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Affective Dimension

Home is more than a sense of recognition and familiarity with a place. The definition of home also includes the idea that it is a place to which family members intend to return. This symbolic orientation toward a place involves affect, or emotion, the third dimension of home. The feelings associated with the cognitive representation of a place assist in activating the inclination or desire to return and generating a sense of home.

People experience a sense of being at home in the inner concentric circles of home. A journey toward the outer circles can elicit feelings of strangeness. At the center of home, the strangeness dissipates and is replaced by ease because the surroundings are familiar. Actions within the place are known or easily remembered (such as knowing the rules for moving about a place) so that less effort is required to understand and interact with the immediate environment. The intimate knowledge about how to act and the behavioral habits or rituals associated with home elicit a sense of control over the home territory (Lyman and Scott 1967). Control does not necessarily mean legal ownership or possession of a physical space; the possession of the territory through habits of daily living is a part of a sense of home.

A sense of control over a territory can include the notion that the place is private or not under surveillance. The idea of privacy has emerged in association with home over the past few centuries (Stone 1991). Some social activities are viewed as public and therefore can be available to be observed by larger groups of people. Surveillance of other activities by the public is less desirable, eliciting a desire for privacy. Peter Wilson (1988) suggests that symbolic boundaries of the home provide indicators of what is private for the household. Territory inside the home that restricts access to nonmembers is considered to have greater privacy than areas that outsiders may more easily enter.

Restricting access to the home is associated with maintaining a sense of safety from the outside world. Home is a retreat from the strange, dangerous, or polluted external world (Rybczynski 1986). Inside the home, the physical setting is treated as private, familiar, and protective of occupants. Interestingly, efforts to create and maintain privacy introduce a lack of freedom. Walling out the outside to gain privacy involves being walled in, with an associated loss of freedom (Schama 1987).

Privacy within the home also emerged from the creation of the need for quiet to accommodate contemplation and concentration; activities such as reading and writing became associated with the need for a private space that is protected from the noise and chaos of the outside world (Stone 1991). Witold Rybczynski (1986) suggests that the physical and emotional comfort associated with home has emerged in coordination with the development of technology (e.g., sources of heat in colder climates and designs of chairs). Home is a place that is familiar, the physical attributes of the place are coordinated to help the human body feel at ease, and the acts of daily living are fairly convenient. At home, families feel at ease both physically and emotionally.

A place can be designed and decorated to create home as a comfortable place; however, the décor does not make it a home. Some places do not facilitate the ability to feel a sense of privacy or physical comfort, or a sense of emotional ease through esthetics. Joseph Rykwert (1993) notes that the decoration and design of buildings can alienate people by bringing about a feeling of discomfort. Discomfort is also experienced in the strange territories away from home.

Moving far away from the home territory to an unfamiliar place can elicit a longing for home. Sojourns to distant places can be experienced as yearning for the familiar, or nostalgia. Interestingly, nostalgia is derived from the Greek word nostos, which means a homeward journey (Hollander 1993). Longing for home may motivate families or family members to enact the familiar rituals of home in an effort to secure a degree of comfort. For example, Arctic explorers recreated family rituals as a way of coping with being in adverse conditions and away from their homes for long periods of time (Johnson and Suedfeld 1996). Additionally, families may use possessions associated with home, such as furniture or decorations, to replicate home in a new place. The possessions help to recreate the familiar place associated with home.

Removal from, or dispossession of, a home may be experienced as a sense of loss. For example, families living in exile may feel deprived of a sense of belonging to a place. The loss, however, may be diminished by efforts to continue of the familiar patterns of family activity in another less familiar place. The study of families who migrate away from their homes reveals the types of efforts to create a place that replicates the former home. For example, Anne-Marie Fortier (2000) describes how Italian migrants to England replicate some aspects of their original home and homeland through rituals, celebrations, and decoration of buildings. Replication of home reduces the distress associated with the loss of home and contributes to a sense of belonging rather than alienation.

Orientation to a place that is considered home may contribute to the social identity of family members. Indeed, Geoffrey Hayward (1975) views home as the manifestation of family identity, which is one type of social identity. Social identity refers to the knowledge of membership in a group and the emotional significance attached to that group (Tajfel 1981). Individuals who recognize a common home are part of a group attached to a place. The emotional significance of the group is associated with the affective dimension of home. Thus, home contributes to a social identity that is defined, to a certain extent, by the physical dimension of the home as well as the affective response to the place.

Social identity associated with home is important for the study of families in an increasingly mobile world. An important related notion is diaspora, which is a group of people who have been dispersed from their home for economic, social, or political reasons. Families who are displaced from a home region do not lose their sense of home or homeland, but often are waiting for an opportunity to go home. If they cannot go home, displaced families re-create home in a strange place generating a distinct social identity that is a combination of the new strange land of refuge and the homeland. For these families, daily living is oriented to the homeland but in a place that is not considered home. While some families are dispersed from their homes, other families choose to move because of the increasingly global market economy. What is not clear is how very mobile families manage their social identity and a sense of belonging associated with the familiarity and comfort of home while pursuing an income by moving repeatedly.


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Fortier, A. (2000). Migrant Belongings: Memory, Space, Identity. New York: Berg.

Hayward, G. D. (1975). "Home as an Environmental and Psychological Concept." Landscape 20:2–9.

Hollander, J. (1993). "It All Depends." In Home: A Place in the World, ed. A. Mack. New York: New York University Press.

Johnson, P. J., and Suedfeld, P. (1996). "Coping With Stress Through Creating Microcosms Of Home And Family Among Arctic Whalers And Explorers." The History of the Family: An International Quarterly 1:41–62.

Lyman, S. M., and Scott, M. B. (1967). "Territoriality: A Neglected Sociological Dimension." Social Problems 15:236–249.

Rybczynski, W. (1986). Home: A Short History of an Idea. New York: Penguin Books.

Rykwert, J. (1993). "House and Home." In Home: A Place in the World, ed. A. Mack. New York: New York University Press.

Schama, S. (1987). The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Schutz, A. (1945). "The Homecomer." The American Journal of Sociology 50:363–376.

Stone, L. (1991). "The Public and the Private in the Stately Homes of England, 1500-1990." Social Research 58:227–253.

Tajfel, H. (1981). Human Groups and Social Categories: Studies in Social Psychology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wilson, P. J. (1988). The Domestication of the Human Species. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.


Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily Theory & Types of FamiliesHome - Physical Dimension, Time Dimension, Affective Dimension