You are here: Home Research Junior Research Groups Dependency, Gender and Labour in the Household

Dependency, Gender and Labour in the Household

Junior Research Group Leader: Dr. Hanne Østhus

Over the last thirty years, historians and economists have demonstrated the value of employing the household as a starting point when investigating social and economic relations of the past and present, where in the household is used as a basic analytic unit and understood as a basic societal organizational unit, consequently not excluding work performed outside the confines of the house itself. The Junior Research Group (JRG) utilizes such insights to explore labor relations and particularly labor-related asymmetrical dependencies within historical households. These include different types of work and workers with different types and degrees of autonomy such as house slaves, domestic servants and indentured servants, but also encompass individuals on less (or no) formal work contracts, such as children and kin. As workers who lived with their employers they challenge the dichotomies encompassed in modernization theory of home and work, and of subsistence labor and commodified labor as separate.

Central Aims:

As feminist and gender historians have shown, power and authority in the household was (and is) structured around gender and race/ethnicity, often with intersections between the two and with other categories such as age, status and kinship. The aim of the JRG is to combine this acuity with recent developments within global labor history that have explored the practices and composition of free and unfree labor relations in order to produce novel insights into both labor and gender history. By taking the household and the workers within it as starting point, we investigate if and how the household produced particular kind of labor dependency/ies. For example, did living with the employer/master mean that the worker/servant/slave was more easily surveyed and thus controlled than other workers? How did such dependencies connect with organization of labor outside the household of the master, and what role did gender and race play here? Research on chattel slavery in eighteenth and nineteenth century-America, for instance, has shown how lighter-skinned slaves were recruited to work in the house instead of in the field. The household will thus be understand and studied as a contact zone of i) gender, race/ethnicity, age, and class/status, and ii) different (at times co-existing) labor relations (slavery, wage labor, informal labor etc.), and, iii) subsistence and commodified labor. The coordinator's research is particularly focused on domestic service and slavery in preindustrial Denmark-Norway. The PhD students can address the theme of asymmetrical dependency and labor in the household during a wide variety of periods and geographical areas in order to facilitate comparisons, which is an aim and advantage of the cluster as a whole. Examples here can include explorations of domestic servants in early modern Japan, house slaves in ancient Greece, or house serfs in medieval Europe. In addition, the JRG seeks to contribute to the cluster's theoretical exploration of the term "asymmetrical dependency" by comparing it to and utilizing insights from gender historian's research on relatable terms, in particular power and authority.

Document Actions