Handbook of Employment and Society
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Handbook of Employment and Society

Working Space

Edited by Susan McGrath-Champ, Andrew Herod and Al Rainnie

This Handbook deepens and extends the engagement between research concerned with work and employment and labour geography. It links fundamental concepts concerning the politics of place that human geographers have developed in recent years with the world of work.
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Chapter 10: Competing Geographies of Welfare Capitalism and its Workers: Kohler Village and the Spatial Politics of Planned Company Towns

Kathryn J. Oberdeck


Kathryn J. Oberdeck This chapter offers a case study of spatial politics produced by welfare-capitalist company town planning. Focusing on the town planning efforts of the Kohler Company of Wisconsin, it sets Kohler’s case in the context of diverse objectives that guided company town planning across the globe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Its aim is to illustrate key conflicts over spatial scale, the gendering and racialisation of space and the mutual refashioning of spatial perspectives on the part of employers and workers that grew out of global currents in garden-industrial town planning visible in Kohler Village. The culture of company town planning in which Kohler participated located labour conflict in workers’ daily navigation of neighbourhoods and homes. However, workers challenged the boundaries such plans drew around the scale of ‘home’, how they distinguished industrial from domestic space and how they connected the ‘local’ to wider spatial scales. In Kohler and other welfare-capitalist towns, such conflicts could lead to complex politics of scale, as connections between the local, the national and the global articulated with spatial divisions of private and public, domestic and industrial, along with class, gender, ethnic and racial affiliations. Recognising company town planning in Kohler and elsewhere as an integrated geographical project intertwining strategies of labour control, company publicity and marketing, this chapter examines how wider maps in which company publicity situated the town for marketing purposes helped to provoke particular spatial strategies of labour unrest, as well as shifting geographies of labour– management conflict. When...

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