The socioeconomic concentration of intensive production interest: Lessons from the tiny home community

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Since the middle of the 1970s, the cost of higher education, childcare, healthcare, and housing have all risen relative to median earnings, threatening the balance sheets of many middle-income households. A large number of these households have maintained their lifestyles and aspirations by taking on debt, leaving them highly leveraged and living paycheck to paycheck. Whether voluntarily or forced, many have responded to these economic pressures by reducing spending where they can, in ways large and small. Seeking “financial freedom,” one “large” response has been attempts to reduce the costs of housing, typically the largest regular expense that households face. People have done this in a variety of ways, including moving into tiny homes, the focus of this paper. Due to the association between homeownership and middle-class achievement norms, a move into an unconventional tiny home on wheels requires use of an alternative cultural vocabulary to support positive identity construction, meaning-making, and sociability, as well as claims for class status and distinction. In this paper, I draw on an original study of the tiny home community to exhibit and analyze that symbolic vocabulary. I find that an emphasis on the biography of production is at the center of a coherent system of meaning that helps tiny home enthusiasts negotiate their middling position in rental and housing markets, as well as in the larger stratification system. I close by discussing the implications of these findings for scholarly understanding of “alternative” consumption behaviors, including so-called “ethical” or “conscientious” consumption, and preferences for craft, artisanal, and local production. To foreshadow my central argument, I believe that “simple affluence” arguments are incomplete, and that these behaviors are instead concentrated among those with high levels of education but low or modest earnings.


This article was originally published in Journal of Consumer Culture. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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Journal of Consumer Culture


© The Author(s) 2021