Home economics

Domestic service and gender in urban southern Africa

Hepburn Sacha
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Home economics offers an innovative, comparative history of domestic service in southern Africa’s post-colonial cities. Focusing on Lusaka and drawing wider comparisons, it provides the first in-depth study of domestic service in Black households in the region. Drawing on rich oral histories and diverse documentary sources, it develops a new theoretical approach which, for the first time, brings wage and kin-based domestic labour and child and adult workers into a single frame of analysis. In so doing, it challenges the narrow focus of existing scholarship and policymaking and breaks new ground in the theorisation of work. The book traces how Black employers and workers adapted existing models of domestic service rooted in colonial labour relations and African kinship structures, revealing how waged domestic service was gradually undermined by increased reliance on extended family networks and the labour of young female kin. It demonstrates how women and girls pursued employment in and came to dominate both kin-based and waged domestic service. It also explores efforts to regulate and organise these largely informal and intimate forms of work, and the gendered and generational impacts of such interventions. This rich and timely study provides essential insights into the nature of gender, work, and urban economies across southern Africa. It reveals the strategies that children, women, and men have pursued to support themselves and their dependants in the face of economic decline, precarious employment, and stark inequalities, and shows how gender, age, class, and kinship have shaped work within and beyond the home.

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