Reflexivity » Conceptual Baggage »

Conceptual Baggage, Example I: Married Woman's Occupation

Women's domestic unpaid labour has long been neglected and trivialized. The conception of "work" as "occupation" arises in the Italian interviews, making it difficult for some women respondents to identify what they do as "work."

Interviewer: What was your occupation before marriage? after marriage?

Antonella: I have never worked.

Interviewer: How about housework?

Antonella: Sure I did it. I've done that all my life.

Italian Interview #2


Here the term "occupation" is understood as paid labour. Even though the respondent said that she has carried out housework "all my life," it did not occur to her that "housework" is also "work." The excerpt suggests that it is necessary to adopt a theoretical framework that would acknowledge and explore both paid and unpaid labour. To explore the conceptual baggage associated with married women's "occupation" and see if we should modify or abandon the term, we check all eleven Italian interviews. The following exchange, for example, suggests that re-searching is definitely imperative.

Interviewer: What was your spouse's occupation before marriage? After marriage?

Domenico: What kind of work could she do at the age of 14? She had school. After we got married she was a housewife and homemaker. It was hard at first, her cooking that is. She was not used to cooking Italian food. She did not understand Italian at first either. At times, if I had an Italian friend over, and we spoke in Italian, she felt as if we were talking about her. She would go over to our Italian friend's homes and watch them cook. Slowly, she learned.

Italian Interview #10


Domenico on the one hand rebuffs the interviewer's standardized question about his wife's "occupation." On the other hand, he describes her as a "housewife" and "homemaker," followed by clarification that Marie's major responsibilities after marriage included learning to cook Italian food and speak Italian language. Domenico's rebuff and clarification suggest that "occupation" refers to categories of paid employment. He associates his wife with the categories of "housewife" and "homemaker." These concepts do not capture the content and social relations of women's unpaid domestic work. An open-ended question such as, "How did your wife typically divide her time before marriage and after?" Or, "what was your wife's typical daily routine?"

Exercise: "My Mother Stays at Home. She doesn't Work."

Use the follow excerpt to discuss:

  1. how the term "occupation" is understood;
  2. what Laura's routine tells us about "work" and "housework";
  3. how one may further explore the social relationship between "work" and "housework."

Interviewer: What was your occupation before marriage? After marriage?

Laura: I did not work before I got married. Once the war broke out, Italy was fighting against Canada you know, my husband said that I should get a job. At that time he was working at a place that made automobile engines. He made blueprints. They made a car a day there. I worked at the post office too eventually. Everyday of my life, I woke up at six a.m. I went to church, then come home and wash and get the kids ready for school. My husband used to get up at 9 a.m. I would bring him coffee in bed, and then he would get up. I made my husband's lunch in the morning. He did not want me to make his lunch at night and leave it in the fridge. I made his lunch and his morning coffee. He would come downstairs, grabbed his "suitcase" and leave for work in his car. My day ended at midnight or one in the morning. My husband had a car since 1929. There were very few cars back then. He took four men to work with him. They each give him a dollar a week for gas. On Sundays, I would wake up early in the morning, cook, pack the lunch, and we went on a picnic every Sunday in the summer. There were 7 or 8 families who did this together with us. We all brought food and we all ate together. Those were good times. It does not happen that way any more.

Italian Interview #6


Lay down the possible advantages and barriers your specific identity may bear upon your investigation on the issue of "work" and "housework." In two or three paragraphs, use your lived experience to explain one particular aspect of the advantage or barrier.

IdentificationPersonal LocationPossible AdvantagePossible Barriers
Research interest
Personal agenda
Biography and/or beliefs
Socio-economic position

«Process of Reflection Ethnic Assimilation»