The particularities of place: geographies of gendered moral responsibilities among Latvian migrant workers in 1950s Britain



It is now widely accepted that gender relations take a spatially specific form. Distinctive national, regional and local patterns in the ways in which men and women divide paid labour and caring work result in an uneven geography of the total work of social reproduction and, it has been argued, distinctive regional or local gender cultures. It is also clear that the overall gender order and its geography undergo periodic change. Currently in Britain, and in many other industrial nations, the old gender order of industrial Fordism is collapsing and the traditional moral certainties of that period, perhaps most dominant in Britain in the 1950s, are being renegotiated. In the 1950s, women were expected to seek personal development by the direct care of others, whereas men fulfilled their moral obligations towards others by sharing the rewards of their independent work achievements. However, even during the 1950s, there was considerable diversity in the ways in which women and men undertook the social obligations of care and the division of responsibility for the total burden of social reproduction, especially among households in which women's labour market participation was significant. In this paper, drawing on oral histories undertaken with migrant women who came to Britain in the late 1940s from Latvia, I examine the gendered divisions of labour they established in the 1950s and critically assess the significance of spatially differentiated gender cultures for this group.