Professional Home Economics Philosophy (Sue McGregor) August 2012

I have been a home economist for 40 years and have taught at university for 28 years. Members of the profession, especially academics, are responsible for socializing new generations of home economists (also self-styled as human ecologists in Canada and as family and consumer scientists in the United States). Kappa Omicron Nu celebrated its centennial in 2012. The International Federation for Home Economics (IFHE) celebrated its centennial year in 2008. The American professional association (AAFCS) celebrated its first 100 years in 2009. Home economics is all grown up, firmly entrenched in its founding roots, ready for the future. My good friend Donna Pendergast (Australia) thinks the profession is at a convergent moment, meaning we all have a role to play in future-proofing the profession for the good of humanity. My hope is that you can find some philosophical insights and intellectual stimulation at this website. Below is a brief overview of my own philosophy.

Home economics is both a century-old academic discipline and a profession. When named in the late 1800s, a much more balanced concept of economics prevailed; there was a counterbalance between the market and the home and household for the good of society and all of humanity. Applying this idea to create a new discipline and profession to focus on the private sphere of the family and home was vanguard thinking at the time. Since then, as most people know, the home, household and family parts of economics (our name) have lost power and legitimacy while the market, property, wealth, growth and competition aspects of economics have taken over. Today, families are only valued for their roles as labourers and consumers, not as citizens and major architects and scaffolds of society.

To address this pressing ideological and real issue, leading-edge thinkers in home economics are heeding their philosophical roots and reframing the discipline and profession as having a focus on the home and family for the betterment and improvement of humanity and society. They fervently believe that families are the basic democratic institution underpinning society - the cornerstone of civilizations, deserving of support. They focus more on the roles families fulfil as social institutions than on what families look like, their structure. They are moving beyond a focus on well-being and quality of life, augmenting this with a concern for basic human needs and the human condition. They are engaging with other kinds of science (in addition to the scientific method), including critical and interpretive sciences, which focus on power relationships and shared understandings of everyday life, respectively.

Another new line of thinking is framing our work as the 'art of everyday living' instead of the science of daily life. Other home economists focus on the protective nature of the house and the wholesomeness of human life in the communal life of the family. Under the guise of a philosophy of human protection, home economics would strive to protect the domain where families live (from the rampant incursion of the ills of an industrial and information society) in order to promote the complete actualization of the true human nature and the soundness of human life.

Twenty-first century home economists are working on issues of sustainability, empowerment, human security, human rights and responsibilities, peace and non-violence in homes and communities, as well as on human and social development to augment economic growth and development and technological progress, all with a focus on individuals and families as the cornerstone of civilization. They are turning to insights from the new sciences of chaos theory, quantum physics and living systems theory. From these perspectives, they are beginning to appreciate that families face constant change and must learn how to adapt and grow in the context of chaos (new order emerging), complexity and multiple societal and ecological crises. Very recent philosophical innovations being proposed to further the growth and evolution of home economics include transformative, integral (in addition to integrative and holistic), transdisciplinary and complexity thinking and leadership.

Home economists (regardless of what they call themselves - human ecology, human sciences, family and consumer sciences) have a mission in life - to ensure the continuity and survival of society and humanity by strengthening and privileging families, homes and households. Many of us see ourselves as ambassadors for families and the private sphere of society (home and household) relative to the power of neo-liberal businesses and neo-conservative governments. Our moral obligation is to position individuals and families as equal power brokers with a key role to play in the evolution of humanity and civilizations and the integrity of our planetary home, Earth.

This may seem like a lofty goal, but our founding members, over 100 years ago, dared to push the boundaries to create a new profession and an academic discipline. Twenty-first century home economists can continue to keep the profession strong and take it in new directions: families and humanity are depending upon us.

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