Professional Practice Philosophy

This website contains much of my professional work and reflects my evolving practice philosophy. I have been a home economist for 50 years. I taught at university for 30 years, retiring nearly eight years ago as Professor Emerita. I am still very active in research and scholarly writing. For any home economist reading this missive, my hope is that you can find some philosophical insights and intellectual stimulation. For others, I envision this narrative expanding your perceptions of home economics as a well-established field of study and practice. The ideas herein apply to home economics and its many names around the world (e.g., family studies, human ecology, family and consumer science, home sciences, household sciences).

When home economics was founded and 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, progress, growth, and competition aspects of economics have taken over. Today, individuals and families are only valued for their roles as labourers and consumers and not as the major architects and scaffold of society and humanity. Given this massive shift over time, I truly believe that home economists must expand their thinking about their role in the world.

First, we must reframe ourselves from a focus on just the well-being and quality of life of individuals and families for their own sake to a focus on the home and family for the betterment and improvement of society and humanity (i.e., basic human needs and the human condition). We would do our work through individuals and families – not just work with and for them. We would assume families are the basic democratic institution underpinning society – the cornerstone of civilizations, deserving of support for the good of everything.

In this work, we would combine three approaches depending on the situation at hand: (a) coping with crises and how to get by (empirical, analytical science); (b) interacting, communicating, and adapting by sharing understandings and meanings of everyday life (interpretive science); and (c) gaining self-liberation and self-empowerment to change things for others (critical science that exposes oppressive power relationships, ideologies [cultural belief systems], and paradigms [personal thought patterns]). We would teach individuals and families how to think this way too, so they can proactively anticipate and solve their own problems (in their own homes and households) and those of their community, society, and humanity.

Second, instead of just the science of daily life, the original focus of home economics, we could also frame our work as the art of everyday living. Perceiving everyday life as art (i.e., the expression of creative skills to augment the home culture and thus human culture) stems from Scandinavian home economists. They value the art of everyday making. With this focus, we would convey to the world the importance of studying the ordinariness of people’s daily lives. Daily activities unfolding and made within the home and household sustain humanity. Sustaining homes and households would be our mantra.

Whether alone or in combination, these new approaches have promise. Individuals and families are the cornerstone of civilization meaning contemporary home economists would work toward human security, human rights and responsibilities, peace and nonviolence, sustainability, empowerment and liberation, and human and social development to augment economic growth and development, technological progress, and pervasive unrest and violence. We would do this by helping families ensure sufficient food, nutrition, shelter, resources and their management, textile and clothing artifacts, sustainable consumption, human development (child, youth, adults, seniors), healthy relationships and family life, and other aspects of home life.

To best achieve this new focus, we can gain insights from the new sciences of chaos theory, quantum physics, complexity theory, and living systems theory. Such insights would help us appreciate that families face constant change and must learn how to adapt and grow in the context of chaos (i.e., new order emerging just not predictably) and complexity (i.e., interwoven network of different but constantly moving, interconnected but independent parts). We would appreciate that families are self-organizing, adaptive, and self-directed and able to take control of their lives.

Going forward, I envision home economists honoring a new mission in their professional life – to ensure the continuity and survival of society and humanity by strengthening and privileging families, homes, and households. We would thus assume the moral obligation of positioning 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. These may seem like lofty goals, but our 19th century founders dared to push boundaries to create a new profession and an academic discipline. Contemporary home economists must continue that innovation and take the profession in new directions.