Plan for the Day
- Discuss Ruth Schwartz Cowan’s “The Industrial Revolution in the Home”
- Preview Technology Projects
Questions for Class
Before we get into Cowan’s article/chapter, we need to get your minds going, so let me ask some questions:
- What is or what defines the middle class? Who are they, what do they look like, where do they live?
- What are some prevailing attitudes surrounding housewives (homemakers) and women’s work?
- List the chores you had to do as a child and the ones you have to do today. What technologies did you use?
- How is Cowan making her case? What common ways does she support her arguments?
- Obviously, the title tells readers they’re going to learn about technological change in the home. However, Cowan appears to have a larger point. Reflect on the conclusion, and come up with what’s behind the surface discussion of housewives of (mostly) Muncie, IN in the 1910s-1930s.
Cowan mentions the phrase “functionalist approach” when referring to past ideas about technology and social change. The functionalist approach follows technological determinism, which claims technology comes about and changes society. We know that’s too simple an explanation. The functionalist approach is somewhat opposed to Cowan’s (and our) sociological approach to studying technology:
- Functionalist approach: The parts of human systems can be studied in isolation without much regard for worrying about the effects of the various parts of the system on the whole. All the various parts contribute to the entirety of the system, society. The goal of study is to try to improve society by identifying what works but not necessarily asking for change/activism. Activism would disrupt the “natural” path to ordering society.
- Cowan’s approach: Human systems are complex webs and we need to compare appropriate parts of society (whether historical or contemporary) to understand. The goal might be to improve society, but it could also just be to describe society and offer possible interpretations. Cowan’s goal is to look at “one kind of technological change affecting one aspect of family life in only one of the many social classes of families” (p. 283). She feels the other approach is making too many sweeping generalizations because it’s trying to have one change affect too much (too many across a diverse land). Also, she doesn’t think they have the appropriate evidence.
- Which is the more postmodern philosophy?
Cowan’s exact research question: “What happened, I asked, to middle-class American women when the implements with which they did their everyday household work changed?” (p. 283)
Below are some key quotations/sections we should address:
- p. 283: Defining middle-class women through magazine readership.
- p. 285: New household technologies eliminated (or reduced the time it took to complete) some chores, but they added new ones.
- p. 286: “marked structural changes in the work force, changes that increased the work load and the job description of the workers that remained. New jobs were created for which new skills were required.”
- p. 287: Decline of free help and “the servant problem.”
- pp. 288-289: Advertising to condition housewives and ‘keeping up with the Joneses’–not a direct quote.
- p. 290: mothers “were willing and able to read about the latest discoveries in nutrition, in the control of contagious diseases, or in the techniques of behavioral psychology.”
- p. 291: Guilt and shame for having stinky children or a bathroom full of invisible germs.
- p. 294: “[F]or middle-class American housewives between the wars [WWI and WWII]…social changes were concomitant with a series of technological changes in the equipment that was used to do the work.”
Preview Technology Project
Let’s preview your Technology Project. This project is worth 200 points–20% of your grade. I have reduced the page requirement, but please know that this is a writing intensive course, so I absolutely have to have writing from you. You have the option to do visual “essays” for this assignment, but, if you didn’t do all the required writing for the other two essays, I suggest you pick an essay for this final project.
This project isn’t going to be a process work–I’m not collecting drafts–so I’m going to be more lenient on it than the previous essays. However, you still must do a presentation based on your Technology Project, and we’ll discuss that next week. Trying to do a synchronous meeting might be too difficult, so, if you’re video savvy, consider recording yourself doing a 4-5 min (no less than 4 min and no more than 5 min) presentation.
Keep up with the reflections on Canvas. Originally, before all this pandemic stuff, we were going to have a writing workshop on Wednesday, April 8th for your Technology Projects. Instead, I’m going to put up some writing style notes to help you improve the efficiency of all your writing.
Next week, we’re reading Hunter Havelin Adams III’s “African Observers of the Universe” for Monday (4/13). This chapter is mainly about who can legitimately claim to be a scientist based on the “rules” set forth by scientific authorities. It’s longer than the other articles, so you’ll need more than 20 mins to read it. A close reading will allow you to reflect more on what the author is saying. More reflection, more chance to relate the ideas to your own experiences. I’ll have a couple video game readings for you on Wednesday (4/15), and that will be the last of our readings.