Proposal preview

Global Conversations: Gender, Work, and Economic Development

The historical relationship between gender and economic development is central to our understanding of both. This session draws on the insights of development economics and feminist economics in order to assess the central significance of women’s work to early modern economic performance. While development economists see women’s contributions as critically important to economic performance, historians of the economic transitions to ‘modernity’ remain largely wedded to accounts of change that are either gender-blind or privilege male economic activity. The anachronistic categorisation of work, which prioritises paid over unpaid labour and occupational titles over tasks performed, has marginalised women and distorted the roles attributed to men in overly teleological narratives of commercialisation, expansion, and early industrialization in northwest Europe between 1400 and 1800. Over the past decade gender historians have renewed efforts to amass evidence of female economic agency in across the globe. More than simply ‘adding women’ to existing assessments of economic activity, it is becoming clear that attending to the relationship between gender and work requires a fundamental reassessment of the character of economic development, with implications for our understanding of the global processes associated with both the ‘little’ and ‘great’ divergences, as well as what ‘counts’ as economic activity and produces change.

This session grows out of the Leverhulme International Network on ‘Producing Change: Gender and Work in Early Modern Europe’ which is comprised of researchers from across western Europe working on six themes: households, individuals and intermediaries; care; migration; urban markets; rural manufacturing; and the work of war. This double session brings the Leverhulme Network Partners into conversation with historians of women in Africa, Asia, and the Americas, in order to establish a comparative framework both for testing assumptions about the relationship between gender, work and economic performance in European, indigenous, and colonial contexts, and for examining the chronology of changes in the relationship of gender and work. Comparisons between European and non-European ways of organizing gender and work also display some interesting similarities that help develop new understandings of micro and macro developments.

The session is divided into panels on two themes: ‘work, trade and war’ and ‘movement, households and care’.

Organizer(s)

  • Alexandra Shepard University of Glasgow alex.shepard@glasgow.ac.uk UK

Session members

  • Maria Ågren, Uppsala University
  • Anna Bellavitis, Université de Rouen
  • Amy Erickson, Cambridge University
  • Margaret Hunt, Uppsala University
  • Karen Marrero, Wayne State University
  • Sean Redding, Amherst College
  • Alexandra Shepard, University of Glasgow
  • Sasha Turner, Quinnipiac University

Discussant(s)

  • Martha C Howell Columbia University mch4@columbia.edu
  • Julie A Nelson University of Massachusetts, Boston julie.nelson@umb.edu

Papers

Panel abstract

This session draws on the insights of feminist economics in order to assess the central significance of women’s work to early modern economic performance. This session grows out of the Leverhulme International Network on ‘Producing Change: Gender and Work in Early Modern Europe’ which engages a team of researchers on the following themes: households, individuals and intermediaries; care; migration; urban markets; rural manufacturing; and the work of war. This panel brings the Network Partners into conversation with historians of women in Africa, Asia, and the Americas in order to establish a comparative framework for testing assumptions about the relationship between gender, work and economic performance in European, indigenous, and colonial contexts, and for examining continuity and change in the relationship between gender and work. Comparisons between European and non-European ways of organizing gender and work also display some interesting similarities that help develop new understandings of micro and macro developments.

1st half

African women’s agriculture and state policies in the Eastern Cape, South Africa, 1880-1930

Sean Redding

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries in South Africa, as the British consolidated political control over the region that would become the Union of South Africa in 1910, the economies of the rural areas also underwent various transformations. This paper examines one little-studied facet of the exodus of men to the gold mines around Johannesburg: the way it re-configured the gendered division of labor in the rural areas, such that women became more invested in farming for the market. This paper will discuss the changes in women’s involvement in peasant agriculture in the rural Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal from the 1880s to the 1920s, and the way population movements altered the broader understanding of the African Reserves as the locus of both African woman and African farming. It will also look at key shifts in the way government policies treated and discussed African agriculture in this same period.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries in South Africa, as the British consolidated political control over the region that would become the Union of South Africa in 1910, the economies of the rural areas also underwent various transformations. This paper examines one little-studied facet of the exodus of men to the gold mines around Johannesburg: the way it re-configured the gendered division of labor in the rural areas, such that women became more invested in farming for the market. This paper will discuss the changes in women’s involvement in peasant agriculture in the rural Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal from the 1880s to the 1920s, and the way population movements altered the broader understanding of the African Reserves as the locus of both African woman and African farming. It will also look at key shifts in the way government policies treated and discussed African agriculture in this same period.

War and women’s work in early modern Europe

Margaret Hunt

This presentation aims to expand our thinking about gender, work and war, on, near and distant from the battlefield, and it fills a lacuna in the study of women and work. Early modern European and colonial armies targeted young men, who were among the most productive and (in wage terms) the highest earning group in most European societies. In addition war’s destructive effects changed civilian work patterns, especially those of people in the direct path of armies. However it is also the case that women and communities sought, often successfully, to take advantage of the work and trade opportunities presented by large scale mobilization for war, especially the many new opportunities to a) contract with the military; b) sell formerly ‘domestic’ labor (lodging, food preparation, nursing, sex) in the market; c) and engage in new kinds of trade.

This presentation aims to expand our thinking about gender, work and war, on, near and distant from the battlefield, and it fills a lacuna in the study of women and work. Early modern European and colonial armies targeted young men, who were among the most productive and (in wage terms) the highest earning group in most European societies. In addition war’s destructive effects changed civilian work patterns, especially those of people in the direct path of armies. However it is also the case that women and communities sought, often successfully, to take advantage of the work and trade opportunities presented by large scale mobilization for war, especially the many new opportunities to a) contract with the military; b) sell formerly ‘domestic’ labor (lodging, food preparation, nursing, sex) in the market; c) and engage in new kinds of trade.

Queen of the village- the threat of indigenous women’s work in the eighteenth-century North American Great Lakes

Karen Marrero

In the eighteenth century, indigenous women directed economic and diplomatic activities at locations in the continental interior, ranging from Quebec to the Illinois Country at the Mississippi River. Their ability to procure trade items and their control of the networks by which these goods circulated made them invaluable to their families and communities and to Euro-American and indigenous imperial agents. From the Seven Years War to the first years of the American Revolution, as British, French and North American indigenous nations vied for political and military control of the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley, the women’s activities made them targets of distrust and censure. This paper will consider how women’s work became more dangerous to British imperial aims and therefore more visible in male- authored historical records, while also examining the activities of specific women to recover the means by which they operated as part of extended kin networks.

In the eighteenth century, indigenous women directed economic and diplomatic activities at locations in the continental interior, ranging from Quebec to the Illinois Country at the Mississippi River. Their ability to procure trade items and their control of the networks by which these goods circulated made them invaluable to their families and communities and to Euro-American and indigenous imperial agents. From the Seven Years War to the first years of the American Revolution, as British, French and North American indigenous nations vied for political and military control of the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley, the women’s activities made them targets of distrust and censure. This paper will consider how women’s work became more dangerous to British imperial aims and therefore more visible in male- authored historical records, while also examining the activities of specific women to recover the means by which they operated as part of extended kin networks.

Women in urban craft guilds

Anna Bellavitis

In medieval and early modern Europe, men dominated the urban crafts, but women played a central role in the economy of workshops. Women rarely became masters in the guilds: they were salaried workers, or unpaid and statistically invisible workers in their husbands’ and fathers’ workshops. However, women played the role of intermediaries between masters and female salaried workers, a position that conferred them the title of ‘mistresses’. Any research on the evolution of urban economies must take into account this presence, and relativize the still persistent pattern of the so-called ‘decline-thesis’ from the Middle Ages to the Early Modern times. The focus of the paper will be the role of women's work in the urban economies of Mediterranean Europe in relation to the family systems and the evolution of international markets. Its aim will be to discuss and challenge, from a gendered point of view, the pattern of the ‘little...

In medieval and early modern Europe, men dominated the urban crafts, but women played a central role in the economy of workshops. Women rarely became masters in the guilds: they were salaried workers, or unpaid and statistically invisible workers in their husbands’ and fathers’ workshops. However, women played the role of intermediaries between masters and female salaried workers, a position that conferred them the title of ‘mistresses’. Any research on the evolution of urban economies must take into account this presence, and relativize the still persistent pattern of the so-called ‘decline-thesis’ from the Middle Ages to the Early Modern times. The focus of the paper will be the role of women's work in the urban economies of Mediterranean Europe in relation to the family systems and the evolution of international markets. Its aim will be to discuss and challenge, from a gendered point of view, the pattern of the ‘little divergence’.

2nd half

Early modern migration in comparative gendered perspective

Amy Erickson and Ariadne Schmidt

This paper starts to re-think migration by assessing existing work on population movements in various Western European geographical contexts. Most work on early modern population movement is about male labour migration. This framework has made it difficult for historians to see the significance of gender. Men came, and often left again; women moved to cities and stayed. In many early modern cities women outnumbered men. It is well known that women moved to cities in search of domestic service jobs. But in-depth research suggests that the draw of employment in other economic sectors was equally important for women. Our paper pays attention to regional differences in light of claims about northwest European distinctiveness in marriage patterns and work. By re-conceptualizing economic actors to include women, and by investigating the complexity of urban labour markets, it is possible to understand women’s prominence in labour migration in a new light.

This paper starts to re-think migration by assessing existing work on population movements in various Western European geographical contexts. Most work on early modern population movement is about male labour migration. This framework has made it difficult for historians to see the significance of gender. Men came, and often left again; women moved to cities and stayed. In many early modern cities women outnumbered men. It is well known that women moved to cities in search of domestic service jobs. But in-depth research suggests that the draw of employment in other economic sectors was equally important for women. Our paper pays attention to regional differences in light of claims about northwest European distinctiveness in marriage patterns and work. By re-conceptualizing economic actors to include women, and by investigating the complexity of urban labour markets, it is possible to understand women’s prominence in labour migration in a new light.

The ordering of real labor- open households, individuals, and intermediaries

Maria Ågren

Our understanding of the early modern economy is profoundly affected by the household, which was strongly linked to norms of patriarchal authority, power and social order. Almost by definition, the early modern household seems to be at odds with widespread human agency. Agency is, on the other hand, central to human well-being but also the phenomena we think of as ‘the economy’. This paper reappraises the early modern household by drawing attention to the following circumstances: that decreasing numbers of households were self-sufficient, that mobility was high, that actors and institutions external to the household affected its internal power relations, and that, finally, there were other cultural norms than the ones stressing patriarchal authority. Arguing that households must be regarded as open or ‘permeable’ and that labor relations took many forms, the paper discusses the importance of delegation, dispersed agency, resilience but also inculcation of obedience.

Our understanding of the early modern economy is profoundly affected by the household, which was strongly linked to norms of patriarchal authority, power and social order. Almost by definition, the early modern household seems to be at odds with widespread human agency. Agency is, on the other hand, central to human well-being but also the phenomena we think of as ‘the economy’. This paper reappraises the early modern household by drawing attention to the following circumstances: that decreasing numbers of households were self-sufficient, that mobility was high, that actors and institutions external to the household affected its internal power relations, and that, finally, there were other cultural norms than the ones stressing patriarchal authority. Arguing that households must be regarded as open or ‘permeable’ and that labor relations took many forms, the paper discusses the importance of delegation, dispersed agency, resilience but also inculcation of obedience.

Race, gender, and care in New World slavery

Sasha Turner

Race-based slavery that relied on narratives of care for legitimacy complicates the notion of care as an expression of sentimental and familial bonds. In New World slavery, care delineated white from black womanhood. In addition to asking how racialized slavery shaped the meaning of care and the care giving responsibilities of women, an exploration of care during slavery requires an examination of care as a site of gendered power. Examining care as wedded to the moral and fiscal claims made on the bodies of slaves challenges the assumption that through caring for the enslaved, white women were silent abolitionists and possible allies to the enslaved. White women’s care cannot be disentangled from how their power was shaped by both their property rights in slaves and the elevation of white femininity over black. Care was a site of struggle in the relations between women in New World slavery.

Race-based slavery that relied on narratives of care for legitimacy complicates the notion of care as an expression of sentimental and familial bonds. In New World slavery, care delineated white from black womanhood. In addition to asking how racialized slavery shaped the meaning of care and the care giving responsibilities of women, an exploration of care during slavery requires an examination of care as a site of gendered power. Examining care as wedded to the moral and fiscal claims made on the bodies of slaves challenges the assumption that through caring for the enslaved, white women were silent abolitionists and possible allies to the enslaved. White women’s care cannot be disentangled from how their power was shaped by both their property rights in slaves and the elevation of white femininity over black. Care was a site of struggle in the relations between women in New World slavery.

Care in the early modern European economy

Alexandra Shepard

The work of care has traditionally been treated by historians as an unchanging form of altruism and external to the economy, or as a form of emotional expression, rather than as an historically contingent range of tasks requiring varied time-use. This paper makes the case for approaching care both as an essential resource for survival and well-being that was unevenly distributed, and as a form of work that is historically contingent, with variations in provision depending on place, time, convention, entitlement, dependency ratios and the age structures of different populations. Tracing the history of care as work (both reciprocal and commodified) establishes the complex care economy that underpinned early modern productivity that was fostered by the expanding state as well as the private market. A study of care also sheds new light on the relationship between paid and unpaid work, women’s labour force participation, and labour relations and social inequality.

The work of care has traditionally been treated by historians as an unchanging form of altruism and external to the economy, or as a form of emotional expression, rather than as an historically contingent range of tasks requiring varied time-use. This paper makes the case for approaching care both as an essential resource for survival and well-being that was unevenly distributed, and as a form of work that is historically contingent, with variations in provision depending on place, time, convention, entitlement, dependency ratios and the age structures of different populations. Tracing the history of care as work (both reciprocal and commodified) establishes the complex care economy that underpinned early modern productivity that was fostered by the expanding state as well as the private market. A study of care also sheds new light on the relationship between paid and unpaid work, women’s labour force participation, and labour relations and social inequality.

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