I read this article on the advice that it would help me make an argument I’m working on regarding the Middle Ground. Turns out the article is more relevant to my interests than the Middle Ground is by far. (Particularly my attempts to criticize Negri et al on so-called biopolitical production (or a recent biopolitical stage within the history of capitalism) and historical novelty as implying bad theoretical views on domestic labor. Come back to this later in reference to the notes on Althusser’s treatment of reproduction.)

Notes on Jeanne Boydston, “To Earn Her Daily Bread: Housework and Antebellum Working-Class Subsistence”, Radical History Review 35 (May 1986): 7-25

“Historians have generally described the coming of industrialization in terms of changes in paid workd. The transformation has been framed as one from a community of comparatively independent producers to a class of wage-workers, forced for their survival to sell labor as a commodity on the capitalist market. This approach defines the problem of antebellum working-class subsistence as a question of pay. (…) Certainly, this emphasis reflects the way in which paid workers themselves formulated the problem of household survival. when the Philadelphia cordwainers complained in 1805 that the “pittance of subsistence” they received in wages was inadequate to provide “a fair and just support for our families” they expressed a conflation of “subsistence” and “wages” that was common among antebellum wage-earners. The clearest and most consistent statement of that conflation was in the growing insistence upon a “family wage.” A demand for a wage for husbands high enough to eliminate the need for daughters and wives to work for pay, the “family wage” was based on an assumption that cash income constituted the entirety of family subsistence”.(8.)

“Among the key economic resources of antebellum working-class households was housework itself – the unwaged (although not always unremunerated) labor that wives performed within their own families. (…) [T]heir labor represented a substantial economic benefit – both to their families and to the employers who paid their husbands’ wages. Beyond the household, the value of housework accrued to the owners of mills and factories and shops, who were able to pay “subsistence” wages at a level which in fact represented only a fraction of the real price of workers’ survival.” (9.)

Boydston notes that “Marx assumed that the working class bought its entire subsistence on the market” – subsistence defined as “the labour-time necessary for the production [and reproduction] of labour-power” (bracketed addition is Boydston’s). “Having thus conceptually limited “subsistence” to what had to be purchased with income, Marx made a parallel limitation to the concept of “necessary labour-time” to labor-time that earned money.” (9.)

“Housework (…) was exchanged directly with subsistence, in the manner of barter, within the family. Nonetheless, the cooking and cleaning, scavenging and borrowing, nursing and mending and child-rearing which made up housework clearly was necessary to produce a husband’s labor-power. In other words, it was constituent in the total labor-time represented by the commodity – labor-power – the husband would sell on the market.” (10.)

“As a feme covert, a wife’s legal identity was subsumed under that of her husband, who was recognized as the owner of her labor-time, the products of that labor-time, and any cash realized from the sale of either the labor or its products. However much individual males acknowledged wives’ economic worth, the tradition of law identified that worth with the husband. Thus, Marx’s assumption, throughout Capital, that the “possessor” of labor-power and “the person whose labour-power it is” were one and the same person was historically inaccurate for housework in America from the beginning of English settlement.” (11.)

Boydston discusses a shift from husband’s as owners of the labor of the whole family to husband’s being viewed as the sole laborers in the family – appropriation of unwaged labor continues to happen, but it’s no longer recognized as labor. “[W]orking class men appear to have first expressed the conflation [of subsistence with wages, and of their part of household labor with the whole of household labor] in the course of attempting to articulate and protest changes in the nature and status of their own labor.” (12.)

“[I]n the context of a society in which men’s “ownership” of the family labor-time had already been transformed into a perception that men were the only laborers in the family economy, the “family wage” ideal worked to reinforce the invisibility of the wife’s contribution. As workingmen searched for a language through which to express the brutalization of the paid workforce and the deterioration of their standard of living, the “family wage” ideal incorporated an ideal of female domesticity, including a distinction between women’s household activities and economic labor.” (13.)

“Working-class wives worked not only to avoid spending money altogether, but also to reduce the size of necessary expenditures. Important for both of these ends was the maintenance of friendly contacts with neighbors, to whom one might turn for goods or services either as a regular supplement to one’s own belongings or in periods of emergency. New to a building, neighborhood, or community, a woman depended upon her peers for information about the cheapest places to shop, the grocers least likely to cheat on weights and prices, and the likely spots for scavenging. Amicable relations with one’s neighbors could yield someone to sit with a sick child or a friend from whom one could borrow a pot or a few pieces of coal.” (14.)

“Working class wives also provided the bulk of the labor necessary to transform raw materials into items that the family could consume.” “It was not uncommon for working-class wives also to be responsible for bringing some acsh into the household economy.” (15.)

Much of the money gaining activities of working class wives was obfuscated. “Virtually every wife whose husband worked in close proximity to the household (be he a tailor or a tavern-keeper) was expected to contribute labor as hist assistant. In this capacity, her portion of the labor was seldom distinguished by a separate wage or fees paid directly in her name.” (16.) The same goes for women taking in and laboring at home for boarders.

“The distinction between “paid labor” and “housework” implied in nineteenth-century men’s yearning for the domestic ideal persisted in later nineteenth century analyses of women’s unpaid labor and was eventually replicated in Capital. Because wives’ work was largely unpaid, and because husbands came to the marketplace as the “possessors” of their wives’ labor, Marx did not address the role of housework in the labor exchange that led to surplus value. Neither did he attend to the dynamics which permitted the husband to lay claim, in the price of his own labor, to the value of his wife’s work.” (17.)

“Because of her need for access to cash” – and because of gendered pay differentials which formed obstacles to opting out of marriage – “the wife’s dependence on a wage-earner within the family was particularly acute.” “Historians have frequently analyzed the working-class family as a collectivity, run according to a communal ethic. But by both law and custom the marital exchange was not an even one. Finally the husband owned not only the value of his own labor-time, but the value of his wife’s as well – as expressed, for example, in cash or cooked food, manufactured or mended clothing, scavenged dishes or food, and in children raised to an age at which they, too, could contribute to the household economy.” (19.)

“Husbands were not the only ones to benefit from the economic value of housework and from its invisibility. Employers were enabled by the presence of this sizeable but uncounted labor in the home to pay both men and women wages which were, in fact, below the level of subsistence.” (20-21.)

“Although there is no evidence that capitalists consciously thought of it in this way, it was clearly in the interests of capital for housework to remain invisible. Following the lines of Marx’s analysis, some scholars have concluded that, since it was unwaged, housework could not have created surplus value – that there must be a discrete exchange of money for that process to occur. Marx recognized, though, that the nature of the individual transaction was less important than its part in the general movement of capital.” (21.)

“In the case of housework, which Marx did not examine, it was the very unwaged character of the labor that made it so profitable to capital. Traded first to the husband for partial subsistence, it then existed in the husband’s labor as an element of subsistence made available to capital for free. (…) it had a value without a price.” (22.)

See Christine Stansell, “Women, Children, and the Uses of the Streets: Class and Gender Conflict in New York City, 1850-1869”, Feminist Studies 8/2 (summer 1982) 312-13.

Dana Frank, “Housewives, Socialists, and the Politics of Food: The 1917 New York Cost-of-Living Protests”, Feminist Studies 11/2 (summer 1985) 255-85

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, “‘A Friendly Neighbor’: Social Dimensions of Daily Work in Northern Colonial New England,” Feminist Studies 6/2 (Summer 1980) 392-405

Joan M. Jensen, “Cloth, Butter, and Boarders: Women’s Household Production for the Market” The Review of Radical Political Economics 12/2 (Summer 1980) 14-24

Ruth Schwartz Cowan, _More Work For Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave_

Margaret Coulson and Branka Magaš and Hilary Wainwright
“‘The Housewife and her Labour under Capitalism’—A Critique”

Enclosures, Common Rights, and Women: The Proletarianization of Families in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries, Jane Humphries, The Journal of Economic History, Vol. 50, No. 1. (Mar., 1990), pp. 17-42.

“Just a Housewife”: The Rise and Fall of Domesticity in America by Glenna Matthews

Never done : a history of American housework by Susan Strasser