Today, it is common to treat every home as a potential business or a speculative asset, every person an entrepreneur, and every relationship a commercial opportunity. While these arrangements offer useful forms of flexibility, they are often accompanied by material precarity and insecurity. This talk grounds the ambiguities of “home-based” work in the 1980s, when the political-cultural regime of the family wage, that undergirded the standard labor contract, became undone. In this talk, I examine regulatory politics surrounding the fate of a New Deal era ban on industrial homework. In the 1980s, garment labor organizers concerned with immigrant sweatshops, Reagan administration labor regulators, and middle-class women, clashed over the significance and desirability of resurgent “home-based” work. While opponents of homework argued that its legalization would erode the foundations of the family wage, foreclose pathways for racial economic inclusion, and exacerbate gendered crises of care, proponents of homework portrayed it as a privatized resolution to the economic and social crises of the family wage, generating surprising appeal. This case suggests that the commercialization of homes was driven not only by market ideology and capitalist competition, but also by social reactions against previous regimes of social protection, which protected unevenly and unequally.
Luis Flores is a doctoral candidate in sociology at the University of Michigan, and holds B.A. degrees in Political Economy and History from UC Berkeley. Spanning economic sociology, comparative-historical methods, urban/regional studies, and social theory, Flores' research is unified by an interest in the regulatory boundaries between home and market, and the impact of these shifting boundaries for labor markets, wealth, and social inequality. His dissertation, The Informal Œconomy: Home-Based Moneymaking After the American Family Wage, examines the contested incorporation of strategies to generate household resources at the margins of waged work, as homes became sites of production, exchange, and speculation. Emerging in the shadows of social science surveys, census statistics, and tax records, Flores' empirical entry point are regulatory contests over labor, land-use, tax, health and safety, and mortgage laws that previously drew sharp boundaries between domestic and market-oriented activity. His dissertation research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the ASA's Minority Fellowship Program, the Stone Center for Inequality Dynamics at U-M, and U-M's Institute for Research on Women and Gender.