The practice of the normative: the making of mothers, children and homes in North London
AbstractThe thesis comprises ethnography of alternative provisioning in a range of households on a street in North London. It considers the alternative (non-formal retail) means by which goods are acquired and exchanged. The areas of inquiry include gift- giving, mail order catalogues, network sales schemes, second-hand goods, nearly new 'jumble' sales and self-provisioning. Challenging polarised models of the household and the market, the gift and the commodity, the thesis reveals how alternative modes of consumption are used to generate and contest value in everyday practice. In particular, the study focuses on the activities of women and the ways in which social networks are constituted around specific types of acquisition and material culture. These activities include the swapping of second hand baby goods, the provisioning of children's parties and gifts, the decorating of the home and the use of commercial network sales schemes revolving around fashion, cosmetics and housewares. Aesthetic practice and modes of acquisition are considered in the context of immediate social relations and domestic settings. As well as providing empirical data regarding a range of consumption practices in contemporary Britain, the thesis goes on to argue that it is within these forms of provisioning that the practice of normativity is most evident. While a major theoretical pretext of anthropological enquiry is the question of how culture operates cohesively in the context of modernity, what arises from this ethnography is the extent to which goods and the values made around them, through exchange, are used in the making of the normative. This thesis examines the role of everyday alternative provisioning in constituting and contesting moral and social pressures to determine a basis of conformity and having made these conditions, facilitate the relationships that depend upon them.