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To Wash One’s Dirty Linen in Private: Home by the Analysis of Laundry Care Practises

Noé Klein, Chiara Piazzesi, Hélène Belleau

Research Framework: Our paper is the result of research on social practices and circulation of laundry in Quebec households. By studying the processes of daily laundry management, we analyze boundary work that takes place between individual responsibility and the common burden that this set of domestic tasks represents.

Objectives: Our paper aims to explore the way in which laundry care participates in the spatial, temporal and relational structuring of the “home”. We also seek to study the distribution of responsibilities according to the logics that run through laundry management.

Methodology: We conducted a qualitative survey of 20 people living in couples in Montreal, which involved an individual interview as well as photographic documentation of the different states of laundry among the participants.

Results: Laundry care is an essential element of domestic life that defines the “home” as a space and calls for a rhythmic approach. Despite some attempts to divide these tasks more equally, women are generally given greater responsibility for managing the common laundry, and the arrival of children precipitates a logic of collectivization of tasks around laundry. This has the effect of “imprisoning” women, especially mothers, into a role that is linked to the upkeep of the “home”, in particular by taking care of the common laundry.

Conclusion: Laundry management is made up of a set of practices and logics that participate in the spatial, temporal and relational structuration of the “home”. The fact that women take care of the common part of the laundry shows a persistent link between the feminine and the upkeep of laundry, and by extension of the family home.

Contribution: This article is part of a growing literature that analyzes family and domestic processes in their making through repeated material practices of domestic work, mainly organized along gender differences. Laundry care is rarely the focus of such literature, which is the reason why our article brings a specific contribution to this debate.