Department of Archaeology and Ancient History

More than just gender - the Classical Oikos as a site for intersectionality

A project financed by the Swedish Research Council.  

The purpose of the project is to construct a new model where the ancient Greek oikos that is the household in the period ca 600-350 B.C, as an extended non-homogenous entity will be focused. The ideal classical family with male as norm has by tradition in texts from Homer to Xenophon been regarded as an entity with common interest in economic enterprise and formed through marital and blood ties, composed by a married couple and their own biological children.

This protection of the bloodline was of major interest for the whole society. The oikos is a topic that has been rather neglected as concern its value as an important social phenomenon when constructing the ancient society. The scholarly interest of the  oikos, as a site for social relations, has by tradition been devoted to questions concerning for example gender specific locations where ancient literature sources has been used to enhance our understanding of the concept. Studies based on literary sources have rarely intersected with studies of the archaeological evidence. The planned project will try this further by including and intersecting three categories of material; archaeological remains, the literary sources and iconographical material.

The aim of the project is to extend the discussion from the idealised model of the oikos, to a model where the extended  oikos, defined as all its members, old-young, women-men, free and unfree, are included. This will be done by applying intersectionality as a research paradigm to problematize the realm of the classical family. Intersectionality, rather than discussing social hierarchies of gender, class, ethnicity, sexuality and age as separate systems of oppression, investigates how they mutually construct one. Intersectionality can therefore be regarded as an analytical tool for understanding multiple discriminations created by the intersection of different categories and how different sets of identities impact on access to rights and opportunities within the society. For the period focused in this project this will be done through an investigation of the status of the members in the classical family. Each member of the family, free-unfree, men-women, young-old etc. will be focused as individuals from the perspective of intersectionality; within the realm of the household and also how they as individuals intersect with the surrounding society, that is the male dominated, public world of the polis. Another objective is to analyse the oikos in a long-term perspective. It is believed that a chronological perspective will promote our understanding on whether changing attitudes concerning the different members of the  oikos, related to the research questions below, is possible to identify from the late archaic to the classical period.

Another objective of significance for the present project is the picture of economic stratification as made evident in the housing pattern. For now, let it suffice to note that the economic status of the household can be assumed to be of importance as we proceed to applying the paradigm of intersectionality to the material at hand. The hypothesis that the level of intersectionality within the oikos is connected to the economic status of the house will be made subject to further inquiry. In short, we would expect that intersectionality should be more pronounced within the realm of the wealthier households. This means that the size and spatial complexity of a house cause intersectionality to vary.

Responsible for the project: Birgitta Sjöberg