Talking Houses: les points de mémoire

The buildings represented on city maps reflect to a fleeting historical moment and provide limited information about the houses. One can only learn about the exact geographical position and the size of the building. If it is a monument, a few more information is added, usually the name of the architect and the date of construction. Art historical reviews provide more detailed data in case of extraordinary and memorable residences. While walking around in cities ordinary houses usually remain silent, do not talk the ways they potentially could. Since the 1980s, however, the history of the home, individual apartments received more scholarly attention than before. The critical turning point of the 1970s brought new results in historical writing. Grand paradigms, the Marxist or positivist interpretations which had been dominant since the nineteenth century, and the structuralism of the mid-twentieth century lost their significance. Scholars, being disappointed and unsatisfied with classical explanatory frameworks investigated novel ways of historical inquiry and understanding.

The major cause of this newly emerged interest is that it opened up ways to integrate social and cultural historical, anthropological and sociological methods and findings. The meticulous study of the home allows scholars to examine culture and social behavior, and to investigate social actors in the context of coherent cultural patterns. The living environment does not only mirror social relations, but shapes them and importantly contributes to the formation of social conditions, hierarchies, and inequalities. Focusing on everyday routine activities and the space in which they are realized leads social scientists to pose questions about social interactions, on the influence of political power on everyday social life, on the recreation of power relations in the intimate sphere, on the decisions of social actors, on individual and collective lives and about the correlation between social and cultural practice and economic norms.