Concepts, Research, Policy
Elgar original reference
Edited by Sylvia Chant
Chapter 85: The Housewife and the Marketplace: Practices of Credit and Savings from the Early Modern to Modern Era
Beverly Lemire The term ‘thrifty housewife’ conjures up images of an aproned woman making bread pudding from stale bread, or mending the heel of a worn sock – and that is certainly an element of women’s traditional resource management. But there is much more. In the long transition to an industrial society, women mediated between household and market, developing key strategies in the administration of credit and savings. Until recent years, these gendered talents escaped the notice of economists and economic historians who rather focused on the large prominent businesses whose activities were deemed to signal the zeitgeist of an age. The term ‘economy’ originates with the Greek word for ‘household management’ and we can better understand women’s roles within the evolving economy by recognising women’s liminal functions through their management of credit and savings. The emphasis here is on Western regions during the rise of commercial and industrial capitalism (c. 1600–1900), although timely examples of similar practices will be offered from other societies and contexts. Generations of women managed in a ‘material economy’, where monetisation was partial and imperfect and their ordering of physical resources was of critical importance. The gradual spread of monetised economies and monetised thinking represented a fundamental transformation of process and practice that also reordered domestic priorities. But before this epochal shift, however, the commonest feature of life was scarcity. Thus the careful husbandry of resources, through recycling and reuse, was a necessary and commonplace exercise. Scarcity and the threat of scarcity defined Europe’s material...
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