Hidden seeds : a political economy of working class women in Campbelltown, NSW

by Helen Masterman-Smith

Institution: University of Western Sydney
Department: School of Humanities
Degree: PhD
Year: 2005
Keywords: women; employment; New South Wales; Western Sydney; employment (economic theory)
Record ID: 1059910
Full text PDF: http://handle.uws.edu.au:8081/1959.7/24900


This thesis examines the political economy of working class women in contemporary Campbelltown (NSW). A broad political economic approach is employed that considers relevant social structures, their effects, and working class women’s responses to them. It includes investigation of material and non-material, subjective and objective, aspects of this dialectical relationship. This study argues the political agency of Australian working class women has rarely been acknowledged, let alone understood. The thesis focuses on working class women in the suburbs and their politics of everyday life. Though these women rarely attract political investigation, they are too often assumed to be passive, apathetic, unenlightened or conservative bearers of oppression. These stereotypes persist despite the variability in historical portrayals of working class women, suggesting working class women’s politics only makes sense in the context of their conditions of existence in specific times and places. The thesis makes a contribution towards the field of applied feminist political economy research. It employs a historical materialist approach to demystify working class women’s politics. The empirical heart of the project draws on in-depth interviews with local working class women about their experiences and views of family, community, politics, work, unemployment and social institutions. This qualitative material is set against a detailed local political economic analysis of contemporary Campbelltown. The interconnections of capitalist and non-capitalist modes of production in which working class women labour, survive and resist are explored. The thesis questions what part capitalism and socialism play in their pursuit of self and social emancipation. Understanding the political economy of working class women is fundamental to social and ecological health and sustainability. Questions of class power and conflict, and gendered distributions of work and poverty locate working class women at the core of these pressing concerns. The central hypothesis of this study is that working class women are engaged in a wealth of political strategies stemming from their everyday bid for survival. Their (often contradictory) collective and self-activity coalesces around a politics antithetical to the logic of capitalism because it depends on their exploitation and immiseration for its viability. Working class women practice and reproduce a politics of survival and hope that informs their hidden worlds of resistance. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)