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Accepted Paper:

Work time, home-based self-employment and social reproduction: perspectives from the Harris Tweed industry  


Joana Nascimento (University of Manchester)

Paper short abstract:

Harris Tweed is exported worldwide, but it can only be hand-woven at the homes of Outer Hebridean islanders. Considering the intertwinement of production and reproduction, I discuss how the lens of social reproduction reframes self-employed weavers' social lives and experiences of work time.

Paper long abstract:

Trademark-protected since 1910, Harris Tweed can only be hand-woven at islanders' homes in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. Despite this localized production, the famous woollen cloth is exported to over 50 countries, contributing in important ways to local livelihoods in a region threatened by depopulation and described as economically fragile. The industry's unique production model, involving not only mill-workers but also hundreds of self-employed weavers who work from home, has long played an important part in population retention in rural areas, where other employment opportunities are scarce.

The domestic and flexible nature of employment in Harris Tweed weaving, along with its intertwinement with other livelihood strategies and social engagements, have long shaped local experiences of work and life. Drawing on thirteen months of ethnographic fieldwork focusing on the work, workers and workplaces variously involved in the making of Harris Tweed, this paper considers how weavers navigate the challenges and possibilities of self-employment in this industry - which has long been vulnerable to shifts in global markets.

Examining the experiences of home-based self-employed weavers through the lens of social reproduction, I explore how a 'unitary' framework that considers the intertwinement between production and reproduction can illuminate the emergence of different kinds of 'work', and particular experiences and understandings of the value of 'work time'. Locating these experiences of self-employment within local political-economic histories and fluctuating global markets, I discuss how ethnographic research and social reproduction theory can generate more nuanced accounts of the complex social relations involved in contemporary capitalist forms.

Panel P100
Rethinking work, power and social reproduction in and beyond Europe [Anthropology of Labour Network]