No Place Like Home

iStock-470210186-houses-city-homeAntonio Argandoña explores the role the home plays in modern society and its importance for global legislative, political and institutional initiatives.

A short time ago I came across a booklet setting out recommendations for what the local authorities of a large town in a relatively well-developed country needed to do in order to improve the well-being of and opportunities for children, i.e. to create a future for them. It was a long list. According to the authors of the booklet the local authorities needed to improve the health and well-being of the whole population, because of the importance of family antecedents and the surrounding community; reduce mental health problems in children and young people, because they prepare for psychological and social problems in adulthood; improve social and economic outcomes, because it is well known that these impact on children’s psychological, emotional and social health; pay special attention to situations resulting from drug use and crime; promote educational achievement, improve self-esteem and confidence, and develop social and emotional skills… And they hadn’t yet got on to recommendations for the Government, families, schools and communities!

I shut the booklet and wondered, if I were responsible for children in that town, where would I begin? Of course, over and above my political or ideological preferences, I would have to consult experts. Yes, but which ones? Doctors, nurses, psychologists, sociologists, and also economists, because the decisions we take will affect the jobs market and family finances – as well as the finances of the whole town. And architects and urban planners, because the quality of housing and neighbourhood services will unquestionably impact on the children. But we are talking about an actual town, with its own history and geographical environment, so that we need to consult local experts – although of course there must be a lot of experience that has been gathered in other, perhaps very different places, so that scholars from elsewhere need to be heard too.

OK, so we’ll need to get a fair-sized team of experts together, and they can draw up detailed partial plans, which will then need to be reviewed by other experts to correct any methodological bias or one-sidedness. Because the educationalist will talk about educational methods and resources, while the dietician will propose changes to diet and eating habits, which mothers and fathers will not be able to implement because their homes do not permit of alterations, and nor does their neighbourhood, and the labour market won’t favour major changes to timetables and income…

In short, if we want a sufficiently all-embracing plan, we’ll have to spend several million per year for some years. But we don’t have time for that, because we’re talking about the generation that is already at school or about to enter the world of work. So we’ll need to think of something simpler and less costly, which will offer short-term, partial solutions that will then need to be adapted in the light of ongoing experience… And we think once again about failure at school, the dangers of addictions, the difficulties in leading a well-adjusted life… in a family model that will be repeated in the next generation, and perhaps the one after that too… I’m sorry, but we can’t wait so long. And we don’t have so much money, because resources are scarce, and we need to attend to infrastructures, pensions, the working of the health system, culture, which is also important for general well-being… and a thousand other things besides.

Public sector managers, experts and politicians will always be tempted to reduce a huge problem to more manageable proportions

Like that, public sector managers, experts and politicians will always be tempted to reduce a huge problem to more manageable proportions. We’ve got to be realistic, they’ll say; later there’ll be the chance for other people to find better solutions. Fine, but can we give them some ideas, so that they don’t end up in the same impasse as we have?

I will just offer a couple of suggestions here. First: when a social problem is very complex, it needs to be tackled in an interdisciplinary or, better still, multidisciplinary way. Interdisciplinary means studying the matter from the particular standpoint of one or several related disciplines, and then opening up a conversation with people from other disciplines, starting by defining the problems. Multidisciplinary means that the conversation begins much earlier, as soon as the assumptions of each discipline are set out, and especially when we ask ourselves what kind of problem it is – education, public health, economics, labour market, housing and town planning, relationships, values…?

So that we can move forward confidently and look to the future: the problem needs to be defined around what really is central

And here is where the second suggestion comes in, so that we can move forward confidently and look to the future: the problem needs to be defined around what really is central. I think that in many cases, like those referred to above, what really is central is the home. Because the problems I set out earlier revolve around a group of people, the family, who live in a place, which is strictly speaking their actual dwelling, and more broadly speaking, the neighbourhood or town. But the concept of home goes still further, because it includes goals for the human community which is the family; goals that each home has to define for itself, because they are what explain its internal mission, which is what justifies them, and its social function, which is what involves the rest of society. This isn’t the way we have always set to work, but perhaps it would be worth trying to follow this path in future.

Antonio Argandoña, is Emeritus Professor of Economics and Business Ethics and CaixaBank Chair of Corporate Social Responsibility, at the IESE Business School, University of Navarra, Barcelona, ​​Spain


The Home: Multidisciplinary Reflections edited by Antonio Argandoña is out now.

Read Chapter 1 free online.




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