Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


“Comfort” wasn’t always a private commodity vended by home improvement channels and design vlogs. In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville argues that members of democratic societies are motivated by “comfort,” or modest material rewards, as opposed to “opulence” in aristocratic societies. Commentary over the following two decades—chiefly aimed at New York’s Lower East Side and Five Points—would shift the emphasis from comfort as a measure of material success to comfort as a measure of physical ease. In their crusades, reformers insisted that suitable living conditions for everyone are fundamental to the democratic project and advanced the aesthetics of amenity for an agreeable common mood. Drawing on the history and literature of mid-nineteenth-century housing reform, this essay conceives of comfort as a shared political sensibility essential to incremental activism, a sensibility with the potential to intervene in the housing crises of the twenty-first century.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDemocracies in America
Subtitle of host publicationKeywords for the Nineteenth Century and Today
Number of pages11
ISBN (Electronic)9780198865698
StatePublished - Jan 1 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© D. Berton Emerson and Gregory Laski 2023.


  • Affect
  • Comfort
  • Equality
  • Housing reform
  • Moral environmentalism
  • New York
  • Tenements

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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