Gender relations within a changing spatial division of labour

Wilson, Brenda (1990). Gender relations within a changing spatial division of labour. PhD thesis The Open University.



Recent industrial location theory argues non-labour factors affecting changes in the spatial division of labour are of diminishing importance since their spatial components are becoming relatively homogeneous. Emphasis upon labour, however, equally tends to view it as fairly homogeneous - spatially differentiated only in terms of skills (taken as given), cost, militancy etc derived from local variation in workforce reproduction; itself influenced by local industrial history. Interest in unique local forms of labour often ignores a major division within labour - gender. It is argued that the social construction of gender and gender relations, like labour, are reproduced in place and thus spatially and temporally differentiated.

A comparison of women's current and historical structural position in the labour force reveals very little structural change over time, despite economic restructuring and the less spatially uneven pattern of women's paid work. Against this scenario, mainstream economic and sociological explanations for sex segregation are subjected to critiques that expose the way labour market theories take sex discrimination in paid work and gender for granted. Whilst feminists have shifted the problematic to the causes rather than effects of sex discrimination and segregation, those accounts rarely incorporate historical and/or spatial dimensions. Equally, geographers rarely encompass feminist perspectives in the analysis of socio-spatial processes. A framework is developed to synthesize these spatial and feminist perspectives so that spatial and temporal dimensions of the social construction of gender and gender relations within production relations can be embraced. Storper & Walker's notion of labour, created and reproduced in place, is placed within Young's conception of a 'gender division of labour' which, under capitalism, is the division of work and home, production and reproduction.

To illustrate variations over time and space, snapshots of two regions, the Cotton region of Lancashire and the Potteries of N. Staffordshire are analysed at two distant points in time: during industrialisation and, through case studies of industries, for the contemporary period of economic restructuring. Whilst the domestic side of the division between home and work is integral to the notion of a 'gender division of labour', the focus here is upon the spatial division of paid labour and the intra-workforce side of that equation. Further, within production, the case studies are drawn from manufacturing activities because it is these, rather than more spatially homogeneous service employment, which still differentiate between places.

A four-way comparison along the axes of space and time demonstrates that gender construction and relations do vary within and across regions. The two study regions throw up a bewildering amalgam of attributes, whose content and gender ascription varies over time and space. These observed dynamic features is, however, the surface phenomena - the effects rather than causes. More important is the way these variations arise out of spatial variations in the pattern and mix of industries within regions and the corresponding sexual composition of the workforces that comprise these industries.

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