Claire Wrigley

Family, Nation, Empire: An Imperial History of Public Housing in Britain, 1890-2017

From the late nineteenth century until today, two of the most controversial issues in British political, social, and cultural life have been the questions of what the British family is, and how it can be improved. I argue that a profoundly racialized and gendered logic of imperialism shaped public housing policy from the earliest efforts at reform in the late nineteenth century, making it one of the most consequential sites of state intervention into private, family life. My dissertation traces how the state strove to redefine what a home was, what activities could take place there, and what relationships constituted a British family. Using Britain’s two largest and most diverse cities, London and Birmingham, as case studies, I show that the overarching goal of public housing policy was to limit the social reproduction of ‘unfit’ Britons and to promote instead the reproduction of socially acceptable, politically useful, and economically productive citizens who would uphold Britain’s status as an imperial power. In the process two of life’s most fundamental concepts—‘home’ and ‘family’—became racialized, and the home became a distinct but not necessarily bounded space; not just political, but politicized.