Ateliers > Le domicile comme lieu de travail

Travail et économie familiale - Le domicile comme lieu de travail

Coordinatrice : Tania Toffanin


Session 1 : Jeudi 2 novembre, 14h-15h30

The history of telecommuting in Europe: stressed out housewives, smart consultants and Big Tech at the dawn of the information society.

Mirko Winkelmann, Freie Universität Berlin (Germany)

“Telecommuting is a promising new way of working that can contribute to individual and organizational flexibility” – this is what it said in numerous publications in the 1990s. Back then telecommuting was a prominent topic in the context of discussions about the “future of work” or even the “end of work” at the dawn of the information society. Nowadays the term telecommuting is not being used that often anymore. However, the designated form of working from home or outside the classic office setup is still increasing in popularity. My paper examines the history of telecommuting from its beginnings to the present: from early narratives of telecommuting as a means to save energy and avoid traffic jams in the United States in the 1970s to more recent discussions dealing with the (re)conciliation of work and family life. Mainly I will focus on Germany in the 1980s and 1990s. Here, telecommuting became the subject of controversial debates and the scale of evaluating this new form of work was very wide. Most notably the trade unions were very critical of it at first and saw it as a return to the miseries of cottage industries. But even their perspective changed in the dawn of the information society. In my paper I will outline why it changed and how this was connected to changes in politics and the employment situation. Besides that, I will have a look at other participants in the debates about telecommuting and attempts to establish it in the fields of working: big Tech companies, fast developing consultant firms and, of course, telecommuters themselves.


To Earn a Living: Social Experiences of Female Work within Households. Buenos Aires City, 1850-1870

Valeria Pita and Gabriela Mitidieri. CONICET-IIEGE, University of Buenos Aires (Argentina)

This paper aims to capture certain social experiences of women's work in the Latin american city of Buenos Aires, between the decades of 1850 and 1870. In particular, it attempts to find the traces of needle workers, caretakers, cooks, maids, servants, among others, who develop their labor on habitation sites, places of family or communal living, that is, outside workshops or industrial facilities. As we examine how these women lived their work lives and understood what they did as "work", the present research questions the historical meanings of work and labor, during a lapse of time where the capitalist labor relationships were structured, within the South american region. Also, this research tackles how gender pervade that particular job market, its labor circuits and the different types of work that coexisted during that time, such as the so-called "free work", paid work, contractual work or coercive work.
Simultaneously, this presentation attempts to examine certain dichotomous affirmations, that have been used by labor historians, and that separate the productive sphere from the domestique sphere, women's work from men's work, the work of the servants from the free work, among others, without focusing on their possible connections based on the experiences of the subjects in question.
The starting point of this study is the beginning of a political liberal project erected after the fall of the federal government of Juan Manuel de Rosas, on 1852. It closes in the early 1870's, when the political effects of a yellow fever epidemic caused concern -among the men of the political elite of the city- about the popular housing. The rise of a liberal elite in Buenos Aires brought profound social, economical and political changes, transforming the lives of the workers. During those 20 years, people in Buenos Aires have varied in number, in national origins and in proportion of males and females. Likewise, a series of building projects were developed, such as the improvements of the Passengers Pier, the creation of
habitation sites and the reform of the Colon Theatre, a modern opera theatre, where a new elite draw attention to themselves, wearing the latest fashion from Paris.The body of evidence to explore gathers documents from Buenos Aires City Hall, from civil and peace Courts, books from the city Police, the 1855 Buenos Aires Census, the 1869 First National Census and newspaper advertisements.



Talking kitchen motors and electric nurses. The Baťa shoe company‘s ideas on housework and consumption (Czechoslovakia in the 1930s).

Theresa Adamski, University of Vienna (Austria)


The column Woman’s World in a newspaper published by the Czech shoe company Baťa from 1935 to 1938 suggested all kinds of machines to allegedly make housework easier. Baťa’s idea of the “modern woman” included not only being a supporting wife, a caring mother and an organized home keeper, but also knowing what and how to consume to create a rationalized and mechanized workplace. Housework, family work and consumption were defined as women’s contributions to society, while men were supposed to work in the factories and become “pioneers”. The Baťa shoe-company was founded in 1894 in a small Moravian town called Zlín. During the interwar period the company grew into a multinational corporation and Zlín became its centre with 80 000 inhabitants of whom 40 000 worked in the Baťa factories. The workers and their families went to Baťa schools, lived in Baťa houses and spent their leisure time at the Baťa sports clubs or the Baťa cinema. In the 1930s various similar looking Baťa company towns were built all over the world (for example Batanagar in India, Batawa in Canada or Batapur in Pakistan). Each company town had its own newspaper which promoted the ideal “Baťa-Men”. While the idea of the “Baťa-Men” was closely linked to the new concepts of work and entrepreneurship Baťa established, the company’s images of femininity were based on common European and American discourses on the “modern woman”. What appears to stand out in Baťas publications is the focus on the promotion of machines for the household and the way they were contextualized. In my presentation I want to explore what language was used to describe the relationship between the home workers and the machines they were supposed to use. What role did gender play in the descriptions of technical equipment and the way it was presented? What concepts of work were implemented in these human-machine-relations?



The cork industry as domestic manufacture. Working at home for the market in Calonge (Catalonia) in 1881.

Margarita López Antón – Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona (Spain)


The literature on the cork industry has traditionally identified the beginning of women's work with the birth of large cork factories. Using as a case study the Catalan town of Calonge, in a traditional area of cork stopper manufactures, this paper shows that women’s and children’s work was a central part of the manufacturing process already in its domestic stage. Calonge, with a population of 3.092 in 1881, is a clear example of urban proto-industry specialized in the domestic manufacture of cork stoppers, which entailed that a large part of the population lived from industry and not from agriculture, despite being a rural town.
The paper: 1) Presents the participation rates of men, women and children and the population structure by
gender and age; 2) Reconstructs Calonge’s households by age, marital status, number and age of children
and professions, in order to explain the variables shaping women’s supply of labour. The paper discusses how were women’s occupations related to their husband’s jobs; whether this varied when work was carried out indoors or outdoors; whether women’s workplaces were determined by the number and age of children to raise; if women’s work in the cork stopper industry was the result of its mechanization or previous to it; and to what extent the invisibility of women’s and children’s domestic work for the market is due to the fact that population censuses failed to record them.


Session 2 : Jeudi 2 novembre, 16h-17h30

Sewing at home (Greece, 1870s -1930s)

Leda Papastefanaki University of Ioannina (Greece)

The sewing machine was the first mass produced and mass marketed complex consumer good and the first to diffuse throughout the globe even before 1914. The development of an easy payment scheme and the introduction of the monthly payment system contributed to the rapid diffusion of the sewing machine in households all over Europe, while most of the sewing machines manufacturers established large networks of agents and salesmen throughout the European and the Ottoman Empire countryside accompanied with large advertising campaigns in the local and women’s press. The domestic sewing machine had a direct impact on women’s daily lives as the use of sewing machine made possible the continuation of home manufacture, contributed to the feminization of the garment trades and to the idealization of home life. Especially, in Greece the relatively cheap sewing machines allowed to the manufacturers to hire women who could work for lower wages at home for the garment industry. Since 1890s a whole informal sector in Greek cities and in the countryside developed thanks to cheap female labour that operated the sewing machines at home gaining some additional family income. By using a variety of sources (press, testimonies, literature, trade unions’ archives), the paper explores a) the organization of production and the gender division of labour in the domestic garment manufacture, b) the conflicts about homework and the efforts for regulation in the Interwar period.


Work, sewing and women's labor struggle in Argentina during the ‘30s

Cecilia Cross and María Ullivarri, CITRA-CONICET/UMET, University of Buenos Aires (Argentina)

This proposal is part of a wider research proyect about the production of poor women as social subjects in time of economic crisis in Argentina. In this paper we will analyze only a portion of women with a particular job: home sewing, but taking into account the experience of poor women in general.
Many of the forms of female labor experience were associated with home-based work. Underreporting of women's work was constant because of the categorization as "complementary work" or "family support." This invisibility was also determined by the spaces where many women carried out their tasks: home. Here women were supposed to be able to sustain their role in social reproduction and earn income through an extension of their "natural functions". However, home-based work was far from constituting a panacea. Thought of as the outer department of the factory, manufacture, or of the big store, this type of task was a difficult form of female labor. And sewing was one of the most common activities of home as location of production.
In this paper the questions aim to explore the forms of the female workers' experience in the labor world of Argentina, especially in home sewing. In order to find some answers we will stop in the analysis of two strikes (1936-1942) held by seamstresses. Conflicts were hampered by class disputes, tensions between gender representations, the dispute with male trade unions, exploitation, prejudice, religion, and also the State, Church and their social organizations, the experience of the law and the consolidation of a culture of rights. In this convoluted plot, we are interested in the analysis of how these factors together with relationships, discourses and representations shaped the experience of these women. We also ask how women understood their role as workers, how they dealt with domestic spaces as work places and how they constructed themselves as social subjects. At the end, our approach seeks to problematize classical distinction such as public-private sphere, paid-unpaid work, often considered as self-contained areas, mainly because these “dichotomies” did not help to interpret the evidence we have recollected.


Tramping artisans and working at home: Journeymen confectioners in 19th century Europe

Maria Papathanasiou, University of Athens (Greece)

The paper explores the labour experiences and working conditions of 19th century journeymen in the german language region from a microhistorical perspective. It focuses on the cases of two austrian journeymen confectioners drawing on their detailed autobiographical records kept at documentations of the University of Vienna – a diary and two autobiographical texts. The older artisan finished his apprenticeship in Vienna during the early 1840s, the younger in Graz during the early 1860s; for a number of years, they both travelled all over german language Europe and beyond it, to the Lowlands, England and France, according to the custom of tramping which remained largely vivid in Central and/or german language Europe despite the weakening / gradual disappearance of the guilds. In the aftermath of the first industrial revolution or in the course of the second one, they both worked in cities and towns, and were still usually living and working in their employers’ (master-confectioners’) households; they worked side by side with (male) colleagues/co-artisans (with whom they also spent much of their spare free time) and shared a room with them in the master’s house ; at the same time they worked under their employers’ strict supervision, they often ate at the same table with the master artisans’ family members and occasionally developed strong emotional ties with them. Their work took place at home following pre-industrial customary rules and within the context of personal, “pre-industrial” relations between employers and employees. The paper will examine such living and working conditions making comparative references to domestic industry and trying to assess the meaning of “work at home” in different socio-economic settings.


Homework as a coping strategy. Cottage industry and urban poverty in Helsinki, 1880-1950

Leena Enbom, University of Helsinki (Finland)

Late 19th century Helsinki was a rapidly growing city at an early stage of urbanization. Contrary to most European industrial cities of the time, the early urban economy of Helsinki was dominated by a relatively large service sector, crafts and small industry. This type of industrial structure maintained a large proportion of unskilled casual labour. The insecurity of employment was commonly compensated by homework amongst families with low and irregular incomes. This conference paper discusses the link between urban poverty and cottage industries by examining homework performed by low-income households. The paper will depict the most common forms of homework and their gradual change from the 1880s through the post-Second World War years. Homework is also discussed in the context of informal labour. The hypothesis of the study is that the formalisation of labour market relations narrows down the scene for informal labour and therefore also for cottage industries. This paper explores cottage industry from a micro-historical perspective. Individual case files provided by poor relief authorities are exploited as a major source to reconstruct the everyday life coping strategies of low-income households. The study also shows that different locations provided city dwellers with highly different sources of complementary earnings. Homework performed on urban fringes was far more agrarian by nature than the activities performed in inner city areas. Additionally, city level statistics on labour force are used to estimate the number of individuals involved in cottage industry at different times. The urban economy of Helsinki is seen as an example of the inter-relatedness of a distinctive industrial structure, employment insecurity and the prevalence of homework. These patterns are contrasted with the general industrial and labour structure of Finland – a still predominantly agrarian country during the period examined.


“Should children help their parents with homework? Child labour amidst industrial homeworkers in England, 1870-1914”

Béatrice Robic, University of Paris IV Sorbonne (France)

Building upon the work of Anna Davin and Sheila Blackburn in particular, I will address the issue of industrial homework, which was widespread in late Victorian and Edwardian England, in connection with child labour. I will attempt to shed light on the main characteristics of the industrial employment of children at home by investigating about its extent, the working conditions that prevailed in the homes of outworkers together with the gender division of labour. In the process, I will analyse whether child homeworkers were only to be found in certain sweated trades and locations - as was argued by some witnesses at the Select Committee on Homework appointed in 1907. A review of the debate on the advisability of both homework and child labour in general will lead me to argue that the industrial employment of school-age children was often deemed inevitable in the context of rampant poverty, and perhaps even beneficial. I will next discuss whether the sexual segregation of the labour market may have contributed to the prevalence of child labour among industrial homeworkers. I will analyse some of the arguments according to which child labour in turn may have helped sustain exploitation. Lastly, I will focus on the main challenges faced by the opponents of such an elusive form of child labour, on the remedies that they championed and on the effectiveness of such remedies. To do so I will rely on a wide range of primary sources (official reports, educational statistics, publications by pressure groups as well as newspapers and autobiographies).


How Domestic Were Home Workshops? Evidence from 19th-century France

Anaïs Albert, postdoctoral researcher, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne,
Claire Lemercier, research professor, CNRS (Paris),

Home workshops in 19th-century France have been described as variants of the dominant family model: typically centered on a male worker (taking orders from a merchant and producing with his wife and children) or on a married female worker, sewing at home while her husband worked in a factory. Actual organization patterns were more diverse. The workforce did not necessarily include the whole family and often extended beyond relatives. Patriarchal gendered models of authority and division of labor did not always apply. We use two different sources to describe and make sens of this diversity. The availability of these sources leads us to focus on urban cases and on the 1850-1890 period. Census records allow us to describe households that were also workshops, in Lyon, Dijon, Caen, and Poitiers (one industrial and three commercial cities). We define types of home workshops based on the age, gender, stated occupation, and family ties of those who lived there – the marital status and occupational autonomy of the eldest women in the household plays a central role in this typology. We also emphasize different strategies as regards the labor of teenagers: children of the master/mistress, more distant kin, and non-related "apprentices", "workers", and "servants". Conseils de prud'hommes, courts that dealt with labor disputes, offer us a more direct view of conflicts and opportunities in these diverse types of home workshops. We study apprenticeship disputes in Paris and Bolbec (a proto-industrial region). Apprenticeship disputes questioned the authority of non-parent masters/mistresses in home workshops. The borders between industrial and domestic/care work were often at stake, exposing ambiguities, in the context of the home workshop, between the statuses of apprentice, servant, and child of the master/mistress.

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