Ronald Richard, The Ideology of Home Ownership: Homeowner Societies and the Role of Housing, 2008

America’s recent housing crisis occurred in great deal because of the near religious dedication to home owner ideal that is seen by many as the culmination of freedom, rights, and the American Dream. Ronald Richard’s The Ideology of Home Ownership: Homeowner Societies and the Role of Housing argues that this “religion” serves as ideology, promoting a property based citizenship that privileges home ownership over public and rental housing. For Ronald, political alignment’s such as Democrats and Republicans matter less than people think. Exploring three Western societies (or Anglo-Saxon as he describes them, though defining the United States as Anglo Saxon seems questionable, the three are the aforementioned U.S., Britain, and Australia) and 3 East Asian (Hong Kong, Ronald refers to Hong Kong as a “country, Singapore, Japan) Ronald argues that “while housing units, systems practices, and traditions are considerably different, home ownership itself is becoming an increasingly evident and significant aspect of global modernity.” (xi).

Immediately, Ronald addresses the acceptance of home ownership as a “natural” phenomenon among humanity, noting that “overall owner occupied tenure levels have principally increased in most societies during specific periods of deep government subsidy.” (1) The home owner identity emerged as the ideal, “Owner occupation has become embedded with routes to adulthood and autonomy and bound up with discourses of choice and freedom. The owner occupier has been elevated as a better type of citizen, neighbor, even parent.” (2) Additionally, renters and others have experienced stigmatization such that “In some societies the realm of the public rental housing estate has been marginalized and its residents demonized.” [note: Ronald acknowledges that this may be more extreme in Anglo Saxon societies.] (2) Ronald argues globalization’s forces have resulted in the proliferation of home ownership which in turn “restructured” housing systems themselves and the “housing ‘dimension’ of the social structure.” (2) Increasing levels of individualization, the “redistribution of risk”, government restructuring, along with globalization drove shifts or realignments of housing’s centrality such that it now serves as an integral influence on social relations (“The argument is that although housing has always been embedded in relations among families, communities, labor markets, and the sate, the growing household dependence on housing property and mortgage debt, and state reliance on housing markets as drives of economic and social stability have placed housing more centrally in social relations.” (2))

The demonization of public housing residents in America exhibits a long history. However, Ronald pushes this discourse further suggesting a possible hierarchy of tenure that places renting just above homelessness. Housing increasingly finds value as a “private market good rather than a social merit good. This underpins the broader commodification of social relations, with market practices constituted as the best and most appropriate means of welfare provision, and state mediation the least. This inevitably supports the reduction of public spending and the transfer of economic and social risks from the state to individuals, which underlie a more globalized model of a competitive and market oriented neo-liberal state.” (12)

The role of tenure and housing systems in developing social organization and power relations serves as one of Ronald’s primary aims. Ronald wants historians and others to reconsider previous conceptions that conflated homeownership with bourgeois ideology arguing that it no longer adequately explains “the complex relationships between private housing consumption and socio-ideological practices.” (16) In this way, the extension of home ownership binds “the individual into private property relations, tying them to the prevailing structures and ideologies of capital. Consequently, differences in housing consumption simply reinforce existing social power relations.” (20) Thus, housing also functions as a medium of “economic differentiation.” (21) Moreover, the homeowner identity can propel political mobilization, “Home ownership can often be a basis for the mobilization of resistance to the state, local authority or capitalist interests. Local groups, identified through their tenure as much as their community identity, may actively resist external intrusions from developers, local authority planners, and so on.“ (32)

According to Ronald, Anglo-Saxon societies re-signified the home as a “privately consumed commodity” which means residents become investor subjects. The resulting discourses conflated the “qualities of ‘home’ … with those of tenure.” Suggesting that scholars focus on “the effects of homeownership on individuals in terms of individualization rather than individualistic ideologies”, Ronald argues the message has not been anti-collectivism but rather stress “the self and the potential functions of privatism and the private sphere, which may have similar but not identical effects “ Government policies have played apart in such developments, but Ronald notes a deeper complexity, “the growth of demand for owner occupied housing in home owner societies is understood more dynamically in these terms: not just as an outcome of government hegemony, but also as an effect of shifts in social conditions and relations between the self and social structures.” (67) The state’s effectiveness functions through “the heightening of subjective sensitivity to markets and the individual negotiation of risk, that power is exercised discursively.” (110) [in terms of normalization discourses which I will ignore but will quote two significant ones which Ronald pulls from Gurney, the two are summarized as follows, “homelessness, by which Gurney means that the idea of ‘home’ has been appropriated by homeowner … the disciplinary power of this discourse enables normalizing judgments to be made about homeowners and tenants. This judgment underpins expectations of housing and the householder and creates a form of homelessness for those outside the tenure, asserting that the ‘home’ exists in a much more meaningful way for those in owner occupation.” (75) and the second “associates pride, self-esteem, responsibility and citizenship with owner occupied housing, or what Gurney defines as ‘being good citizens’ … gurney suggests that as a normalizing discourse by which those outside of the ‘normal’ tenure category are inferior and abnormal … The positioning of good, prudent, and worthy owner occupiers against bad, prodigal and feckless tenants constitutes a morally laden mirror image of housing tenure, and can be argued to be powerful in the process of informing tenure meanings, preferences and social practices.” (76)]

Globalization’s role in expanding home ownership helps to exert neo-liberalism’s larger goals such as the “restructuring of ideological relations around subjective positions in markets. This restructuring is fundamental to the changing organizations of relations between the state, markets, and families.” (84) [Kemeny argues that the pressures of home ownership lead many to oppose taxes and support ideas of self reliance that often resist welfare programs] Ronald argues that scholars have failed to acknowledge housing’s influential place in welfare systems, “it is arguably the way that housing intersects both markets and welfare, and the structure of collectivism and privatism, which makes it more central.” (94) Housing as the locus of capital accumulation for citizens allows states to shift welfare provisions to the individual. Anthony King, whom Ronald frequently cities, noted similar developments in the transnational spread of the bungalow in terms of its role in capital accumulation, drawing its inhabitants further into wage labor economic system especially patterns of consumption.

The book’s transnational comparative framework enables it to not only compare Anglo-Saxon societies housing with that of East Asia, but also explore differences and similarities within these two categorical examples. Thus, while drawing upon similarities, Ronald posits the diversity between all examples, “Although there are some key similarities between Eastern and Western homeowner societies, owner occupation is related to divergent structures of hegemonic power, distinct types of welfare regime and diverse orientations toward privatism, individualization and neo-liberal ideology.” (117) Though Western societies reached mass home ownership through different frameworks and policies (i.e. subsidies, finance systems, and government measures) several “convergent features emerge”. First, “discursive processes and policy development rather than a ‘natural’ phenomenon” explain this growth. Second, housing discourses, tenure policy, and “hegemonic features” illustrate an “apparent” relationship. Third, the “ideological significance of homeownership” no longer relates to “building social conservative hegemonies” as it is in reorienting … households” toward neo-liberal markets and policies. Since homeowners transform into market consumers and subjects, the freedom of markets exerts a central influence since “the constitution of houses as market objects demands that the most effective form of provision depends on the freedom of markets, and state interventions which undermine the market, such as the provision of public housing, is undesirable.” (162)

In contrast to the Anglo Saxon examples, their East Asian counterparts do not exhibit a property based citizenship (homeownership does not “extend individual rights or engender political inclusion” though it is vital to “participation in the social mainstream” (204)) nor do they transform home owners into subjects of neo liberalism. In general, housing “policies have primarily constituted housing as a market object and oriented housing subjects around patterns of family consumption and family based welfare” (164) Nor does individualism exert the kind of influence as seen in Anglo Saxon societies, instead “emphasized particular forms of social mainstream subjectivity.” (164) On a more macroeconomic level, East Asian “welfare capitalism relies on more hegemonic social practices based on rapid economic growth.” (164) Though great differences exist in terms of welfare schemes, political groups, and modernization patterns, they do share a productivist welfare orientation regime that attempts to achieve greater social equity while fulfilling welfare responsibilities through “economic growth.” (164) The state intervenes but “with market based consumption”. In comparison to western societies, the East Asian emphasis on the family as welfare provider, which in turn has relied more and more on access to property specifically housing. This housing increasingly depended on further economic growth for higher valuations. Home ownership in Japan, Hong Kong, and Singapore all unfolds within an ideological conception that postulates homeownership as a means to economic and social objectives. Again, unlike Western nations, ”Building a sense of individual wealth and supporting a strong state hegemony around the primacy of economic growth have thus been more critical to ideological dynamics. Homeownership discourses and practices are strongly embedded in both these practices” (204) The divergence of each East Asian example in terms of policy structure and basic homeownership organization stems in part from the three nations different experiences with industrialization and the city state status of Hong Kong and Singapore. Historical contingencies that affect built environment and economics such as those pointed out by contributors to Of Cities and States, Globalizing Cities, and Cities and Third World Development emerge as well. Singapore and Hong Kong’s histories each endured colonialism.

Though Anglo Saxon nations have experienced “greater housing market and finance deregulation, further decline in social rental housing sectors, greater expansion of home ownership, and increasing orientation towards an asset based form of welfare system.” (214) Home ownership practices transferred the focus from the government to the market. Numerous discourses then work to “restructure dwelling subjects around housing objects in terms sympathetic to the operation of markets.” (216) Anglo Saxon societies resort to “a form of citizenship achieved through property ownership” that rejects ‘universal citizenship” enhancing individualization and privatistic ideologies which then “erode citizenship rights to public goods to the extent that discourses promote private self reliance rather than state provision.” (217)

Conversely, East Asian nations treat housing and education as public goods with housing also serving as the source of family wealth. Moreover, in this context, the home as capital accumulation “facilitates” spending and welfare practices, while, education operates to increase “human capital” enhancing family wealth and consumption. Thus, the demand for universal rights or decommodified social welfare fail to develop. Ultimately, Richards identifies three basic convergences between East and West, the first being the importance of “political sponsorship in successfully establishing a home ownership system.” The second regards normative discourses that posit individual home ownership as natural “connected to a cultural owner-occupier heritage” . This normalization may prove more critical than ideologies. Though the function and content of ideologies in relation to consumption differ, a connection between home ownership, conservatism and middle class formation, and social stability operates as a central feature of social and political discourses. Ronald points out the key insight that increasingly Anglo Saxon governments look to owner occupied households and the capital accumulation therein as a “means to support the reduction of welfare services, erode state pension provision and undermine universal welfare rights.” (237) In contrast, East Asian societies have embrace reduced state intervention and control over housing and housing markets, while extending some social security benefits. Still, the emphasis on asset accumulation within the home as a way to subvert welfare funding and provisions suggests, as Ronald points out, a meeting of East and West in the middle.

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