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Wednesday 24 March 2021 14.00 - 16.00
N-3 WOM06 Productive Hierarchies: Negotiating Femininity in the Workplace
Lipsius, 005
Networks: Labour , Women and Gender Chair: Ragnheiður Kristjánsdóttir
Organizers: Gorkem Akgoz, Bridget Kenny Discussant: Silke Neunsinger
Gorkem Akgoz : Nylon Stockings and Machine-Bodies: Negotiating Industrial Productivity and Femininity in Post-war Turkey
Of the 1200 “living machines” at the Cibali Cigarette Box Factory where “working girls with a dizzying speed produce 556,000 boxes daily,” a young girl, Nazmiye Gül stood out with her daily production of 14,000 boxes daily. When asked if it would not have been better to break records ... (Show more)
Of the 1200 “living machines” at the Cibali Cigarette Box Factory where “working girls with a dizzying speed produce 556,000 boxes daily,” a young girl, Nazmiye Gül stood out with her daily production of 14,000 boxes daily. When asked if it would not have been better to break records at school instead, “two tear drops appeared in her long lashes”: Nazmiye had to start working when her family fell into hardship. Her father fell sick and although her entire family, that is her mother and siblings, also worked, they could barely make ends meet. The reporter consoled her by assuring that her labor benefited the homeland and walked away from this working girl “whose hands had no difference from machines.”

When rumours about the introduction of “Luxury Tax” soared the same year, 1949, not only the rich but the fathers of middle-class and poor families were worried because there was a new group of women interested in luxury, i.e. “this incurable disease that eats out the minds and bodies [of the women].” Working girls spent half of their weekly allowance on nylon stockings to live on bread and cheese the rest of the week. It was time for the “Turkish mother, the daughter of Revolution!” to stop wool-gathering and embellishing herself and focus on beautifying her mind to find her true self.

In the pages of the trade union publications in post-war Turkey, one could find numerous such excerpts exemplifying two different tropes on factory women: the trope of “natural feminine productivity” and the trope of “female consumption threatening public morality.” Along this spectrum of unstable representations, factory women were praised for their diligence and high productivity, while at the same time being condemned for their irresponsible and superfluous consumption choices. How did these two tropes co-exist, sometimes even in the pages of the same publication? Were they simply talking about different types within the broader category of factory women? Or did they bear on deeper social processes reflecting the deeper inconsistencies, tensions and anxieties over women’s productive and reproductive labour in a late industrializing economy? Through using trade union publications, industrial magazines, state documents, ILO reports, and women’s magazines, in this paperI ask questions of contextualized political economy as well as discourse on the constitution of female industrial labour in post-war Turkey. (Show less)

Supurna Banerjee : Labouring Femininity: Interrogating Body, Workplace and Skill among Migrant Women Workers
Sexual division of labour is normalized through the construction of labour practices as emanating from certain stereotypical traits of the workers. Unskilled work is, thus, built on and legitimized through stereotypes of masculinity and femininity. Qualities of dexterity, patience etc. are invoked in different work settings, to naturalise these as ... (Show more)
Sexual division of labour is normalized through the construction of labour practices as emanating from certain stereotypical traits of the workers. Unskilled work is, thus, built on and legitimized through stereotypes of masculinity and femininity. Qualities of dexterity, patience etc. are invoked in different work settings, to naturalise these as characteristic to women’s work (e.g. Elson and Pearson, 1981; Kabeer, 1999). Such characterisation foregrounds the woman’s body as central to woman’s labour and the workplace. The notion of femininity on which such gendering is based is however not immutable. Using the lens of migration from one sector of feminized labour to another, this paper interrogates the production of the feminine worker and the workplace in different but related contexts. Through ethnography and interviews I trace women workers from tea plantations in West Bengal, India who migrate then to the beauty industry in Andhra Pradesh and Delhi. Their reflections on their work, skill and workplace allows us an insight into the ways in which the body as the women and the worker is deployed as skill/natural and how they themselves co-construct, negotiate and subvert the construction of femininity and feminine labour in the workplace. (Show less)

Alexandra Ghit : Most-patient Family-auxiliary Workers? Women Laborers, Gendered Skill and Struggle in Romanian Tobacco Cultivation (1918-1948)
The rural proletariat was the most significant category of wage-dependent workers in all of Eastern Europe. In Romania, after WWI this category of laborers was mystified, usually portrayed as independent, small-land-holding peasants. Influential interwar economists hoped to make the peasant household the building block of a “third way” strategy for ... (Show more)
The rural proletariat was the most significant category of wage-dependent workers in all of Eastern Europe. In Romania, after WWI this category of laborers was mystified, usually portrayed as independent, small-land-holding peasants. Influential interwar economists hoped to make the peasant household the building block of a “third way” strategy for Romania’s economic development. Home industry and rural cooperatives were supposed to bring prosperity to a peasantry everyone recognized as impoverished to the point of generalized malnutrition. In this context, the productive and reproductive work of peasant women within patriarchal household economies was ignored by contemporaries in interwar Romania and in subsequent historiographical discourse.

Through a focus on the agricultural component of tobacco cultivation in interwar Romania, drawing on the regional archives of the Autonomous Home of the Monopolies, in my paper I investigate the work of women involved in tobacco leaf cultivation in several regions of Romania between 1918 and 1940. Under what conditions did women work in tobacco cultivation? What kinds of assessment of skill were made concerning their labour? What types of labour struggles characterised the agricultural branch of this state-owned industry? And how were they gendered? How was tobacco women’s work contributing to rural households’ subsistence? And to what extent did their wage work bring an improvement in their existence as humble, overworked, “most patient” members of peasant families? What moments of resistance and opposition defy this portrayal? (Show less)

Bridget Kenny : Embodying the Nation: Femininity, Race and Class of Women Retail Workers in Johannesburg, South Africa, 1940s-1970s
South African working class white women ‘domesticated’ spaces of consumption in Johannesburg’s department stores under apartheid (Kenny 2018). Based on extensive archival and interview research, this paper examines how the embodied labour of white women workers in Johannesburg both relied on their femininity and ensured that the affective labour of ... (Show more)
South African working class white women ‘domesticated’ spaces of consumption in Johannesburg’s department stores under apartheid (Kenny 2018). Based on extensive archival and interview research, this paper examines how the embodied labour of white women workers in Johannesburg both relied on their femininity and ensured that the affective labour of service work was a site of contradiction and contestation, as class and race relations denied working class women forms of expression and activism even as their union fought for recognition of their economic role. When the workforce shifted to black women’s labour in the late 1960s and 1970s, the discourses of embodiment and femininity, too, shifted. This paper shows how the racialised femininity of service labour was bound into notions of nationhood at a critical conjuncture of South African history. The expansion of consumption in the 1960s and 1970s brought cosmopolitan culture to urban South Africans, and retail labour was at the crux of mediating relations with this changing political public. (Show less)



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