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The Changing Landscape of Home: Reflecting and Shaping Middle-Class Family Lives

Jeanne E. Arnold


Ursula A. Lang

UCLA Sloan Center on Everyday Lives of Families
Working Paper No. 20


Today’s middle-class lifeways in the suburbs, urban areas, and smaller towns of the United States have emerged from a complex and interesting convergence of governmental policies, social movements, developers’ and architects’ visions, and homeowners’ needs over the past century. We trace the evolution of the houses and grounds of middle-class America since the mid-nineteenth century. An understanding of contemporary middle-class homes and yards and how working families use these spaces is significantly enriched by an exploration of the historical roots of residential lots, house floor plans, transportation, lawns and gardens, and household technology, along with an examination of changing ideals of privacy and leisure. We reflect on these developments in a discussion of new ethnographic data from Los Angeles middle-class families in which both parents work full-time, have young children, and own their homes. These data were gathered by the UCLA Center on Everyday Lives of Families (CELF) during 2002 and 2003. Data collection methods pertaining to the home and uses of space are outlined by Arnold and Graesch (2002). Here we focus on three primary sets of the project’s ethnoarchaeological data. These include systematic recording (tracking) of family members‚ uses of home spaces at timed intervals, self-narrated video home tours by parents and older children explaining their perceptions of their homes, and a digital archive of photographs of each home’s indoor and outdoor spaces. Among our preliminary findings, we highlight an increasingly salient storage crisis in American homes and the dissolution of outdoor leisure for busy working parents.

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