Global Economy, Consumer Revolution, Conjugal Household: Reframing Domestic Life in the Ancien Regime

Friday, January 6, 2017: 10:50 AM
Mile High Ballroom 1C (Colorado Convention Center)
Julie Hardwick, University of Texas at Austin
In the 1760s, Jacques Bertin and Marye Delaurys sold parasols and umbrellas out of a shop in the building where they also lived in Lyon, long one of Europe’s most important economic hubs.  Their children’s godparents labored in traditional occupations like surgeon and food preparer, in the city’s vast silk industry, and in the new economy like the spouses themselves who were purveyors of quintessential new consumer desirables. Indeed they were bit players in a global market.   Parasols and umbrellas epitomized the process common to many consumer items where Asian materials and technologies were imported, copied, and adapted.   Yet in 1767, Bertin and Delaurys abandoned their livelihood and their five children.  They salvaged only their own conjugal labor.

Their domestic catastrophe provides a devastating counterpoint to the now classic historiographical scenario that links the consumer revolution as a modern, liberatory vehicle to a new form of sentimental domesticity as keys in shifts to modern democratic, capitalist economies.  The “new family,” with its emphasis on spousal companionship, education and the importance of motherhood and the acquisition of new goods in the “consumer revolution” are framed as vehicles for political liberation and modern subjectivity.   Yet, most families were left out of the consumer revolution: they did not or could not buy such goods and/or their jobs were displaced by the new goods (as in the case of Lyon’s huge population of silk workers whose employment was depressed with the rise of cotton).  This new domesticity was peril-filled for spouses, parents and children and characterized by hard choices.  This paper highlights the frictions inherent in the production-consumption-reproduction nexus as keys to re-framing 18th-century domesticity.