February 27, 2012

Individuality, Conformity, and Your Home

ksternheimerBy Karen Sternheimer

I recently discovered the HGTV network, and for some reason have really gotten into watching people go house hunting. It’s a fascinating peek into a process that millions of people have experienced, albeit usually in private.

A home is typically the largest purchase consumers will ever make, so it can be instructive to learn the ins and outs of buying real estate by watching others. HGTV’s house-hunting shows are also an interesting study of the contrast between individuality and conformity.

I noticed that although the prospective buyers featured have different price limits and square footage needs, many of the buyers wanted similar finishes regardless of price range or region: hardwood floors, granite kitchen countertops, and stainless steel appliances. One house with what appeared to be new appliances—although not stainless steel—was deemed “dated” by the home seekers.

In another episode, where sellers get advice on how to “stage” their house to sell, a realtor encouraged a woman to put nearly all the contents of the house—IMG_1237including her children’s toys—in storage so prospective buyers can visualize themselves, rather than her family, living in the house. The homeowner seemed surprised; she thought that her own family’s uniqueness would add an air of authenticity and thus be a selling point. After she de-personalized the rooms her home quickly sold.

This got me thinking about the relationship between individuality and conformity. People tend to see themselves as unique individuals, and our homes become extensions of our individuality. Homes contain our stuff and our memories; this is one of the reasons that home owners are virtually never present when prospective buyers see a property and negotiations are typically done by third parties. Sellers can be personally offended by a low-ball purchase offer, perhaps more so than by a low offer to buy their car or even a low salary offer for a new job.

And yet many homes are strikingly similar, especially in newer developments, which can cost homeowners a premium to live in. As you can see in the photos  taken in a new housing development below, each home is virtually identical to the others. All landscaping is uniform, and homeowners must follow specific rules in maintaining their properties.

IMG_1238IMG_1241IMG_1239The development does not allow homeowners to build fences around their yards, so families with dogs must install invisible fences to prevent them from getting out of the yard. On some streets, homeowners cannot put for sale signs on their lawns, but instead can only put them in their window. Other rules include limiting the flags homeowners can fly: the Stars and Stripes is fine, but put a flag with your favorite team or school’s logo out on game day and you could be fined by the homeowner’s association.

This tension between individuality and conformity reminds me of sociologist Emile Durkheim’s thoughts on deviance. He argued that deviance creates unity and a sense of social cohesion by defining what is unacceptable in any community. Developments with identical homes and strict maintenance rules likely strive for conformity to maintain property values and perhaps a sense of community identity that distinguishes itself from another development.IMG_1242

Durkheim suggested that no society could be free of deviance, that instead deviance would simply be redefined. So even in a community with identical homes, the bar for defining deviance is lowered. For instance, in one neighborhood hanging a flag with a heart on it to celebrate Valentine’s Day might be nothing unusual, but it may be redefined as a violation of the community standards in another. Brightly painted homes and those with dramatically distinct clip_image002architectural styles might be acceptable in some communities, while in others deciding to paint your exterior walls pink might generate hostility from your neighbors or even fines from the city.

According to Durkheim, deviance can also lead to social change if people collectively decide that the rules for conformity are no longer reasonable. Let’s say a new form of technology unwittingly disables an invisible fence, and a dog escapes its front yard and bites a child. In response, the homeowners decide to build a white picket fence to keep their dog on their property. Neighbors might change their minds about the invisible fence rule in order to protect the safety of the community.

Durkheim would suggest that both conformity and individuality serve a purpose. What other sociological theories would help us understand the importance of our homes?

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Comments

It's interesting to see how sociology can play such a big part in everyday life, such as buying and selling homes. I think a lot of people do boast in the individuality of their homes, but on a bigger scale they may be all the same. There are a few neighborhoods that do put strict formal sanctions on deviances. While I do think conformity can detract from one's uniqueness, I do, however, believe that people find safety and normality in things that are uniform.

The change is usually gradually by small changes that follow each other at intervals. Social changes occur by itself without a plan or specific requirements. Community are adapting to the needs, circumstances, and new situations that arise in line with the growth of society. We see advances in technology, so people aware how importance to have comforts place to live, as well as education and lifestyle. For example, in the big city, people are aware of living in a very practical, efficient, and others so many of them accept to live in a small house or on vertical building.
Now these people realize the importance to have comfort, save, and nice home, even if it's in a tiny house.

Every person has their rights. So why can't they have their rights when it comes to making their home their home? It's almost as if a subdivisions/ suburbs have their own social structures. Thus creating roles and obligations for each homeowner to follow.

The conformity of the society of homeowners makes the uniqueness of the individual that more unique. Subdivision dwellers are obligated to keep their lawns trimmed to a certain length and have it a certain shade of green. Since they get a new status as a suburb homeowner, their role in the community usually changes as well.

I totally agree with what your saying about conformity! It actually made me think of the movie "The Help" and how Elizabeth was always making things and sewing trying to update the look of her house. All the while Hilly had a beautiful home and of course this would mean she looked down a little on the lack of beauty in the less flashy house. I think that most people actually do like the things they conform to because if you hate something, despite what people conform too, if you hate it I dont think that you would get it. But I think that most people do honestly like certain things. LIke you said stainless steel apliances. I think that part of this has to do with socialization because no doubt you want to be better than your neighbor or you sister etc etc. But i think a sense of individuality is still their because if you hate the way something looks then you hate it so despite conformity i think you'd still not like it. But i know what you mean . I watch HGTV with my Mom sometimes and everyone is always looking for the same things!

I agree with this article 100%. I think that the society and the house market go hand in hand. And most people however much they like it or not will conmorm to what society likes or dislikes.

I think that it is very interesting to see how sociology can play such a large role in peoples everyday life, such as buying and selling homes. A lot of people portray individuality in their homes but on the outside it all just looks the same. I believe that being different is a very good thing; however, sometimes a set structure is a good thing. It is kind of like a safety blanket

It is very interesting how sociology impacts our lives every day. The regualtion of how homes look is just another way get our society to conform. I agree that our homes should be an extension of our personality for the whole world to see. It is also interesting that we now give advice on home buying and selling through the TV shows that we watch, considering we watch hours upon hours of TV each day.

If like me you have a cat that loves to run up and down, in and out and lay around looking relaxed, then you might be thinking about how to build your own cat tree. Cats love nothing more than exploring, lying around, scratching things, usually your furniture or walls, but give them their own cat tree, and they will love you for life.

The housing market and our society is so much a like it is laughable. They we are making our houses so they fit a standard is like how we are trying to conform everyone in society. The houses are ourselves and they all have to be the same. This reminds me of the book "Brave New World" where they made everyone fit a certain class to establish stability.

This is a fascinating article highlighting the issue between conformity and deviance on one of the largest scales in society today: constructing, buying, selling, and furnishing/decorating homes. If we look at how houses have developed in style and taste throughout the past century, we can see that there have been definitive trends in what is "in" and what is "out", pointing to how society often dictates what people should and should not include even inside their own homes. And the sanctions could not be more monumental: whether you can sell your home or buy a new one. If you're seeking to sell your house and deviate from what's considered to be socially acceptable, you can kiss away any chance of ever getting out. However, if you adhere to what the status quo and what is considered current societal norms, you have a very good chance of not only moving out but also making a profit.

Good Post.Thanks for sharing the post!!

I never understood why people would want to live a highly conformist community. I'm talking about gated communities where even the mailboxes have to look the same. I just don't get it.

The main problem with making your house too individualistic is that it will probably be more difficult to sell in the future.

It is difficult to get the ready made house with all your desired features unless you build your own. In some cases the materials used might not be of quality. it is better to build yours. If i may be asked.

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