The paper focuses on the concepts of identity and lifestyle that have been little used to date in housing research. It is argued that identity is forged through social interaction, but this has both an agency and a structural dimension that can be considered together. The concept of categorical identity is important here as it helps to bridge the two dimensions. The concept has been used to analyse some categories such as age, but has not been systematically applied to the residential environment. The paper will point out some ways in which it can be applied.
The paper examines the potential of identity and lifestyle for housing research by focusing on studies of the meaning of home. It is argued that existing work is very partial, in that it has explored the spectrum of meanings without looking at levels of importance or of differences between individuals and groups of people. The paper shows a way forward by relating the residential environment to wider aspects of identity and lifestyle. What is the place of the “home” or “neighbourhood” in different people’s lives? How does it relate to their other identities and their lifestyle? It is argued that there are not always general answers that can be uncovered for these questions. Research emphasis needs to be placed on the search for differences in these identities and lifestyles and the construction of appropriate typologies. A lot can be learned from the consumption categories that are used in market research.
Finally, the paper puts forward a research agenda for using the concepts of identity and lifestyle in order to achieve a better understanding of the relationship between people and their residential environment.