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The Discovery of 'Unpaid Work': the social consequences of the expansion of 'work'

Listed author(s):
  • Susan Himmelweit


    (Department of Economics, Faculty of Social Sciences, The Open University)

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    This paper questions the dichotomy of work/nonwork. It examines the way in which the category of work was expanded by feminists and economists to include much domestic activity, and considers some of the consequences of this expansion. It argues that the discovery of unpaid "work" involved an uncritical application and validation of a concept of work abstracted from a model of commodity producing wage labor in manufacturing. However, this concept excludes much of what is distinctive about domestic activities, such as their caring and self-fulfilling aspects. Inequality between households has become a conduit for the construction of needs in a form in which "work", and in particular work for money, is needed to satisfy them. Some consequences of this tendency are examined together with the policy concerns which would need to be addressed in order to mitigate its deleterious effects. The development of a feminist economics which transcends the polarization of life into "work" and "nonwork" is argued to be vital in this process.

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    Paper provided by The Open University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Economics in its series Open Discussion Papers in Economics with number 6.

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    Date of creation: Jun 1995
    Publication status: Published in Feminist Economics, Volume 1, Number 2, July 1995, pp. 1-19(19)
    Handle: RePEc:opn:wpaper:6
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