home economics

home economics

home economics, study of homemaking and the relation of the home to the community. Formerly limited to problems of food (nutrition and cookery), clothing, sewing, textiles, household equipment, housecleaning, housing, hygiene, and household economics, it later came to include many aspects of family relations, parental education, consumer education, and institutional management. The application of scientific techniques to home economics was developed under the leadership of Ellen Henrietta Swallow Richards; later an emphasis was placed on the social, economic, and aesthetic aspects. Although called in some countries home science, household arts, domestic science, or domestic economy, the subject is known today in the United States as home economics, and specialized terms are used for its subdivisions. The field of home economics has, at different times, emphasized training in needlework, cookery, the management of servants, the preparation of medicines, and food preservation; such instruction was once given mainly in the home and from a practical rather than a scientific standpoint. In the United States the teaching of cooking and sewing in the public schools was coincident with manual training for boys, beginning in the 1880s. State institutions, notably in Iowa, Kansas, and Illinois, pioneered in introducing home economics courses on the college level in the 1870s. In 1914, the Smith-Lever Act made federal funds available for extension work in home economics and agriculture, in cooperation with the states; through this provision, supplemented by later acts, home demonstration work is carried on in many rural localities. The Smith-Hughes Act of 1917 instituted secondary school vocational education in home economics and other fields. Home economics, once taught only to women, is now taught to both men and women; in the United States home economics courses are taught mainly at the secondary school level, more commonly in rural than in urban areas. The International Federation of Home Economics, an organization devoted to the teaching of home economics on a worldwide basis, has members in over 60 countries.

See S. Schuler and E. M. Schuler, The Householders' Encyclopedia (1973); M. B. Tate, Home Economics As a Profession (2d ed. 1973).

This article is about the broad field of Home Economics. For other, and specific, uses see Home Economics (disambiguation).
Home Economics, is a field of study and a profession, situated in the human sciences that draws from a range of disciplines to achieve optimal and sustainable living for individuals, families and communities. Its historical origins place Home Economics in the context of the home and household, and this is extended in the 21st century to include the wider living environments as we better understand that the capacities, choices and priorities of individuals and families impact at all levels, ranging from the household, to the local and also the global (glocal) community. Home Economists are concerned with promoting and protecting the wellbeing of individuals, families and communities, They also facilitate the development of attributes for lifelong learning for paid, unpaid and voluntary work; and living situations. Home Economics professionals are advocates for individuals, families and communities.

Home Economics content draws from multiple disciplines, synthesizing these through interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary inquiry. This coalescing of disciplinary knowledge is essential because the phenomena and challenges of everyday life are not typically one-dimensional. The content (disciplinary bases) from which studies of home economics draw is dependent upon the context, but might include: food, nutrition and health; textiles and clothing; shelter and housing; consumerism and consumer science; household management; design and technology; food science and hospitality; human development and family studies; education and community services and much more. The capacity to draw from such disciplinary diversity is a strength of the profession, allowing for the development of specific interpretations of the field, as relevant to the context. This disciplinary diversity coupled with the aim of achieving optimal and sustainable living means that home economics has the potential to be influential in all sectors of society by intervening and transforming political, social, cultural, ecological, economic and technological systems, at glocal levels. This is driven by the ethics of the profession, based on the values of caring, sharing, justice, responsibility, communicating, reflection and visionary foresight.

Home Economics can be clarified by four dimensions or areas of practice:
• as an academic discipline to educate new scholars, to conduct research and to create new knowledge and ways of thinking for professionals and for society
• as an arena for everyday living in households, families and communities for developing human growth potential and human necessities or basic needs to be met
• as a curriculum area that facilitates students to discover and further develop their own resources and capabilities to be used in their personal life, by directing their professional decisions and actions or preparing them for life
• as a societal arena to influence and develop policy to advocate for individuals, families and communities to achieve empowerment and wellbeing, to utilise transformative practices, and to facilitate sustainable futures.

To be successful in these four dimensions of practice means that the profession is constantly evolving, and there will always be new ways of performing the profession. This is an important characteristic of the profession, linking with the twenty-first century requirement for all people to be ‘expert novices’, that is, good at learning new things, given that society is constantly and rapidly changing with new and emergent issues and challenges.

Essential Dimensions of Home Economics

The thread or essential ingredient that all subjects, courses of study and professionals identifying as home economists must exhibit has at least three essential dimensions:

  • A focus on fundamental needs and practical concerns of individuals and family in everyday life and their importance both at the individual and near community levels, and also at societal and global levels so that wellbeing can be enhanced in an ever changing and ever challenging environment;
  • The integration of knowledge, processes and practical skills from multiple disciplines synthesised through interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary inquiry and pertinent paradigms; AND
  • Demonstrated capacity to take critical/ transformative/ emancipatory action to enhance wellbeing and to advocate for individuals, families and communities at all levels and sectors of society.
  • Ensuring the interplay of these dimensions of Home Economics is the basis upon which the profession can be sustained into the future. Because of these attributes, Home Economics is distinctively positioned to collaborate with other professionals.

The name ‘Home Economics’

The preferred name of the field of study and profession is ‘Home Economics’. Historical records of the Federation document the challenges various names, titles and terminology have posed for , including the complexity of translation. Internationally, the field of study has consistently retained the name Home Economics and is recognised both within and beyond the boundaries of the profession. The International Federation for Home Economics is committed to re-branding and repositioning, not renaming the profession. IFHe is the International Federation of Home Economics see www.ifhe.org or for the UK section, see www.ifhe.org.uk

Impact of the profession

Home Economics is a vital profession currently enjoying renewed attention in the present era. Our contemporary world is characterised as one of unprecedented transition from industrial to knowledge-based culture and globalised economy, with all encompassing effects on society and culture. The information age is complex, diverse and unpredictable, yet has a strong commitment to retaining those elements of society that are valued, while looking ahead to the imperative of improving the world in which we all live such that sustainable development is possible. Herein lies the potential for Home Economics and the reason for renewed attention to the field of study, as this is the key imperative of the profession.
Examples of enacting the transformative powers of Home Economics professionals include:
• Home Economics professionals were instrumental to instituting the 1994 International Year of the Family which centred ‘family’ as a political issue and has impacted on family life in many countries of the world
• Poverty alleviation, gender equality and social justice concerns are a priority of Home Economics professionals, with many projects and initiatives conducted in such areas
• IFHE is an International Non Governmental Organization (INGO), having consultative status with the United Nations (ECOSOC, FAO, UNESCO, UNISEF) and with the Council of Europe
• Home Economists partner with other Non-Governmental Organisations to improve the lot of families world wide. Specific areas of collaboration/cooperation include: Peace Education, gender issues/ women’s empowerment, women’s reproductive issues, HIV/AIDS, intervention projects for families in distress and other human rights issues
• Home Economists are active in lobbying for issues that will improve the well-being of a diversity of families and households
• Home Economists serve as consultants in major businesses and organizations dealing with personal home economics, care and consumer services. They are also active entrepreneurs in their own rights
• The current four-year theme on Sustainable Development for World Home Economics Day is a strong stand that impacts on family life positively
• Home Economists are strong advocates for individual and family wellbeing worldwide, evident in for example the development of relevant curriculum for schools and universities.



International Federation for Home Economics (IFHE)

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