People, Places and Possessions

by Antony Buxton (Volume editor) Linda Hulin (Volume editor) Jane Anderson (Volume editor)
Edited Collection X, 276 Pages


Central to human life and experience, habitation forms a context for enquiry within many disciplines. This collection brings together perspectives on human habitation in the fields of anthropology, archaeology, social history, material culture, literature, art and design, and architecture. Significant shared themes are the physical and social structuring of space, practice and agency, consumption and gender, and permanence and impermanence. Topics range from archaeological artefacts to architectural concepts, from Romano-British consumption to the 1950s Playboy apartment, from historical elite habitation to present-day homelessness, from dwelling «on the move» to the crisis of household dissolution, and from interior design to installation art. Not only is this volume a rich resource of varied aspects and contexts of habitation, it also provides compelling examples of the potential for interdisciplinary conversations around significant shared themes.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Figures
  • Introduction (Antony Buxton / Linda Hulin / Jane Anderson)
  • The engagement with habitation by various disciplines
  • Inter- or pluridisciplinary approaches to habitation
  • Developing themes and discourse
  • Bibliography
  • Part I: Conceptualising Habitation
  • 1. InHabiting Space: Archaeologists, Objects and Architecture (Linda Hulin)
  • House and home
  • Architecture and behaviour
  • Archaeology and behaviour
  • Bibliography
  • 2. Uncertain Futures, Obscure Pasts: The Relationship between the Subject and the Object in the Praxis of Archaeology and Architectural Design (Jane Anderson)
  • Introduction
  • Architecture and archaeology
  • A literary perspective on the relationship between subject and object
  • A philosophical perspective on the relationship between subject and object
  • The effect of the architect or archaeologist in the dynamic between subject and object
  • Case study: Atelier Bow Wow
  • Conclusion
  • Acknowledgements
  • Bibliography
  • 3. Furnitecture (Andrea Placidi)
  • Furnitecture
  • Definition of the term ‘Furnitecture’
  • The application of furnitecture
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Part II: Practising Habitation
  • 4. You Are Where You Eat: Worldview and the Public/Private Preparation and Consumption of Food (Wendy Morrison)
  • Introduction
  • Public and private space
  • Understanding worldview
  • An example from Roman Britain
  • Discussion
  • Bibliography
  • 5. London in Pieces: A Biography of a Lost Urban Streetscape (Matthew Jenkins / Charlotte Newman)
  • A London streetscape: Discovering Tilney Street
  • A social context: Tilney Street and Mayfair
  • Ladies, earls and spinsters: A story of Tilney Street and its form, function and use
  • 1 Tilney Street
  • 4 Tilney Street
  • 3 Tilney Street
  • 5 Tilney Street
  • 2 Tilney Street
  • Conclusion
  • Abbreviations
  • Bibliography
  • Primary sources
  • Published secondary sources
  • Unpublished secondary sources
  • 6. Feasts and Triumphs: The Structural Dynamic of Elite Social Status in the English Country House (Antony Buxton)
  • Late medieval ‘estate’ and early modern emergent comfort: Horizontal internal hierarchy
  • The house of the sixteenth-century humanist courtier: Elevated discrimination
  • Late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century aristocratic discernment: Horizontal and vertical social filtering
  • Mid-eighteenth-century social peer association: Horizontal circulation
  • Victorian upper-middle-class moral probity and material management: Systematised nucleated engagement
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • 7. Miracle Kitchens and Bachelor Pads: The Competing Narratives of Modern Spaces (Rebecca Devers)
  • Bibliography
  • Part III: Diminished Habitation
  • 8. A Home on the Waves: The Archaeology of Seafaring and Domestic Space (Damian Robinson)
  • Introduction
  • Performance, safety and transient domestic space
  • Domestic space and maritime archaeology
  • The Mary Rose
  • The Serçe Limanı ship
  • Conclusion
  • Acknowledgements
  • Bibliography
  • 9. Homeless Habitus: An Archaeology of Homeless Places (Rachael Kiddey)
  • Introduction
  • What do we mean by ‘home’ and ‘homeless’?
  • What is street homelessness?
  • Contemporary archaeology: An approach to modern material heritage
  • Habitus in relation to contemporary archaeology
  • The Homeless Heritage project 2009–14
  • Case studies: Two homeless ‘home’ places
  • Jane’s Hot Skipper
  • Jacko’s multi-storey car park sleeping place
  • Discussion
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Part IV: Ruptured Habitation
  • 10. Continuity and Memory: Domestic Space, Gesture and Affection at the Sixteenth-Century Deathbed (Catherine Richardson)
  • Bibliography
  • 11. Don’t Try This at Home: Artists’ Viewing Inhabitation (Stephen Walker)
  • Introduction
  • House, Rachel Whiteread, 1993
  • Alteration to a Suburban House, Dan Graham, 1978
  • Splitting, Gordon Matta-Clark, 1974
  • Don’t try this at home
  • Bibliography
  • Afterword (Frances F. Berdan)
  • Some key themes
  • Adaptation
  • Relationships and context
  • Dynamics and agency
  • The value of interdisciplinary approaches
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index
  • Series index

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Figure 3.1: Henry Moore, Helmet Head No.3, 1960 (LH 467). (Reproduced by permission of The Henry Moore Foundation.)

Figure 3.2: Ken Isaacs, 3-D Living Structure, p. 34, 1974. (From the original publication <http://popupcity.net/free-classic-how-to-build-your-own-living-structures-by-ken-isaacs/>.)

Figure 3.3: Inhabitable furniture: CKR (Claesson Koivisto Rune for Dune New York), Luna (Moon), 2005. (Reproduced by permission of CKR Claesson Koivisto Rune Architects.)

Figure 3.4: Antonello da Messina, St Jerome in His Study, the National Gallery London, 1475. (Reproduced by permission of the National Gallery Picture Library.)

Figure 3.5: LOT-EK, Miller-Jones Studio, New York City, 1996. (Reproduced by permission of LOT-EK.)

Figure 4.1: The Grid Group Relationship. (Image: author.)

Figure 4.2: Grid Group ‘Worldviews’. (Image: author.)

Figure 4.3: Alignment to Grid Group Options. The italics indicate archaeological visibility. (Table: author.)

Figure 4.4: Iron Age phases of occupation. The darkened rings indicate probable domestic structures. (Reproduced by permission of Oxford Archaeology.)

Figure 4.5: Early Roman phases of occupation. (Reproduced by permission of Oxford Archaeology.)98

Figure 4.6: Comparison of forms from LIA (dark) and ER (light) phases. (Image: author.)

Figure 5.1: Left: 1878 OS map centred on Tilney Street (© and database right Crown Copyright and Landmark Information Group Ltd (All rights reserved 2016) ← vii | viii → Licence numbers 000394 and TP0024); Right: street view of Tilney Street facing west, illustrating Nos 1–3 (London Metropolitan Archives, City of London).

Figure 5.2: A: cornice from No. 1 Tilney Street (© English Heritage); B: first-floor view of No. 3 Tilney Street (London Metropolitan Archives, City of London); C: cornice from No. 1 Tilney Street (© English Heritage); D: flock wallpaper removed from No. 1 Tilney Street (© English Heritage).

Figure 5.3: A: ground-floor view of No. 3 Tilney Street (London Metropolitan Archives, City of London); B: first-floor dining room of No. 5 Tilney Street (London Metropolitan Archives, City of London); C: hallway from No. 2 Tilney Street (London Metropolitan Archives, City of London); D: drawing room of No. 5 Tilney Street (London Metropolitan Archives, City of London).

Figure 6.1: Socio-spatial dynamic: Compton Wynyates late fifteenth – early sixteenth century. Service provision in grey. (Image: author.)

Figure 6.2: Socio-spatial dynamic: Hardwick New Hall 1590–7. Service provision in grey. (Image: author.)

Figure 6.3: Socio-spatial dynamic: Ham House early and late seventeenth century. Service provision in grey. (Image: author.)

Figure 6.4: Socio-spatial dynamic: Houghton Hall c.1730. Service provision in grey. (Image: author.)

Figure 6.5: Socio-spatial dynamic: Tyntesfield c.1870. Service provision in grey. (Image: author.)

Figure 9.1: Jane at Hot Skipper. (Image: author.)

Figure 9.2: Jacko at Saviourgate. (Image: author.)

Figure 11.1: Rachel Whiteread, House, 1993. Concrete. Commissioned by Artangel. (Photo credit: Sue Omerod. © Rachel Whiteread; Courtesy of the ← viii | ix → artist, Luhring Augustine, New York, Lorcan O’Neill, Rome, and Gagosian Gallery.)

Figure 11.2: Dan Graham, Alteration to a Suburban House, 1978/1992. Wood, felt, plexiglass. Dimensions: 11 × 43 × 48". (Collection Walker Art Center, Minneapolis Justin Smith Purchase Fund, 1993.)

Figure 11.3: Gordon Matta-Clark, Splitting, 1974. Collage: four black and white photographs mounted on separate board. (Courtesy of the Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark and David Zwirner, New York. © ARS, NY and DACS, London 2016.)

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This volume emerged from a shared sense of limited perspectives. As editors, and as contributors we are all interested in the human condition – arguably universal across place and time – of habitation. But disciplinary parameters being what they are, we became aware of the fact that our own methodologies and contexts could only ever reveal so much of a broad ranging and complex totality. No matter how comprehensive our own enquiries might be, they could only ever hope to be part of a much richer and more revealing narrative. Encountering, often by chance, others whose perspectives could enrich our own, and vice versa, we created a setting for conversations between scholars in different disciplines, sharing the same interest in habitation: The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH) seminar series of which the editors of this volume were convenors, entitled ‘inHabit’ [sic].1 The title for such an enterprise, engaging with such a multifaceted condition – structural and spatial, material, social and ideological – was problematic. The choice of inHabit was chosen as one which hopefully embraced this complexity, with the subtitle ‘People, Places and Possessions’ indicating an emphasis on social and spatial properties. As a totality ‘inHabit’ indicates the spatial process of dwelling in place and structure, but the deliberate capitalisation of ‘Habit’ seeks to emphasise the root meaning of dwelling (Latin habitare) and possession (Latin habere, to possess or to hold). Habit also forms a connection with, to us, an important theoretical strand relating to habitation, Bourdieu’s theory of practice (1977, 1990) and his concept of habitus as habitual actions in place which order knowledge of the world and social relationships. Suitably ← 1 | 2 → then ‘habit’ also possesses connotations of custom, and also of attire, the ‘dressing’ of person and place.

Other words which are associated with the state of habitation – domesticity, dwelling and home, for example, all carry other connotations. Whilst the term ‘domestic’ is certainly commonly used to describe elements of human habitation and associated activities – often with significant gender connotations – as a concept domesticity is applied far wider. Archaeologically domestication is viewed as a critical state of cultural transition of the human species to a settled and more controlling engagement with the environment implicit in the etymology of the Indo-European root ‘dom’, connected with forms of control (Hodder 1990; Beneviste 1973: 249–51). Similarly the concept of ‘dwelling’ has been extended philosophically from simple habitation to the sense of engagement with every aspect of being in the world (Heidegger 1971: 145, 150–1; Ingold 2011: 9–12). And the word ‘home’, now with highly affective and personal associations, originating from old German and Norse becomes in old English ‘ham’, a designation of a settlement of origin, or homeplace, thus implying a place and importantly a community of origin and belonging (Liberman 2015). The range and associations of terms employed in connection with human habitation thus indicate the many facets of this condition and possible strands of interpretation, and ‘habitation’ was selected as the unifying theme of this volume, emphasising the elements of space and time, relatively neutral in relation to social status, gender and affections, but nevertheless embracing the combination of structures, actions, social relationships and values.

Deliberately interdisciplinary, the conversations which took place at TORCH provided a context for sharing of various perspectives on habitation, an awareness of disciplinary limitations and the possibility of mutually enriching our methodologies. We do not suggest here the dilution of the strengths brought by disciplines – specialism in evidence and contexts, and rigorous methodologies – but rather recognition of their limitations and the possibility of learning from others. Archaeologists, anthropologists, social and cultural historians, geographers, art and design historians all contributed to these sessions and many are represented in this volume, intended as a continuation of this conversation. ← 2 | 3 →

This volume was thus inspired by the series of seminars convened by the authors and held under the auspices of TORCH, which was established to foster interdisciplinary research. The theme of human habitation seemed a highly suitable focus for an interdisciplinary discourse, pertinent to scholars in diverse fields. As seminar convenors and as editors we individually represent ethno-historical, archaeological and architectural perspectives, and have sought in this volume to bring together other scholars with an interest in habitation derived from textual and aesthetic perspectives and from understanding gained in the field and in practice.

Human habitation – or dwelling – is a condition central to human existence and experience, the complexity of which spreads beyond disciplinary boundaries, consisting of the provision of shelter and subsistence, biological and cultural reproduction, group and individual identity, and attendant values. We approach habitation primarily from a phenomenological perspective – the knowledge of the world acquired through being in the world (Husserl 1900, Merleau-Ponty 1965, Heidegger 1971) – and also employ structuralist concepts of praxis and habitus (Bourdieu 1977, Bourdieu 1990). But we recognise that habitation is conceptualised in its structuring, in varied responses to the physical environment and the variety of material registers (Buchli 2013: 71–88), and to the affective and the social dynamic which takes place within (Douglas 1973).

How might a phenomenological emphasis inform an understanding of the complexity of habitation? Where the Cartesian dichotomy posits the internal world of mind and culture as distinct from and superior to the external world of body and nature – and thus the person distinct from their habitation – Edmund Husserl argues that it is the conscious registration of external phenomena through the senses that constitutes human experience (Husserl 1973/1900). His pupil Heidegger carried the significance of physically external phenomena further, seeing human life as inextricably enmeshed in its material environment, with no division between the material and the conceptual. For Heidegger, the human being, Dasein, is part of the material world and its conceptual universe is drawn from its experiences in that world, from the objects and people around it (Heidegger 1927/1962: 78–86). As well as temporal, the experience of being is spatial; location and the physical structuring of location thus gives context to our ← 3 | 4 → being: ‘The spaces through which we go daily are provided for by locations; their nature is grounded in things of the type of buildings’ (Heidegger 1971: 156). Being in the world is to dwell in the world, and habitation locates dwelling; ‘We attain to dwelling, so it seems, only by means of building’ and ‘building as dwelling, that is, as being on the earth … remains for man’s everyday experience that which is from the outset “habitual” – we inhabit it’ (Heidegger 1971: 145, 147). Thus for Heidegger the notion of dwelling is a way of locating ourselves in the world that we experience, both conceptually and physically: ‘We do not dwell because we have built, but we build and have built because we dwell, that is, because we are dwellers’ (Heidegger 1971: 148).

Habitation is however more than building. In his analysis of the society of the Kabyle of North Africa Pierre Bourdieu observed that the arrangement of the furnishings in the domestic interior clearly articulated the conceptualisation of social relationships. He therefore concluded that it was in repeated actions around objects in the home that members were inculcated with its values; a process Bourdieu terms habitus (Bourdieu 1990: 52–5). The individual generally acts in accordance with learnt norms, only occasionally choosing to act of their own volition. Social relationships and cultural values are thereby inextricably linked to human actions, or ‘practice’, in the material world (Bourdieu 1990: 54). Habitual actions underpin both physical and social existence, and the concepts which link these states. In the words of Gosden (1994: 16), ‘It is the mass of habitual actions and the referential structure they form which carries the main burden of our lives, giving them shape and direction’. Thus if built structures, differentiated space and actions are the framework for social relationships, agency may also be said to reside in buildings and objects (Knappett and Malafouris 2008).

Habitation thus consists of occupation of place and of human actions, objects and relationships: ‘House, body and mind are in continuous interaction, the physical structure, furnishing, social conventions and mental images of the house at once enabling, moulding, informing and constraining the ideas and activities which unfold within its bounds’ (Carsten and Hugh-Jones 1995: 2). In his structural analysis however, Amos Rapoport’s distinguishes within the domestic domain fixed features (buildings), semi-fixed features (furnishings) and latent features (people and meanings). ← 4 | 5 → Domestic activities thus range from the instrumental and manifest to the latent and conceptual, with increasing cultural specificity; for example cooking is a universal manifest activity, but the social contexts of food consumption and the symbolism of food preparation and consumption are conceptual, varying widely between and within cultures (Rapoport 1990: 11). The organisation of domestic life is thus culture specific and domestic building formed by the wider cultural context. Just as architecture encloses behaviour, so activities – and culture – shape architecture (Rapoport 1990: 9, 16). The latent qualities or meanings of activities are often hard to deduce in the past, and the semi fixed features of buildings – or furnishings – may provide more indications of activities than the fixed structures of the buildings themselves (Rapoport 1990: 13).

Extending and emphasising their social significance Douglas and Isherwood see commodities – including those of habitation – not primarily as functional objects, but (because human beings engage most effectively with their environment collaboratively) as the material expressions of the relationships and attendant values constituting a culture; ‘Instead of supposing that goods are primarily needed for subsistence plus competitive display let us assume that they are needed for making visible and stable the categories of culture. This approach to goods emphasising their double roles in providing subsistence and in drawing lines of social relationships [is] … the way to a proper understanding of why people need goods’ (Douglas, Isherwood 1979: 59). Indeed Rapaport suggests that – built structures being relatively permanent – changes in the conduct of habitus – the domestic culture – can often be most effectively expressed by changes in the semi-permanent furnishings, and their attendant actions, adaptation to the structure of buildings often following thereafter (Rapoport 1990: 13).

The perspective adopted by Bourdieu and fellow structuralists suggests that human relationships are largely predetermined by the social and physical structures in which they are situated. However, for Anthony Giddens humans act both with ‘practical’ unconsciousness, and ‘discursive’ consciousness. The individual is self aware and reflective, therefore capable of knowledgeable interaction with the world s/he inhabits, but routines, and the daily face to face encounters which they involve, provide individuals with a sense of ontological security. Importantly, in terms of domestic ← 5 | 6 → life, Giddens sees this day to day interaction with its spatial and temporal considerations (albeit without specific reference to the role of materiality apart from inclusion in ‘allocative’ resources) as central to human experience of life and the formation of social structures (Giddens 1984: 5–6, 34–7). The predominance of structure in the exercise of human life and habitation is however questioned by Bruno Latour (2005: 23–43, 63–74), asserting that structures, social and physical, are primarily the traces and expressions of relationships, without which they would have no validity and existence. To this extent habitation then can be viewed as a physical manifestation of the ordering of social life, and the extent to which the individual identity is situated in relation to the group has been usefully modelled by Mary Douglas (1992) in her group-grid framework, expressing the extent to which individuals choices and group solidarity interact.

The engagement with habitation by various disciplines

Unsurprisingly, as part of a condition which encompasses so much of human life, elements of habitation form the evidence for enquiry in many disciplines; archaeology, social and economic history, geography, sociology, design and art history, and architecture. A brief survey such as this can refer to only a representative fraction of this multi-disciplined work. The anthropologist is perhaps concerned most comprehensively with the totality of domesticity, from the formation of the social group (Fortes 1958) and community to the nature of the dwelling and domestic practice (Carsten and Hugh-Jones 1995). For archaeologists (Buchli 2013: 47–8) the habitation, or dwelling, constitutes some of the most enduring evidence of human culture in the remote past. Adopting a diachronic view of architecture, archaeologists are able to narrate the long development of habitation, and attempt to interpret the wider culture from the built record and other material artefacts.

Originally mostly concerned with the evidence of wider settlement, individual habitations have become the focus of specific study; household ← 6 | 7 → archaeology, a distinct sub discipline credited to Wilk and Rathje (1982). Households are recognised as elemental units which organise the economic, political and social activities of the community, distributing resources of production, reproduction and shared ownership (Rice 1993: 66–7). Remains of human habitation have been a central concern since the inception of archaeology – for example Roman Herculaneum and Pompeii from the mid-eighteenth century – and have provided evidence of the earliest human culture. Habitation associated with cave shelter at Zhoukoudian in China (670,000 and 470,000 years ago) was excavated by Otto Zdansky in the 1920s (Beeman 1959), and also at Shanìdar in Iraq (65,000 to 35,000 years ago) (Solecki 1954). In Western Europe the Upper Palaeolithic Magdalenian culture (17,000 to 12,000 years ago) has been subjected to household analysis (Zubrow et al. 2010), and in his Domestication of Europe Ian Hodder (1990) suggests that domestication was foremost a conceptual shift, an attempt to master nature. Excavations at Lepenski Vir (circa 6000 BCE) have provided evidence of created dwelling structures (Srejović 1972). Household remains have been employed to explore the development of Mesopotamian cities and towns from the fourth to second millennia BC (Stone 1996), and in the Near East Bronze Age domestic life has been interpreted through household furnishings (Daviau 1993). Some of the best preserved Neolithic habitations in Europe were discovered at Skara Brae in the Orkneys (circa 3180–2500 BCE), systematically excavated by Vere Gordon Childe in the mid-twentieth century (Childe 1952).

The exploration of settlement in pre-Columbian Americas was pioneered by Gordon Willey (1953) in the Viru Valley in Peru in the 1950s. The term household archaeology originated (Wilk and Rathje 1982) during the ‘post-processual’ re-evaluation – influenced by anthropological and neo Marxist perceptions of ambiguities of the social discourse – of the ‘processual’ assertion of an objective, empirical interpretation of the data, William Rathje developing household archaeological studies in the Mayan region. Similarly, in central Mexico household archaeology focused on habitation in the great city of Teotihuacan, Cynthia Robin and Elizabeth Brumfiel (2010) focusing particularly on the role of gender (De Lucia 2010). Richard Blanton (1994) has also engaged in comparative work on Mesoamerican households. In North America the development of Anasazi ← 7 | 8 → (Pueblo) habitations from rock shelters to elaborate stone and mud dwellings has been well documented (Cordell 1994). The study of these dwellings has also been adopted by modern architects (Morrow and Price 1997). Household archaeology is now the subject of studies by a wide range of specialist scholars (Parker and Foster 2012).

In the modern period ‘historical’ archaeologists have sought to analyse the material remains of habitation through other contemporary sources, primarily documentary (Glassie 1975, Alcock 1993, Johnson 1993, Tarlow and West 1999, Deetz and Deetz 2000) and focused (Fogle, Nyman and Beaudry 2015). Historians also have widely employed habitation and life in the home as evidence for social and economic studies (Houlbrooke 1984, Tadmoor 1996, Overton, Whittle, Dean and Hann 2004, Buxton 2015 inter alia). Pictorial representation of the home, in particular the domestic interior, also serves as evidence for historical studies (Aynsley, Grant 2006). Architectural historians are very much engaged with the built structure of the dwelling and concepts governing its design (Barley 1961, Brunskill 1997), sometimes combining architecture with the social culture within (Johnson 1993, Girouard 1978). Interior decor and furnishing has also formed the subject for studies (Thornton 1984). Geographers have also focused on the home as an essential element in human settlement (Blunt and Dowling, Home, 2006).


X, 276
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2017 (February)
habitation habitus socio-spacial dynamic material culture domesticity architectural history interior design social history archaeology anthropology literature
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2017. X, 276 pp., 15 b/w ill., 1 table, 8 fig.

Biographical notes

Antony Buxton (Volume editor) Linda Hulin (Volume editor) Jane Anderson (Volume editor)

Antony Buxton is an ethno-historian who lectures on design history, material and domestic culture in the Department for Continuing Education, University of Oxford. His foremost research interest is the way in which spatial context and objects articulate values and social relationships, as explored in Domestic Culture in Early Modern England (2015). Linda Hulin is an archaeologist and research officer at the Oxford Centre for Maritime Archaeology in the School of Archaeology, University of Oxford. Her principal ongoing research interest is the intersection of mariner networks and the creation of value. Jane Anderson is an architect and Principal Lecturer at Oxford Brookes University. The author of Architectural Design (2011), her research interests include the relationship between reality and imagination in architecture, and interdisciplinary connections and collaborations between art, literature, music and architecture.


Title: InHabit