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The Household: Informal Order around the Hearth [Paperback]

Robert C. Ellickson

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Book Description

Aug. 22 2010

Some people dwell alone, many in family-based households, and an adventuresome few in communes. The Household is the first book to systematically lay bare the internal dynamics of these and other home arrangements. Legal underpinnings, social considerations, and economic constraints all influence how household participants select their homemates and govern their interactions around the hearth. Robert Ellickson applies transaction cost economics, sociological theory, and legal analysis to explore issues such as the sharing of household output, the control of domestic misconduct, and the ownership of dwelling units.

Drawing on a broad range of historical and statistical sources, Ellickson contrasts family-based households with the more complex arrangements in medieval English castles, Israeli kibbutzim, and contemporary cohousing communities. He shows that most individuals, when structuring their home relationships, pursue a strategy of consorting with intimates. This, he asserts, facilitates informal coordination and tends ultimately to enhance the quality of domestic interactions. He challenges utopian critics who seek to enlarge the scale of the household and legal advocates who urge household members to rely more on written contracts and lawsuits. Ellickson argues that these commentators fail to appreciate the great advantages in the home setting of informally associating with a handful of trusted intimates.

The Household is a must-read for sociologists, economists, lawyers, and anyone interested in the fundamentals of domestic life.


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Review

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2009

"Robert C. Ellickson defines the household as a voluntary grouping of relatives or non-relatives living under the same roof. As he points out in his engaging study, this pervasive institution has received surprisingly little attention from social theorists. . . . The Household, a short, curious and enjoyable book, provides a novel way of looking at an institution from which very few of us can escape."--Lucy Worsley, Times Literary Supplement

"Ellickson's book represents a skillful use of the analytical tools of the law-and-economics movement to understand relations within the household--a complicated machine for living that involves a large number of joint decisions. . . . Ellickson's book pushes us to think more clearly about the benefits and the costs of homeownership. His book makes sense of one of the most striking facts in the homeownership literature: the extremely tight relationship between structure type and ownership. . . . Houses are most Americans' most important asset. They are the stages on which we live our lives. And so housing policy is worthy of intense attention--but until the current crisis housing policy existed in the netherworld of the more unglamorous public pursuits. Perhaps our present-day troubles will create the opportunity to produce better housing policies, or so I hope. Robert Ellickson's ideas can certainly help."--Edward Glaeser, The New Republic

"This volume is a tour de force! Ellickson takes the reader on an erudite, highly informative journey through the household in all of its many manifestations and facets. . . . The reader enjoys a catholic view of why households persist; why they are the size they are; how ownership versus rental decisions are made; what motivates adding or shedding household members; and most fascinatingly, how informal norms regulate household occupant behavior with little formal and explicit societal legislation."--D. J. Conger, Choice

"Through its methodological synthesis of economic with legal and sociological analysis, this text serves as an important primer on household structures in liberal societies."--Patricia McGee Crotty, Law and Politics Book Review

"By pulling together a range of diverse topics and data, the book is thought-provoking. It is dense but readable, and Ellickson presents economic arguments in an accessible way. Reading it challenged (and energized) me to think about the unique contribution of sociological explanations."--Carrie Yodanis, Canadian Journal of Sociology

From the Inside Flap

"This book is very original. Most of the similar literature on the law and economics of the family is contracts- rather than property-based, and the author displays a tremendous knowledge of the literature in a number of related fields. It is a wonderful piece of work and an excellent addition."--Margaret F. Brinig, University of Notre Dame

"This is a very good book. The approach is valuable and insightful, and brings solid economic analysis to an institution that, I am convinced, is understudied and poorly understood. I enjoyed this book and learned a lot from it."--George P. Baker, Harvard Business School

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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