Conceptualizing the household as an object of study

A. Niehof

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


The use of the term household and the theoretical and empirical meanings attached to it have undergone changes through time. When Home Economics was established as an academic field of study, the household became its primary unit of analysis. In Northern societies, the concept of family gradually began to occupy the limelight, and functions and aspects formerly attributed to the household in studies on the domestic domain began to feature in family studies. Against the backdrop of the second feminist wave and the emergence of consumer society and urban lifestyles, the household was increasingly treated as a unit of consumption only. Such a narrowconceptualization of the household not only limits its application to certain types of societies but also obstructs our view on the ways in which people provide for their food and care needs, cope with deprivation and adversity, and leaves the important role women play in these processes under-exposed. These arguments are developed on the basis of an analysis of the results of 12 recent (2002–2010)Wageningen University PhD research projects in different Asian and African countries. The concepts of family and home emerge in the analysis as well, but are seen as partly overlapping with the concept of household and subsumed under it. On the basis of the results of the analysis and the literature, the paper formulates conclusions about the importance of the household as a unit of analysis and the relevance of a field of study that focuses on households and the domestic domain
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)488-497
JournalInternational Journal of Consumer Studies
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • Comparative perspective
  • Family
  • Hearth-hold
  • Home Economics
  • Homestead
  • Household
  • Household dynamics


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