Title: War work
Author: DOWNS, Laura Lee
Citation: Jay WINTER and The Editorial Committee of the International Research Centre of the Historial de la Grande Guerre (eds), The Cambridge History of the First World War, Volume III, Civil Society, Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 2014, The Cambridge History of the First World War, pp. 72-95
What is work? Is feeding and washing a child work? Is soldiering or nursing at the front lines work? Is running a charity or medical dispensary work? Is scrounging for food, or raising rabbits for home consumption work? Since Adam Smith, economists (Marx included) have defined work in terms of the production of material goods. It is a kind of labor that produces things that can be exchanged or transferred to another person via the market, whereas the labor involved in producing services, though clearly important, is not understood to be a part of the economy of production. Indeed, such labor is most often understood as a non-productive form of work, linked to the realm of consumption. But with the massive social and economic mobilization during WWI, the gendered frontiers between work and not-work shifted dramatically inside each combatant nation, as states reorganized their economies around the support of their armies. This chapter explores the consequences of that shift, as women moved, swiftly and massively to the heart of the (paid) war economy in France, Germany, Italy, Britain, Russia and Austria, leaving behind them a deficit in those unpaid services they had been quietly delivering in homes across the combatant nations. At a moment when European states had begun to take a deeper interest in the general fitness and well-being of their individual populations, the sudden deficit in women’s unpaid domestic labor, crucial to the maintenance of the social fabric, not to mention the welfare of the rising generation, would be acutely felt across the combatant nations. As a result, these states were obliged to rethink the boundaries of public and private, work and not-work. This would ultimately shift radically the relationship between state and society, and do so in ways that would endure well beyond the Armistice.
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