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SOCKS: Collective Living for the Japanese Housewife

Part 2 Project 2014
Eugénie Bliah
Architectural Association, UK
‘Cooking food, caring for children and cleaning house, tasks often thought of as “woman’s work” to be performed without pay in domestic environments, have always been a major part of the world’s necessary labour.’ – Linda Gordon, 1977

In order to be productive in the work environment, the domestic must function as a space of reproduction and of rest: beds have to be made, clothes have to be washed and dinners have to be cooked. Indeed, these domestic tasks are typically perceived as the occupation of women. Christian Marazzi describes this intimacy between women and the home with his example of the ‘place for the socks’ in which the housewife naturally puts her husband’s socks ‘back where they belong’. These small gestures of affective labour – a labour of emotion and of care-giving – produce nothing yet enable the economic machine to function.

In this sense, Japanese housewives are the backbone of Japan’s economy, but Tokyo’s most common domestic spaces – the single detached house and the condominium – have degraded their quality of life. These spaces not only isolate the housewife by detaching her from the public realm but also encourage autonomy among family members. More importantly, affective labour has become the ‘natural order of things’.

There is an urgency to rethink ways of dwelling for the future. The ShareHouse, a collective living model for four or eight families, transforms the spatial and social design of housing. Private homes are rented out on a 10-year contract during a couple’s peak child-nurturing years. Spaces such as the kitchen, pantry, laundry area, bathhouse and children’s playroom are shared between the families. The ShareHouse acts as a machine for liberating domestic work by turning it into social work and promotes a non-gendered space with a sense of solidarity between women and men. Consequently, it releases the perceptions of affective labour by bringing it into the foreground.

Eugénie Bliah


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