Family Houses and Social Identity: Communicational Perspectives onThe Homes of Ridge County

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Musellor Jr., Christopher Richard

This study provides an analysis of the communicative use of family homes within the daily life of a rural community. As an ethnography of communicative behavior, the nature and functions of the home as a medium of communication are explored within a specified social context so that the social and cultural influences which shape its use and interpretation may be examined. The study explores the structure of rules, roles, values, customs and beliefs which organize how homes are used, how they are evaluated, and how they come to assume meaning within this frame of reference. It was hypothesized that family homes, as media of social communication, function as artifacts of and instruments for the structure of social relations that prevail within the community that employs them. Research was directed, therefore, to examining the role of family homes in the expression of patterns of association and differentiation through which social identity and the community's system of social status are negotiatated, marked and maintained. The study draws on fourteen months of fieldwork, during which family homes were investigated as complex, multi-modal systems of communicative activity. Patterns of household maintenance, rules and customs in the use of household and community space, comparisons of house size and layout, traditions in the acquisition and use of furnishings, and patterns in taste preferences are each examined as integrated aspects of this system of communication. In this way a structure of shared values, standards and traditions is described which is shown to regulate the conduct and interpretation of activity in this sphere at a variety of levels. While previous research has emphasized the home's value as an index of social class, this study finds that households are, in this insular community, devoted centrally to the expression of a family's social orientation and moral repute. Processes of status comparison are muted, while homes serve to mark and maintain interdependent networks of kinship and affiliation through which social life is ordered and personal identity is defined. Change and systematic deviations from these common standards are examined and an effort is made to discuss the generalizability of these findings to other socio-cultural settings.

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