The Social Origins of Private Life

Focusing on American history, Stephanie Coontz traces the forms and origins of the family form, from Native American kin groups to the emergence of the dominant middle-class family ideal in the 1890s. ‘The present dominant family unit, grounded in close interpersonal relations and premised on the domestic consumption of mass-produced household goods has arisen’, Coontz argues, ‘from a long and complex series of changing political and economic conjunctures - as well as from the destruction or incorporation of several alternative family systems’.  One thing the publication does particularly well, and which may be its most pertinent and overlooked strength, is to address the relational qualities of former colonial families and the ways in which certain key characteristics of this unit may have infected the mutations of the nuclear family elsewhere. The tightening of its codes of conduct, and the formal preoccupations of a life restricted to primarily caring for those you’re biologically related to (rather than something more imaginative, like actually not procreating and building a life with your peers into adulthood).

Stephanie Coontz

Lawson Park Electronic Library is a Guestroom project for Grizedale Arts, designed and built by Dorian Moore