"For ever and ever": Child-raising, domestic workers and emotional labour in twentieth century Britain

Abstract

The relationships of physical and emotional labour which exist between children, parents and domestic workers are historically fluid. Different styles of parenting, discourses of social class, and material contexts of care have given rise to very diverse degrees of delegation of childcare to servants. Servants themselves have often invested emotionally in their relationships with children, and the relationship has clearly not been simply commodified in being delegated. However, the relationships that result have sometimes been troubled and ambivalent. A simple narrative of exploitation does little to capture the experiences of servants who cared for children, and the recent historiography of emotions and emotional labour can help to trace a fuller picture. In this paper, I examine the roles of laughter as a form of emotional expression that can shed light on the affects of care – the shared jokes, failed jokes and forms of mockery that characterised the management of servants by mothers who employed them, or the experiences of servants and children in late nineteenth and twentieth century servant-keeping houses.

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Delap, L., (2011) “"For ever and ever": Child-raising, domestic workers and emotional labour in twentieth century Britain”, Studies in the Maternal 3(2), 1-10. doi: https://doi.org/10.16995/sim.64

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Lucy Delap

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