Chinese Laundry

Chinese laundry480
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One Essay Response

  1. angelaoso says:

    As in a multi-sited approach, this image of Chinese Laundry taken by Rachel Tanur establishes a fruitful dialogue with the image I have presented, adding important elements to further analyse the ongoing contentious tensions between the public and the private spheres and the symbolic and material repercussions these tensions have on gender, economic, and, political inequalities (among others).

    In Colombia we have a saying that says ‘La ropa sucia se lava en casa’ (‘Filthy linen are to be washed at home’). As important cultural markers, sayings illustrate in an essential fashion, the prevailing cultural discourses legitimized by society at large on some issues. Even though its multiple possibilities of lecture, the most basic interpretation of this saying recalls the fact that it is publicly well known that the domestic space, understood also as a hidden one, is where the caring activities take place in order to continue maintaining the public system going on as untouched (Fraser, 2014; McDowell, 1999). The image of the hanging clean clothes is familiar to all of us and in the same way the saying does, it is exactly due to its ordinariness that this image manages to be striking as read through the lenses of gender inequality and social reproduction concepts. Rachel’s image illustrates perfectly the place in the public sphere and public discourse occupied by those who do the social reproduction tasks, not only in China, but all over the world.

    In the image taken by Rachel, clothes are clean and ready to be wear, they have been washed and put out to dry in the outer space, yet, we do not see who did these chores. This fact invites us to problematise the making invisible of those who make possible the reproduction of life and the continuity of social life, not only in a biological sense (by reproducing), but also in an emotional and material way (by cooking, cleaning, etc.). Taking further this strand of thinking, the seminal contribution by sociologist Saskia Sassen can also help us to further analyse this invisibility process of those who carry the social reproduction at the urban scale. When conceptualising Global cities (Sassen, 1991), Sassen characterised them as a ‘dual city’. In this model, the most vulnerable actors of society perform the roles of maintenance, caring, and cleaning, doing the chores before the sun rises, and out of sight of the dynamics of the opposed pole of the dual city, one composed by high qualified jobs in the financial and creative economy.

    Rachel photographs are testimonies of all these tensions that remain vibrant and contentious today. They make me think of Diane Arbus’ famous quote about her teacher’s words ‘It was my teacher Lisette Model who finally made it clear to me that the more specific you are, the more general it will be’ (1972).

    Arbus, D., & Israel, M. (1972). Diane Arbus (p. 3). New York: Aperture.
    Fraser, N. (2014). Can society be commodities all the way down? Post-Polanyian reflections on capitalist crisis. Economy and Society, 43(4), 541-558.
    McDowell, L. (1999). Gender, identity and place: Understanding feminist geographies. U of Minnesota Press.
    Sassen, S. (1991). The Global City: New York. London, Tokyo, 41.