House-lives as Ethnography/Biography

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This essay considers the intersection of biography and ethnography through an anthropology of the house. It focuses on the multiple entanglements between houses,lives lived within them, and the social contexts within which houses are shaped. If‘good ethnography’ is the outcome, at least in part, of long-term familiarity with the people and places that are its subject, the sense of being in a proper house rests on a comparable feeling of familiarity. Both of these rely on long-term engagement, and are in this sense inherently biographical. To unpack the entanglements of personhood,kinship, temporality and the state that houses illuminate, I begin with my own engagement with Malay houses over several decades before discussing houses as‘biographical objects’ (Hoskins 1998) and also as persons. I then examine connections and disconnections between houses and biography through a consideration of some less obviously ‘house-like' houses. Pursuing the analogy between ethnography and houses further, in the final part of the paper I suggest that, if houses provide a productive opening for ethnography, they might also offer a starting point for a particularly anthropological kind of (auto)biography.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-116
JournalSocial Anthropology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 18 Feb 2018


  • ethnography
  • biography
  • houses
  • objects
  • persons


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