Over the past two decades development has been shifting its focus toward smaller scales and particular problems. As a result, the household has become an increasingly important institution for development, and has come under increased scrunity as development practitioners and scholars seek to better understand this institution’s functions and foundations, trying to ‘get the household right’. These efforts, rather than clarifying the character and the function of the household, have contributed to its indeterminacy by reifying the very institution they seek to analyse. Arguing that these efforts fundamentally miss the point of examining the household, this paper introduces a different framework of analysis that addresses the household not as a fixed object of research, but as a local construction that embodies flows of power and knowledge both within and transcending the local. Using the example of varying constructions of the household in two villages in Ghana’s Central Region, this article illustrates how such an approach allows us to address the various functions of the household as particular embodiments of these flows, an approach that better explains the endurance or ephemerality of these functions. Such an approach provides a stronger foundation for the consideration of how particular constructions of this institution may have troubling implications for issues like gender equity and sustainability. Viewing the household merely as a convenient conduit for data collection rather than as a conceptual construct runs the danger of leaving important questions unasked and thus unanswered. (Editorial in the IDS Bulletin, 1991)
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