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Households: Changing Form and Function

WGF Int'l Symposium #87 group photo
October 8 - 15, 1981
Seven Springs Conference Center, Mt. Kisco, New York

Book Cover

PUBLICATION:    Households: Comparative and Historical Studies of the Domestic Group (R.M. Netting and R.R. Wilk, Eds.) University of California Press, Berkeley, 1984.


Eric J. Arnould (University of Arizona, USA)
Anthony T. Carter (University of Rochester, USA)
William A. Douglass (University of Nevada, USA)
Brian L. Foster (Arizona State University, Tempe, USA)
Eugene A. Hammel (University of California, Berkeley, USA)
David Herlihy (Harvard University, USA)
Peter Kunstadter (East-West Center, USA)
Peter Laslett (Cambridge Group for the History of Population & Social Structure, UK)
Olga F. Linares (Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Panama)
Orvar Lofgren (Lund University, Sweden)
Robert S. Merrill (University of Rochester, USA)
Arthur D. Murphy (University of Georgia, USA)
Robert M. Netting, organizer (University of Arizona, USA)
Lita Osmundsen (Wenner-Gren Foundation, USA)
Andrejs Plakans (Iowa State University, USA)
Martine Segalen (Centre d’Ethnologie Francaise, France)
Henry A. Selby (University of Texas, USA)
Richard R. Wilk, organizer (University of California, Santa Cruz, USA)
Arthur P. Wolf (Stanford University, USA)
Sylvia Yanagisako (Stanford University, USA)


"Is the household a significant unit in the description, comparison, and analysis of human societies?" In 1981 a group of eminent anthropologists and historians were brought together to explore this question. They presented new research on what house­holds do, how they function in society, and the processes by which they change through time. The resulting volume brought together seventeen important, ground-breaking papers prepared for this conference.

Because the household can mean many things to many people it has often defied definition and serious analysis. The editors of Households note the difficulties inherent in the formulation of a single, unitary defini­tion of the household and construct their own usable, cross-cultural definition, identifying potentially over­lapping functional spheres of production, distribution, transmission, reproduction, and co-residence. Basic issues of methodology and theory are outlined and dis­cussed, moving beyond earlier scholarly emphasis on evolution and typology.