Life at home in the 21st century – Jeanne Arnold

This is a strange book to include in my reading challenge list, as it was a recommendation from a friend and it is one of those books that look more like a ‘coffee table’ book, than a research textbook. Aesthetically, it’s beautiful, filled with pictures with a very appealing dark grey cover and a sleek font. But the strength of this book lies in its approach to unite artistic visions of line with scientific methods to capture life at home in the 21st century.


The book illustrates the results from a longitudinal interdisciplinary and collaborative research endeavour by the Centre on Everyday Lives of Families (CLFA) at UCLA. The project documented in the book was centred on the material worlds of American families, and presents a visual ethnography of middle class American households over a 4 year period (2001-2005).

Researchers spent a week in the homes of 32 southern California families and completed extensive video taping of family life, conducted interviews about health and social networks and collected cortisol samples to track highs and lows of stress.

Data collected include videotaped home-tour narratives by each parent and capable, video recordings of all family activities detailed floor plan maps of home, inventory of items, questionnaires on the home’s history and thousands of digital photographs. The result is an unvarnished view of home lives of contemporary families and their material possessions in depth and in real time.


The authors go on with presenting the defining themes of middle class life at home (which I won’t go into detail here, no spoilers!)

Our homes and possessions organise and define and in some cases engulf us ; US hyperconsumerism is definitely on display

As a researcher, I find the methodology adopted for this work  very interesting- bringing together experts from sociology, linguistics and family dynamics and an anthropologically oriented photographer to enrich this work. This goes to show how a cross-disciplinary team can work together to produce a systematic and meticulous piece of work.I think this book is also a great example of how a research project can be disseminated into a book that would be of interest to a wider audience (don’t be put off,  it doesn’t read like a journal paper!). If you have been involved in any ethnographic studies, then you should definitely check this book out. And, if you (like me) have lots of inquisitive friends, then this would make a great Christmas gift! Let’s face it, who out there isn’t curious about how other people live?Who wouldn’t want to ‘peek’ into other peoples windows to check their homes and compare them to theirs? Who isn’t guilty of an overly decorated refrigerator or a very child centred home?  If you found yourself nodding to any of these questions then you should definitely check this book out. Thoroughly recommended.

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