Working paper

Making a place: women in the "workers' city"

URP Working Paper No. 38
Cities and towns suburbs Women Social capital Elizabeth

Beginning with a description of Elizabeth, an outer suburb of Adelaide, as a ‘ workers’ city, this paper asserts the central importance of women's activities, whether in households or wider territories, in the making, defining and defending of place. Against the notion that Elizabeth and places like it were ‘ working man's towns', the paper argues that while men's capabilities as workers and breadwinners were important, it was women within working-class households who performed the more difficult tasks of translating male wages (and their own earnings) into valuable outcomes. In this sense, women organised the successful use of the resources provided by a planned community and the relative prosperity of the post-war long boom. Women also managed the 'outside of the home, its links with the public sphere and with external authorities ranging from credit providers to welfare and tenancy officers as well as its articulation to largely female-maintained neighbourhood and kin coalitions. Accordingly, Elizabeth relied very much on the vigilance and capacity of women. Finally, the paper suggests that the important role now played by women activists in Elizabeth and other working-class suburbs which suffered recession and economic decline since the 1970s is neither simply a product of poverty nor a dramatically new feature of working-class life, but an extension of that established responsibility for local standards and local security, in the context of increased opportunities for participation and for the creation of women' s institutions and initiatives. There are clear implications in this for any attempt to understand, consult or intervene in working-class communities.

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