The Significance of Gender in the Irish Linen Industry

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Gray, Jane. (1993) “Rural Industry and uneven development: The significance of gender in the Irish Linen Industry.” Journal of Peasant Studies; Jul1993, Vol. 20 Issue 4, p590-611, 22p.

In this article, Dr. Jane Gray takes a gives sociologist’s look those trying to catalog Irelands economical history into the rural industrialization of Ireland’s linen industry during the mid-eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Dr. Gray describes how the spinning, knitting, and weaving of flax and yarn were very advantageous in communities of the time period. She details how Ireland’s linen industry differed from linen industries seen in other successful countries at the time, like Great Britain, in the hesitation of the Irish to turn to machines. While other countries were reaping affects of the industrial revolution, Ireland was cashing in on a different type of labor. This was the labor done be rural families in their own individual households. The author uses historical evidence to support her thesis that the Irish linen industry expanded on the basis of an unequal exchange between areas which specialized in women’s work - spinning - and areas which specialized in men’s work - weaving.

The author uses historical evidence to further develop her thesis by showing that the availability of cheap yarn, which was being spun by the women and children; the significantly lower wages given to these women; and the long lasting attempt to maintain hierarchical relations of production between women and men expedited class differentiation and capital accumulation in the weaving industry. It was very interesting to discover that the reason Ireland made the switch to machinery in the linen industry much later than other nations was largely due to Ireland owning the cheapest yarn prices because the cheap price of labor for spinners. The author explains that the labor intensive nature of spinning meant that “woman’s work” was essential to the very prosperity of these weaving...
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