THE CAPITALIST HOME AS A PLACE OF REPRODUCTION AND STRUGGLE
Much has been written about the home, or even about the “domestic space”. The speeches are the most varied, from technicians dedicated to building the house, through advertisements for utensils, furniture and appliances, to sociological and economic analyses, among others. The so-called “domestic economy” has gained ground in recent times. The home interests me as a social space, as a place for social relationships. It is in this sense that one can think about its meaning, what it is, and what it can be.
The home, in modernity, is capitalist. By the way, capitalism or modern society is the same as “modernity”. Modernity is a form of reference to capitalism that highlights its temporality — compared to pre-capitalist societies — and its self-image of being the end point of history, and also the most visible characteristics of the world generated by the capitalist mode of production.
Home is one of the most important places in modern daily life. It is a place where individuals fulfill their basic needs — although there are exceptions — such as sleeping, feeding, reproducing. For a large part of the population, home is the destination after work. Some are homeless, others work at home. Some run away from home. These cases will be left out. Home has a different meaning to different people. For women, especially those who do not work outside the house, the home is more important and significant. Cleanliness, style, furniture, among other elements, are more prominent for women than for men.
Home is a part of modernity and has many functions. The consumption function is one of them. The home is a consumer market in capitalist society, as in addition to the needs of individuals who live in a particular house, such as clothes, for example, there are demands generated by the house itself. The house demands furniture, appliances, curtains and thousands of other goods. Women, even the most independent, are socialized to take care of the home, either in a “specialized” way (women who do not have a paid job) or in a “complementary” way. She absorbs, from her mothers, the media, friends or other women in general, from advertisements, a set of values focused on the home.
Without a doubt, women who dedicate themselves exclusively to the home will place it as one of their most important values. The beautiful house is a means of competition with other women, especially those who live similarly. Women who have paid work will also place a high value on their houses and, therefore, many go out of their way to maintain the cleanliness, order and beauty of the home.
Men already have another relationship with the home. They are more pragmatic. What matters is if everything works. If the bedroom is a good place to sleep, the kitchen for food preparation, the living room for rest and recreation. Without a doubt, for the poorest families, with multifunctional houses, this is different. Because they are more pragmatic, functionality, ease, practicality, is what counts. Size and options are also important. This comes from male socialization, from traditions, but it is also reinforced by the life dedicated to paid work, which drains their energies, and the superior value offered to income, to labor.
In addition to the “house” — here understood as a physical space — there is the “home” — here understood as a social space. These two things are not mutually exclusive. House and home are, simultaneously, physical and social space. The “house” needs to be clean, aired, and can be “renovated, expanded”. The home is the space for social reproduction. This reproduction has its positive and negative aspects. The positive aspect is that the home is the space for the reproduction of affection, sexuality and solidarity. Yes, without a doubt, this is not always the case. The reproduction of affectivity is a possibility, but it can be held back by daily friction, by the characteristics of the individuals involved, by external elements (family, social pressures, financial issues, among countless others). The reproduction of sexuality suffers the same setbacks. Daily frictions and external elements can make it difficult to reproduce affection, sexuality and solidarity, the positive aspects of the home for individuals who live in it.
Here the focus was the home with a couple, but there are homes with many people. We can add children, which expands the space for affection and solidarity, or other people, such as parents, grandparents, siblings, among others who may live sporadically or permanently with the couple. And there are cases of homes in which you start with a couple, and by separation or widowhood, it becomes one or of these with the children, as well as the case of homes that arise with an individual and thus remains, or ends, a day, becoming a couple, in addition to those who are friends, students, among other possibilities. In cases of more than one person, the home works as a space for solidarity, or not, depending on the case.
The home is also a reproduction space for the workforce, consumption, as well as values and socialization. It is a space of friction between couples, parents and children, siblings, and other residents. And, in this context, it is possible to see that what is positive for the individual can be negative from the perspective of social transformation. If the home effectively manages to be a space for the reproduction of affection, sexuality and solidarity, the dissatisfaction of the residents of the home tends to be lower and if there is no politicization and concern for other human beings, it can become an element in the production of conservatism. Of course, this is a possibility, which may not happen. If there is politicization or concern for other human beings, this tends not to take place, but even without this it can fail, depending on who the individuals involved are and their social relationships.
Modernity, however, is prodigal in creating conflicts and friction. Thus, a woman who lives exclusively taking care of the home will come into conflict with men because of their values and preferences. The decoration that the woman puts on the bed to have style and to enrich her daily life a little, marked by the limited possibility of creativity, is for the man, just a hindrance that is not practical at all and can generate conflict. A fancy lunch can be to please the couple, but it can also be a way to develop invention and creativity in a very restricted space for this, and the recognition of the other — something that accompanies the realization of all non-alienated work — is expected and, if it doesn’t, it’s a reason for disgust and perhaps new friction.
This can be seen by any attentive observer with a theoretical background. The home is, therefore, a space for family reproduction and a space for reproduction of modernity. It reproduces modernity, as it is a space for consumption, it reproduces the production of goods as it is a place of consumption, which presupposes their acquisition. And it is not just a question of necessary goods, such as food, but a diversity of them, including superfluous goods that fulfill the function of making an impoverished life less poor, that is, filling in the psychic gaps generated by capitalism itself. A partial filling and that is never total, which generates the need for more goods, more “filling”. As a space for socialization, it reproduces bourgeois values, dominant ideas, the habits of individuals in this society, among thousands of other things. It also reproduces the social relations of modernity, based on hierarchy, use of force, authoritarianism, in some cases; or supposed “democracy”, mannerisms, hypocrisy, in other cases. There are the exceptions, no doubt. These are rarer. The incommunication prevents a richer life at home, social pressures, external processes, the formation of individuals who live inside it, among other issues, make a more pleasant, richer, or at least more comforting life unfeasible. And attempts in this direction are producers of new conflicts. The woman who decides to make handicrafts, a way of trying to be creative and realize one of her potentials, will displease her partner, as the house — and its functions — will become secondary. External relationships and needs bring new friction, external family demands, external conflicts, if they are present, either directly or indirectly in the daily life of the home.
In this context, the home is a place of reproduction of the modern world, of capitalist society, both in the functional sense (renewing workers’ energies, reproducing the workforce) and in the sense of generating conformity (comfort and the satisfaction of some needs, such as affectivity, generates greater tolerance towards alienated work, controls and social constraints, among other external things that affect individuals in modern times).
And wouldn’t it be a space of struggle? What struggle could there be at home? It is not about reproducing the feminist discourse according to which “the personal is political”. This is a poor version of the “personal” and the “political”. The couple toil daily and are subjected to external forces that exhaust them, control them, direct them to friction. Children or siblings are also subject to this logic. The confrontation between men and women in the home space can be competition, friction, not struggle. In order to be a struggle, there must be social classes, distinct projects. With dispute for spaces, advantages, situations, without perspective of transformation, without project, without deeper modifications, there is no struggle, there is reproduction.
In this context, how can the home be a space for the struggle for social transformation? The struggle would mean that the home meets the needs of the family or the couple, when it is just a couple. This means meeting the needs of individuals as far as possible. If it’s possible on the whole, which is rare, it’s excellent. Wouldn’t that reinforce conformism, as already pointed out? This is where the question of struggle comes into play. Individuals seeking to satisfy each other, with solidarity and affection, supplying basic needs, are less dissatisfied individuals. However, they will never be complete individuals in modernity. The struggle reveals itself at this moment, which is when the satisfactions that the home can offer are sought — and it will not always be possible to achieve in its entirety — and one has a higher awareness of the totality of social life and its complexity, including how this it is an obstacle to this and when it is achieved, it is through a set of elements that have been formed and that have access to culture, solidarity, sincere communication between peers and family members. This means that the struggle reveals itself in the expansion of awareness and critical sense, not only within and referring to the home, but in relation to external determinations about it, to the broader social processes that are present in daily frictions and that make it a space for the reproduction of modernity.
The home, when its residents acquire a broader awareness of modern life and how this manifests itself in its interior and hinders its positive functions, becomes a space for struggle. The struggle for consciousness, the struggle for intellectual advancement. And it is complemented with the struggle against the social and external bases of its limits. The struggle for intellectual development, which effects mutations in the domestic space, is complemented by the struggle against modernity, against capitalism, which takes place outside the home and throws the couple, or the family, beyond the house, onto the street, for political and social spaces of confrontation and revolutionary action. If only one individual in the family, or one of the pair (be it a man or a woman) advances, this makes it impossible for such a struggle to reach that higher level. In this case, the struggle will be on the lower level, within the home itself. The woman demanding change of male behavior without change in her own behavior, or when she demands a conversion of the man to her values without any counterpart or agreement, only reproduces modernity. Likewise, when man does this, he also reproduces modernity. The collective struggle of everyone in a home presupposes relative changes in the home and in action in the face of modernity. Thus, if a man justifies his absence because he is “fighting against modernity”, but prevents the absence of his partner to carry out the same struggle, he reproduces modernity, even if his discourse says otherwise.
For the struggle to be effective, there must be space and moments for reflection at home. But this is made difficult by the individual formation itself, generally egocentric, emotional, and focused on individual interests. A space for reflection in the home presupposes an agreement and a rationality that few can develop in modern times. However, there is, even in rare cases. And it can expand, if the discussion expands to the global level of society and it reaches home. Thus, the home can be a space for struggle and contribute to the struggle against modernity, despite the obstacles. These are rare cases. However, the struggle against modernity outside the home can be felt inside the home. Just as capital invades homes, struggles outside the home can emerge from within. In some cases, when faced with people who are psychologically destroyed, or who are too attached to bourgeois values, among other cases, it will hardly go beyond the level of internal struggle. But in cases where these elements do not act, reflection, theory, which are of external origin, can allow an internal advance and both become stronger.
The struggle against modernity is also aimed at making the home a space for struggle against it, even if its beginning is from an internal struggle. In any case, the struggle must be the objective and it alone allows for transformation, especially if intertwined with other struggles (of the workers, the unemployed, among thousands of others). So it is necessary to struggle, at home, outside the home, intertwining these two struggles and these with others. Struggle is the condition for transformation.