Domestic by keralaguest


									“Keywords of Transnational (American Cultural) Studies” (ASA 2006)
Panel #237, Saturday, October 14, 12:00 PM - 1:45 PM
Oakland Marriott City Center CS 4

        This session will proceed under the assumption that audience members have read the
        four entries attached here. Each participant will speak for 6-8 minutes, briefly going over
        2-3 major themes or moves in their entry; saying one thing about what emerged as they
        read across the entries on the panel, and adding one thing about what difference the
        "American Cultural" framing does or does not make in "Keywords of Transnational
        (American Cultural) Studies." The rest of the session will be open discussion amongst the
        panelists and the audience.

Rosemary Marangoly George (University of California—San Diego)

                                                 Forthcoming in Keywords of American Cultural Studies,
                                               eds. Bruce Burgett and Glenn Hendler (NYU Press, 2007).
                                      Please do not cite or circulate without the permission of the authors.
                                                                        Works cited available upon request

        The keyword “domestic” conjures up several different yet linked meanings. The term evokes the
private home and all its accoutrements, and in a secondary fashion, hired household help. It also refers to
the "national" as opposed to the "foreign," and to the "tame" as opposed to the "natural" or "wild."
American Cultural Studies scholarship has only recently begun to think through the connections among
these usages of the term, and to make visible the racial and class bias of much of the scholarship on
domesticity in relation to the United States.
        Theorizing the domestic has been integral to many academic disciplines: architecture and design,
anthropology, sociology, history, economics, philosophy, psychoanalysis, and literary and cultural
criticism. Expressed in binary terms such as male/female, public/private, and production/reproduction, a
relatively stable home/work dichotomy has formed the basis of scholarly writing on domesticity across
these disciplines. Newer studies of domesticity are more attentive to its complex political entrenchment in
the so-called public and private: to the entanglement of the domestic with nationalist discourses and, in
feminist economic analyses, to the home as a workplace where industrial “homework” is done.
Researchers such as Jeanne Boydston (1990) and Alice Kessler-Harris (1990) see the impact of
domesticity on the determination of wages and on labor issues that were hitherto understood to be purely
market driven. In her studies of women’s labor history in the west and the reliance on domestic ideologies
to buttress capitalist expansion, Eileen Boris (1993) notes that while a home/work split was an essential
component for industrialization, the two arenas were also fundamentally constitutive of each other. Thus
domesticity, in these discussions, has ideological functions that do not stop at constructions of the private
life of individual persons, of homes and families.
         Much work on domesticity has focused on the white middle classes. This work tends to trace
what is essentially an Anglo history of the "American" home from its utilitarian use in the seventeenth
century as an unadorned place for storage and shelter, to the emergence of the cult of domesticity or true
womanhood in the mid nineteenth century, to the mid twentieth-century articulation of the home as a
prison where countless white middle-class women suffered unnamable sorrows (Matthews 1987). The
prevalence and familiarity of this story indexes both the success and the limitations of liberal feminism as
a social movement. Even as it sought to reformulate domesticity in relatively gender equitable ways,
liberal feminism failed to address the other complexities that shape the domestic arena, most notably the
economic and racial connections that hold different domestic sites adjacent and yet unequal within a
national or global framework.
        A very differently oriented genealogy of domesticity in the United States can be traced through
the history of the domestic (as household servant) over the same three centuries. This history moves from
the seventeenth century use of indentured and “hired help” who worked alongside family members in the
household, to the use of servants and slaves in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, to the centrality of
domestic laborers in establishing U.S. notions of ideal domesticity in the mid twentieth century. It is
worth speculating that what Betty Friedan referred to in The Feminine Mystique (1963) as the “problem
with no name,” the anxieties that beset countless white women in the late 1950s, arose in part because the
era of ample cheap domestic labor came to an end as women of color found other employment avenues
open to them. In recent years, career women in the United States may be reversing this trend, as they
increasingly turn to non-familial domestic labor provided mainly by a service economy made up of
documented and undocumented immigrants and other women of color, in order to juggle the tasks of
maintaining both career and high standards of child-care and home maintenance. A complex network of
economic, racial and gendered arrangements need to be in place on a national and international footing
before respectable, middle and upper middle-class home-making is successfully achieved in the United
States (Romero 1992; Parrenas 2002).
        Scholarship on European and U.S. imperialism has also begun to examine “the spatial and
political interdependence of home and empire,” what Amy Kaplan has called “Manifest Domesticity”
(Kaplan 2002, 25). Such scholarship demonstrates that the domestic sentimentalization of the white
middle-class home from the nineteenth century onward was intimately intertwined with the ongoing and
violent expansion of U.S. interests both across the North American continent and beyond these
continental borders. One example of this work is Laura Wexler’s notable study of late nineteenth and
early twentieth century women photographers and the multiple ways in which “nineteenth century
domestic photographs shaped the look and power of white supremacy at the century’s end” (2000, 8).
Wexler argues that Frances Johnston’s photographs of Admiral George Dewey and his crew, taken in
1899 aboard the battleship Olympia after they had routed the Spanish forces in the Philippines, celebrates
and consolidates the "American" heroism that Dewey and his band of sailors embodied even as these very
photos bear witness to the "American" domestic world that was recreated on board Olympia. Such
“domestic images” function both to deny and to showcase the violence with which the difference between
home and alien spaces or alien peoples are constructed, managed, and policed.
         Research of this type demonstrates that the domestic is a dynamic and changing concept, one that
serves as a regulative norm that refigures conceptions of the family, homes and belonging. In its early
forms, the domestic was a primary site where modernity was made manifest; the concept of family
changed from a largely temporal organization of kinship into a spatially organized sphere of activity. In
narratives and practices of domesticity, the trauma of such transformation is absorbed (imperfectly at
times) and the domestic is reissued as useable or, in rare cases, abandoned altogether. The wholesomeness
associated with the domestic, as in Witold Rybczynski’s assessment of “domestic well-being [as] a
fundamental human need that is deeply rooted in us, and that must be satisfied,” is rarely discarded even
when specific domestic arrangements are (1988, 217). Even liberal-radical accounts that seek to contest
the mainstream-conservative reduction of domesticity to the nuclear family nonetheless remain firmly
committed to family values. These values may be alternative, but they nonetheless retain the pleasures of
the normative: private comfort, safety, exclusivity. And at the national level, this demand for the comfort
and safety of the enfranchised citizenry has put into place a rigorous screening process that excludes from
the “homeland” those who threaten “the American way of life,” even as it lets slip in an underclass whose
labor is necessary for maintaining the domestic comforts of everyday life.
        Much of the literary and cultural studies scholarship on the rise of these normative forms of
domesticity focuses on the mid nineteenth century, when a new ideology of the home and of women’s
role in its maintenance took hold of the U.S. imagination. Catharine E. Beecher’s A Treatise on Domestic
Economy for the Use of Young Ladies at Home and at School (1841) was a significant inaugurator of this
ideology, since it newly venerated the white, middle-class home and placed central responsibility for it in
the hands of the housewife. This widespread rhetoric sentimentalized both the home and housewife as the
source and location of national virtue and was manifest in a variety of cultural texts, including women’s
magazines like Godey’s Lady’s Book (published between 1830 and 1898), religious tracts, newspapers,
home design innovations, home management guides, and the “domestic fiction” written in this period. In
the late twentieth century, a whole generation of U.S. feminists investigated the cultural impact of the
latter phenomenon, produced by what Nathaniel Hawthorne’s famously called the “d----d mob of
scribbling women.” Influential studies such as Ann Douglas’s Feminization of American Culture (1977)
and Jane Tompkins’ Sensational Designs (1985) revised the U.S. literary canon by insisting on the
importance of mass culture in the nineteenth century and of women as powerful consumers and producers
in this arena. More recently David Reynolds (1989), Lora Romero, and others have argued that “the reign
of women [should be understood as] a cultural artifact produced by the antebellum period,” rather than as
an accurate assessment of the power of middle-class white women in the antebellum years (Romero 1997,
        Regardless of the degree to which the nineteenth century cult of domesticity authorized white
women in the context of U.S. cultural production, the “domestic fiction” formula reigned supreme. When
African-American women writers in the late nineteenth century utilized this genre, it was indicative of the
different political charge of domesticity for a people struggling with the burden of slavery that had placed
heavy prohibitions on both the means and contents of such pleasures. Denied access to reading, to
writing, to state-recognized marriage, to homeownership, denied the luxury or right to play the pure lady
of the house or even to be a child learning at her mother’s knee, these writers produced domestic fiction
that revealed very little dissonance between attending to the claims and duties of domestic life (especially
motherhood) and attending to those of activism on behalf of the race. The establishment and celebration
of happy marriages within domestic havens in these black women’s fiction did powerful political and
cultural work in a period when the attainment of a private sphere, whether through homeownership or by
other means, was something fought for daily even as it was recorded and celebrated in cultural texts
(duCille 1993; Tate 1992). More than a century later, welfare reform programs and policies, the
recruitment of disproportionate numbers of people of color into the armed forces and police, and racially
biased criminal sentencing and incarceration patterns all indicate that, in Aida Hurtado’s words, “there is
no such thing as a private sphere for people of Color except that which they manage to create and protect
in an otherwise hostile environment” (1989, 849). Whether we look at housing loan records, zoning laws,
civic amenities in specific neighborhoods, the location of toxic industries, the differential funding to
schools, or levels of prenatal care, we see that state intervention into domestic life continues to be
systematically beneficial to white middle and upper class citizens and detrimental to the everyday lives of
lower class whites and people of color.
         Partly due to this complex history, “domestication” has often been deployed for metaphorical
purposes in academic discourse, including feminist discourse, to signify the opposite of radical thought, a
usage that draws on the opposition of the domestic to the wild. Literary and cultural critic Rachel Bowlby,
for instance, notes that domestication “refers generally to processes of simplification, assimilation and
distortion—any or all of these—to which the theory in question falls victim or which it is powerless to
resist” (1995, 73). Yet if we consider the name chosen by the founders of Kitchen Table: Women of Color
Press, we encounter a radical feminism that harnesses the wisdom and labor of this homely location to
their feminist practices. As in the nineteenth century, marriage, family, and homemaking continue to be
differently inflected terms and spaces for different groups of people, and are fabricated with local
variations across national borders and social classes. What is truly remarkable are the ways in which
dominant domestic ideologies and practices have become globally hegemonic as a result of colonial and
capitalist expansion and modernization, even as they have entered into contestation with other local forms
of domesticity. Class, race, and geographic location place heavy inflections on domesticity, and yet, like
love, childhood, and death, the domestic is seen to transcend all specifics or rather to blur distinctions in
the warm glow of its splendor. Ultimately however, the enormous attention that domesticity has received
and the enshrinement of heterosexuality therein, have severely stymied the representation and even
recognition of other forms of establishing intimacy and affiliation.

To top