, habits, humanity

Abstract

This paper discusses the concept of everyday life and suggests that the everyday sustains humanity. As a concept, the everyday differs from family well-being, quality of life, and standard of living. To illustrate these differences, lay notions of time (repetition/routine), space (home), and modality (habits), which comprise the concept of the everyday, are reinterpreted. Rather than assuming everyday life is a time of week, a set of activities, or a setting for activities habitually performed within a family unit, this paper frames the everyday as a new philosophical stance, intending that the everyday becomes sacred, to be held in awe, respect, and reverence. The everyday lives of families are the very basis of humanity; hence, they warrant our attention as a key focus of our practice.

Introduction

This paper discusses the philosophical construct of everyday life. Most home economists focus their attention on family well-being and quality of life (e.g., McGregor, 2010b; McGregor & Goldsmith, 1998). Japanese home economists focus on the home as a source of protection for humanity (Fusa, 2004; McGregor, 2005; Vincenti, 2009). European home economists are drawn to the concept of the everyday (see Heinilä, 2008, 2009; Tuomi-Gröhn, 2008; Turkki, 1999, 2004a; von Schweitzer, 2006). The everyday is not widely used in the profession outside of Europe, but it has a lot to contribute to our philosophical future.

Smith (2004) believed that, from a philosophical stance, home economists should begin by wondering and questioning the everyday life rather than sensational things (what Felski (1999/2000) called the non-everyday life). This philosophical stance is a challenge for our profession because the routine character of everyday life remains under-theorized (Tuomi-Gröhn, 2008; Wahlen, 2011). This situation is unfortunate because the everyday sustains humanity, a far greater role than simply being a set of daily activities played out in separate families.

Indeed, Smith, Peterat, and de Zwart (2004) referred to the “sacred nature of everyday life” (p. 7). Sacred means being entitled to veneration (held in deep respect) or regarded with reverence (mystery and awe). Kieren (2004) explained that “rather than abstracting from everyday life or controlling for its contingencies, a second approach [to home economics] tries to live with such contingencies, embracing and holding sacred the complexities of everyday life” [emphasis added] (p. 89). Vaines (2004) recognized “the complexities of everyday life, particularly family life” (p. 133). What are the roots of the concept of everyday life and how can this concept contribute to shaping home economics practice?

Caveat

As a caveat, home economics has traditionally focused on the dailyness of family life, but it has never conceptualized the concept of the everyday. For instance, Paolucci, Hall, and Axinn’s (1977) seminal work, Family Decision Making, noted that “[t]he responsibility and the burden of choice is a particular attribute of humanness. The quality of human life and the prospect of the family’s continued survival within limited environmental settings depends, in large measure, on the decisions made in daily family living” (p. 1, emphasis added). But, their work focused on family decision making, not the concept of everyday life. To celebrate Beatrice Paolucci’s contributions to the profession, her life story was honoured in a book titled Beatrice Paolucci: Shaping destiny thorough everyday life (Bubolz, 2002). Although the words everyday life are in the book’s title, the lay notion of the concept of the everyday was used in the book. To illustrate, Bubolz characterized Paolucci as recognizing the “significance of the decisions made, actions taken, and the resources secured, developed, and used by the family in performing everyday tasks of feeding, housing, clothing, teaching, and caring for its members...” (2002, p. 185, emphasis added).

There was a whole movement within the profession around the philosophical concept of practical problems (e.g., Brown & Paolucci, 1979), a key part of everyday life. This idea refers to the requirement of reasoned thought before solving a family problem with some combination of three actions (cope, adapt, or influence change). For the sake of this paper, practical problems and everyday life are viewed as distinct concepts, with everyday life warranting a fuller discussion because it is not yet deeply entrenched in home economics thinking as a philosophical construct. It is for this reason that Felski’s (1999/2000) conceptual approach to the everyday is featured in this paper. Although not a home economist, her work is used widely by European home economists; it is required reading at the University of Helsinki’s home economics department.

The Everyday Life

Felski (1999/2000) observed that everyday life is the essential, taken-for-granted continuum of mundane activities that form the basis for all human endeavours. On the other hand, she believed “the everyday ceases to be everyday when it is subject to critical scrutiny” (p. 15). This means it gains significance if we pay attention to it. Tuomi-Gröhn (2008) agreed that everyday life, the culture and quality of day-to-day activities, is paramount to humanity and needs to be revealed, articulated, respected, and studied, i.e., placed under scrutiny. The efforts of families, as they create their day-to-day life, sustain humanity; thus, they merit our scholarly attention. Tuomi-Gröhn viewed the everyday context as an authentic research topic, often ignored (see Wahlen, 2011). Tuomi-Gröhn argued that ignoring this ordinariness-aspect of humanity means home economists risk losing penetrating insights into the complexity and intricacy of humanity’s very existence. Because these humble, daily living activities sustain humanity, they are anything but mundane and ordinary.
Felski (1999/2000) offered a very robust discussion of the concept of everyday life, drawing on scholars from critical science, phenomenology, feminism, and modernity (e.g., de Certeau, 1974/1984; Heller, 1984; Schutz & Luckmann, 1983; and Lefebvre, 1984, 1987, 1991). The notion of everyday life presented in this paper draws heavily on Felski’s conceptualization: (a) time (repetition), (b) space (home) and (c) modality/form (habits) (see Figure 1). Succinctly, she believed that “the temporality of the everyday . . . is that of repetition, the spatial ordering of the everyday is anchored in a sense of home and the characteristic mode of experiencing the everyday is that of habit” [emphasis added] (p. 18).

Felski (1999/2000) observed that every person is an embodied, embedded subject who lives, for the most part, a repetitive, familiar (in the home), ordinary life (habitual behaviour). However, and this is important, this everyday life is not simply mundane or insignificant because the everyday is an indispensable aspect of the way people experience the world (rather than a set of activities within the world). The everyday (i.e., the quotidian) is a lived relationship with the world. Although characterized as commonsensical, taken-for-granted, routine, and invisible everydayness, at the same time, the everyday is also rich with authentic experiences, bodily and emotional rhythms, and creative innovations.

The everyday is not a time of week, a set of activities, or a setting for activities; instead, it is what people do in ordinary cycles of activities. Indeed, as people engage in routine work, i.e., employ everyday thinking, they often end up solving complex problems. People draw upon a range of arts, skills, and proficiencies when they engage in everyday practices - called everyday making (Tuomi-Gröhn, 2008). Everyday making involves “irresolvable conflicts, unpredictable events, and the ever-present possibility of innovation and change” (p. 14). In all cases of everyday thinking and making, the cognitive, the social, and the material dimensions are needed, as is the close interaction amongst them. Everyday life is anything but completely predictable and homogenous (Tuomi-Gröhn, 2008). It is shaped by repetition (time), the home (space), and habits (modality) (Felski, 1999/2000) (see Figure 1).

Time - Repetition/Routine

Repetition refers to what happens day after day, activities that are embedded within larger layers of repetition. To illustrate, most people eat, sleep, go to work, study, clean, play, and rest every day. The rhythm of these activities may change during weekends, holidays, the beginning or end of school semesters, which are also repeating cycles. Heinilä (2008) observed that not only can routine be coloured with negative ideas (i.e., mundane repetitive action without meaning), it also brings safety and familiarity (see Wahlen, 2011). It does so by offering people the opportunity to blend into the environment and be a true part of it (Heinilä, 2008). Wahlen (2011) described routine, everyday activities as inconspicuous, unremarkable, and banal, and he suggested they only change slightly. These routine activities establish the structure of everyday life.

Along similar lines of thinking, instead of narrowly construing repetition as “enslavement in the ordinary,” or the antithesis to modern progress because it is grounded in stasis and “remorseless routine” (Felski, 1999/2000, p. 19), she viewed repetition (and the time involved in repetitive behaviour) as a metaphor for life, not a measurement of the passage of time. Time is a structure of lived experiences rather than a measured resource outside of people (Heinilä, 2008). Time devoted to repetitive everyday activities is “dense with cultural meanings”(Felski, 1999/2000, p. 19). Time is also a sign of people’s “connection with nature, emotion, and sensuality,” aspects of daily life that also manifest in cycles and rhythms (Felski, 1999/2000, p. 19).

Six aspects of repetition provide a different way of viewing this daily process of life, aside from the lay, conventional notion of doing something over and over again. First, “repetition, understood as ritual provides connections to ancestry and tradition [emphasis added]” (Felski, 1999/2000, p. 20). Holiday rituals, chronologies and family trees, family reunions, these are all valuable, repetitive family activities. Second, “repetition pervades the everyday . . . it is one of the ways in which we organize the world, make sense of our environment, and stave off the threat of chaos” (p. 21). Third, routine practices help people gain a sense of security from the habitual shape of the social world they, themselves, (re)create (Wahlen, 2011). Fourth, repetition and routine are also a key factor in the gradual formation of a social identity. Fifth, of great significance, Felski (1999/2000) believed that “acts of innovation and creativity are made possible by the mundane cycles of the quotidian [the everyday]” (p.21). Sixth, the everyday is “the very means by which history is actualized and made real. Thus repetition . . . is the sign of a unique . . . relationship to time, it permeates the lives [of everyone]” (Felski, 1999/2000, p. 22).

If we assume that people are living everyday life rather than constructing it, the potential for emancipation can inhabit everydayness. With repetition, the action is never actually the same; it is only alike. From this perspective, we can say that routine actions open the possibility for creative and revised action and, therefore, emancipation, innovation, and change (Heinilä, 2009).

Space - Home

The everyday happens in a variety of different spaces (e.g., in the workplace, the home, places of worship, nature). Felski (1999/2000) explained that despite these varied locations, philosophers of everyday life have tended to focus on the home as the privileged space for everyday life because it best serves as an example of “a firm position from which we ‘proceed’ . . . and to which we return in due course [emphasis added]” (p. 22). “Home constitutes a base, a taken-for-granted grounding, which allows us to make forays into other worlds” (p. 22). Heller (1984) viewed the home as a place of familiarity, explaining that people tend to associate the familiar with the promise of protection, safety, and warmth.

Acknowledging that modernist thinkers view home as a space of dullness, stasis, and meaningless, regressive behaviour, Felski (1999/2000) argued that “home clearly needs to be imagined differently” (p. 24). For instance, she suggested that we could no longer assume that agency and freedom to act are restricted to the public sphere; people can find agency and self-determination in their everyday life, lived out at home. Second, although home may seem static, both the reality and ideology of home change dramatically over time. Third, the home is not a “private enclave cut off from the outside world but is powerfully shaped by broader social concerns” (p. 24). Tuomi-Gröhn (2008) went further, asserting that while it is important to know how societal structures constitute everyday life, it is just as important to know how human activities reproduce or constitute those social structures. “Everyday life . . . includes the continuing flow between the structural level and the everyday life, [with this flow being] the basis of both stability and change” (Tuomi-Gröhn, p. 10).

Fourth, the idea of home is complex and fluid over time. Felski defined home as “any often visited place that is the object of cathexis [i.e., investment of emotional significance and psychic energy]” (1999/2000, p. 25). Fifth, because of its familiarity, the home becomes a symbolic extension and confirmation of the self. People find their identity in the home. Sixth, Felski noted that homemaking is “not just housework” (p. 25); rather, it is ripe with symbolic richness and cultural complexity, a space where things become layered with meaning, value, and memory. The everyday experiences of the home embody authentic living and genuine life experiences.

As noted in the story of Beatrice Paolucci’s life, a renowned and revered home economist, “Home is where one spent most of one’s time, where significant relationships and values were established, and where pivotal life events occurred. At home, one learned how to interact with others, established a sense of oneself as a person, and discovered what other people were like. [Home becomes part of one and stays with one wherever one goes all of one’s life]” (Bubolz, 2002, p. 13). Home is the most impressive experience in life, comes first in consciousness and in the entire culture (Canby as cited in Bubolz, 2002).

Modality - Habits

Everyday life has it rhythm and repetitiveness (time). It is lived out in many spaces, especially the home, which is a space for authentic everyday experiences. Everyday life also manifests in habitual behaviour (modality), with habit referring to both action and attitude. Habitual action pertains to forms of behaviour deeply ingrained in people’s somatic memory (i.e., getting to work, buying groceries, doing laundry). People tend to do these activities in a semi-conscious state, seldom critically examining them. Indeed, habitual attitude refers to people’s inclination to disengage with this ingrained behaviour so they can get things done and survive in the world (Felski, 1999/2000).

Habit has several dimensions. First, “habit is a necessary precondition for impulse and innovation” (Felski, 1999/2000, p. 27), made possible because people’s minds are freed up for other forms of thinking. Second, Heller (1984) and Schutz and Luckmann (1983) strongly agreed that habits are a necessary condition of everyday life. Third, the rhythm of one’s habitual routines can provide a source of orientation and safety; their loss can be very distressful. Fourth, Felski (1999/2000) asserted that “ritualized activity known as habit constitutes a fundamental element of being-in-the-world. [The] social meanings [of these habits] may be complex and varied” (p. 28). Fifth, habits “constitute an essential part of our embeddedness in everyday life” (Felski, 1999/2000, p. 28). Indeed, people’s identity is formed out of a blend of behavioural and emotional patterns, repeated over time. Finally, in an interesting pun, Felski (1999/2000, p. 28) observed that “we all inhabit everyday life,” which provides a common grounding in the world.

Dahlström (1987) used the term non-everyday to refer to a world that is formed by political, cultural, and economic institutions (e.g., societal structures) compared to everyday life, which is the immediate world attainable and reachable by ordinary people. Felski (1999/2000) also referenced the non-everyday, explaining that it refers to those situations when people lift their head, from the habitual routines exercised repeatedly within the familiar confines of the home, to pay attention to “epiphanic moments, experiences of trauma, and points of departure from the mundane routines” (p. 29). Felski explained that both the everyday and the non-everyday are both real, with the everyday holding a position of pragmatic priority because “it is what we are, first of all, and most often” (Blanchot as cited in Felski, p. 29). Indeed, Felski believed the strength gained from the security of the everyday has the potential to scaffold people when they experience the non-everyday; the opposite would occur if the everyday did not provide security and safety.

Summary and Discussion

Everyday life comprises routines (time), home (space), and habits (modality). Over the past hundred years, home economists have tended to bring lay notions to understand these concepts. Routines are usually understood to be a sequence of actions regularly followed, a fixed unvarying program of actions. Time is often taken to be linear, with past, present, and future disconnected from each other, one following the other. People measure the progressive passage of time using clocks and calendars. They also use the word time to refer to the appropriate moment to do something. Habits refer to regular tendencies or practices (positive and negative) that are done so often, they are almost involuntary. Habits can also pertain to cultural customs and to dominant dispositions or personality traits (e.g., the habit of lying). Most especially, everyday tends to refer to the ordinary course of events, the commonplace, usual, and run-of-the-mill happenings experienced by most people on a daily basis. People equate it with such words as mundane, taken-for-granted, banal, unoriginal, and invisible.

Felski’s (1999/2000) conceptual and theoretical approach to everyday life brings different connotations to the word everyday and to these three familiar concepts. These conceptual differences hold intriguing insights for home economics practice (see Table 1). For one thing, she suggested that repetitive routines are not always bad; they are necessary. Routines free people to be creative and innovative. Habits, per se, are not bad. They provide structure and certainty to daily life. Granted, unhealthy habits can be harmful to quality of life and well-being, but habits in general are viewed as necessary. The home is a firm base from which to venture into other worlds. The everydayness of the home space provides stability and familiarity. Again, a bad home life can negatively affect quality of life and well-being, but home in general is seen to be a necessary element of the everyday. Felski sees the everyday as the pivotal axis of all human endeavours, profound in its importance in creating the human condition (home is not just a set of activities that influence the life of one family unit).

Table 1 Three dimensions of everyday life (extrapolated from Felski, 1999/2000)

Everyday Life: An essential continuum of daily human activities that sustains humanity

TIME

Repetition/Routine

SPACE

Home

MODALITY

Habit

a metaphor for life (not a measurement of time) - represents a unique relationship with time

represents a grounding, a firm position, a base from which to foray into other worlds and return

include deeply ingrained, sub-conscious actions as well as attitudes, that is, the inclination to not pay attention to these behaviours so we can get on with life (impossible to analyze every action)

means by which history is actualized and made real

provides space to find freedom, agency and self-determination

need habits so we can free up our minds for innovation and impulse

provides connections to ancestry and traditions

constantly changing (idea of home is complex and fluid)

forms the conditions for everyday life; they embed us in the day-to-day (provide common grounding)

helps us organize our world

includes the reciprocal flow between everyday life and societal structures (politics, culture, economic)

provides potential for security, orientation, and safety

helps us gain sense of identity

familiarity of the home holds the promise of protection and safety

ritualized habits are laden with social meanings

provides us with a sense of security

both an extension and confirmation of self (helps form our identity)

helps form our identity

frees us up for innovation and creativity

ripe with symbolic richness and cultural complexity

scaffolds non-everyday experiences (e.g., crises, changes, transitions)

 

More compelling is Felski’s (1999/2000) unique understanding of each of time, space, and habits (see Table 1). Her approach assumes people live in relationship with time, not outside of it. They do not measure time; they are part of it, embedded within it, on a daily basis. Routines help people organize their world, so they have a solid base of daily practice with which to help them deal with non-everyday events. Each of routine, home, and habit provides security and a sense of protection. Habits orient people to the world, a world that is inherently linked with the home (with each influencing the other). Home is not a static space. It is a fluid arena, ripe with cultural complexity, rhythms, and familiarity (whether that bodes well or not). Habits (laden with social meanings) form the very conditions of everyday life lived out in the home and in other spaces over time. Habits give people strength; ironically, despite the fact that people do not focus on habits, habits help people bring focus to non-everyday events. Being able to disengage from habitual, routine, life-creating behaviour creates space for innovation and creative thinking that sustains humanity. And, of great import, each of time, home, and habit helps people develop their sense of identity with themselves, with others, and with the world.

This approach to practice shifts our focus from well-being and quality of life of families to everyday life lived out within families and within other spheres of life. Turkki (2004) called for “a family perspective on everyday life” [emphasis added] (p. 61). She argued that family activities are anchored in home and family but are often practiced to a large extent outside of homes, elsewhere in society. To bridge this gap, everyday life as a concept helps home economists focus on the linkages and boundaries between home and elsewhere in society. She defined home economics as “human action in everyday life” (p. 61) related to facets of family life lived out in the home (food, shelter, clothing, care). Tuomi-Gröhn (2008) concurred with Lefevbre (1991) that “everyday life is related to all activities and is the sum of total relations that constitute the human - and every human being - in terms of our collective as well as our individual experience” (Tuomi-Gröhn, p. 8). Within their everyday activities, people produce the very basis of humanity.

Conclusion

Presuming that the focus of our practice is the everyday life indicates a marked departure from the conventional stance of enhancing quality of life and family well-being. Routinized, habitual behaviour lived out in the home deeply affects people’s perceptions of their quality of life, their actual standard of living, and their state of being well; to that point Heinilä (2009) believed everyday life is what counts when quality of life and well-being are measured.

Conceiving of the complex everyday as a sacred aspect of home economics practice, imbuing it with the three dimensions of time (routines), space (home), and modality (habits), is a powerful approach to being a home economics professional and academician. From this philosophical stance, we can focus on the home in order to improve humanity; the everyday lives of families then become the very basis of humanity, warranting critical scrutiny and our scholarly attention (East, 1979; McGregor, 2010a; Tuomi-Gröhn, 2008).


References

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Kappa Omicron Nu Forum Volume 19 No. 1


Home Economics Philosophy in Latvia: An Exploratory Study

Sue L. T. McGregor, Mount Saint Vincent University

Vija Dišlere, Latvia University of Agriculture


Everyday Life: A Home Economics Concept

Sue L. T. McGregor, Mount Saint Vincent University


The Role of Philosophy in Home Economics

Sue L. T. McGregor, Mount Saint Vincent University


Marjorie Brown's Philosophical Legacy: Contemporary Relevance

Sue L. T. McGregor, Mount Saint Vincent University


Abductive Reasoning in Everyday Life: Implications for Home Economics

Sue L. T. McGregor, Mount Saint Vincent University


Enriching Home Economics Philosophy with Phenomenological Insights:

Aesthetic Experiences, Bodily Being, and Enfolded Everyday Life

Henna Heinilä


Postmodernism and Home Economics: Revitalizing the Conversation

Sue L. T. McGregor, Mount Saint Vincent University


History and Potential of Home Economics in the People's Republic of China:
Implications for Philosophy of Practice

Peng Chen PhD, Higher Vocational Education College, China Women's University


History and Potential of Home Economics in the People's Republic of China:
Implications for Philosophy of Practice

Peng Chen PhD, Higher Vocational Education College, China Women's University


Existentialism and Home Economics

Sue L. T. McGregor, Mount Saint Vincent University


Can Home Economics Practice be Informed by Bakhtinian Themes?

Dr. Mary Gale Smith


Conceptualizing Home and Household

Sue L. T. McGregor, Mount Saint Vincent University