Gender, Work and Economy: Unpacking the Global Economy

Elisabeth Anna Günther (Department of Labour Science and Organization, Institute of Management Science, Vienna University of Technology, Vienna, Austria)

Gender in Management

ISSN: 1754-2413

Article publication date: 5 May 2015



Elisabeth Anna Günther (2015), "Gender, Work and Economy: Unpacking the Global Economy", Gender in Management, Vol. 30 No. 3, pp. 265-268.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited


“Migrar también es abrir el mundo. Si decides hacerlo, hazlo en el pleno uso de tus derechos” To migrate also means to open the world. If you decide to do so, do it in the full use of your rights

Reading Heidi Gottfried’s book Gender, Work and Economy, I had to think about this slogan of a Uruguayan feminist poster campaign. Gottfried’s analytical tools and elaboration on the topic allows one to look behind the campaign slogan and unveil important power structures: First of all, the social location – Uruguayan, feminist organisation – tells something about the necessity on whom to encourage and inform about one’s rights. From this specific Latin American perspective, migration especially labour migration is something, that is happening and cannot be denied despite Western border regimes. As this campaign was launched by a feminist women’s organisation, this also tells us that regardless of widely shared stereotypes, it is not only men who migrate. Hence, the feminist lens used by Gottfried in her book and also embraced in this campaign quote helps us to grasp a broader and more complete picture of global labour and economy. The slogan suggests that there are women who do not use their rights. This suggests an existing power imbalance, an issue which is also addressed by Gottfried in her work. Her close examination of work and economy unveils many starting points to open the world, or to put it in her words:

The future cannot be known; but having the analytical tools to understand the past and to interrogate the present can improve our chances of arriving at a more just future (p. 7).

General outline

So, how does Gottfried provide one with the tools for getting to a more just future? She starts by unveiling the gaps of main theories about work and economy. Due to their gender blindness, important terrains of struggle are overlooked, such as transnational care chains or women’s participation in the labour market. Throughout her book, she examines “how economic transformation plays out across social locations and what effects it has” (p. 3), exposing historical roots of gender segregation and pointing out the reverberations in contemporary labour markets. This is accomplished in a clear and structured way, and the book would allow those unfamiliar with gender research to enter the field.

Content and structure

Gender, Work and Economy is structured in three parts and 12 chapters. Each chapter concludes with a quick summary of key issues. The book guides its readers through fundamental theoretical concepts and a variety of empirical research.

Part I studying Gender, Work and Economy

Following a general introduction, the author presents the main theories of work and economy, drawing on Marx and Weber, as well as key issues of the three different feminist waves. Afterwards, Gottfried outlines her integrative framework, which not only includes class and gender but also a local perspective. Relying on Marxist social geography and post-colonial feminism, the author introduces the analytical concept of territory, which “does not presuppose a particular bounded unit such as the nation state, but rather implies and interrogates the constructed nature of political boundaries” (p. 36).

Part II political economy of Gender, Work and Economy

The second part of the book scrutinizes politics and policies of gender, work and economy in Western contexts, predominantly in the USA. In Chapter 4, the author traces historical roots of contemporary gender segregation. From the Industrial Revolution up to the dawn of the twentieth century, Gottfried recapitulates key processes of segregation and social closure. She portrays social changes by exposing several push and pull factors through – mainly USA – history, e.g. judicial rulings in the 1960s and 1970s which not only impacted women’s participation in the labour market but also to Black workers. In this chapter, Gottfried provides numbers for horizontal and vertical segregation and sheds light on the processes leading to this segregation as well as the gender pay gap, highlighting societal and organisational barriers. In addition, she compares the USA with other Western countries, pointing out their similarities. En passant, the author tackles the liberal myth of self-realisation.

In Chapter 5, the author focuses on a specific and growing part of the economy: the service industry. Drawing, among others, on Hoshschild’s concept of emotional labour, Gottfried illustrates masculinity and femininity in service work. She brings in several studies to show that “(t)he same emotion is treated and interpreted differently when expressed by a woman or a man” (p. 83f). This is problematic, as emotional labour is a key selling point in service work. Following this logic, it is the person which must be standardised and controlled. She traces this phenomenon by analysing inter alia the McDonaldisation of society, whereby some jobs’ existence is geared towards efficiency, standardisation and predictability. This, as it is argued by Gottfried, has pitfalls and limits creativity.

After discussing the “new” economy, Gottfried analyses a specific part of service work: care. Care work is widely gendered and racialised, as is outlined by the author when comparing data from several, predominantly Western countries. Here the feminist lens and the global perspective of Gottfried is crucial: First of all, care work, as most reproductive labour, is mostly unpaid and predominantly performed by women. Interestingly – as Gottfried shows –women in industrialised countries spend less time on housework than women in developing and transitional economics, e.g. in Mexico or South Africa. In this context, one also has to consider the transnational care chain: upper- and middle-class women in Western countries delegate their housework to mostly young migrant women whose children are taken care of by elderly female family members back in their country of origin.

The transnational care chain is one of the many topics which can be found throughout the book. It is also one of the many topics used by the author to make the case for using a feminist lens. If gender is not considered, reproductive labour will not be analysed, despite the fact that it is a very important part of the economy. This negligence may result in missing the trend of reorganisation of re-productive labour, which “fuels the transnational growth and feminization of services and the transformation of employment relationships in the new economy” (p. 117).

In Chapters 7 and 8, Gottfried elaborates more comprehensively on two specific terrains of struggle: the role of the nation state and unions. The nation state plays an important role in maintaining the underlying power processes, such as patriarchy and capitalism. Similarly, whilst unions could be seen as one equality project (Walby et al., 2012) that tries to improve the situation for their members; unfortunately, this leads to a White male policy. Gottfried exemplifies this following the historical roots of unionising in the USA and Japan and unveiling the exclusion of women and marginalised workers, noting that:

(i)n recounting this history, we cannot forget that unions formed and organized in the context of already-existing class and gender structural divides. As organizations representing the interests of their membership, then, it is not surprising that unions promoted and protected their predominantly male members (p. 183).

Part III Gender, Work and Economy in a global context

Finally, in Part III, Gottfried goes beyond international comparison and focuses on a global perspective. She unveils different globalised territories of power struggle and exploitation, like Export Processing Zones (in Chapter 10), which are predominantly dominated by underpaid female workers. In Chapter 11, Gottfried looks closely at the global cities of London, Shanghai and Tokyo. To unveil contemporary dynamics, she examines the upper circuits of finance capital and social reproduction in these global cities. Lastly, Gottfried traces transnational, global movements and unveils new political landscapes.

Concluding comments

Altogether Gender, Work and Economy offers a comprehensive and insight evaluation of contemporary dynamics on these topics. Although sometimes it might seem a little bit redundant, throughout the book, Gottfried proves the vast benefits of a feminist lens. In this book, she provides readers with plenty of insights on historical roots of current phenomena, fruitful theoretical concepts and analytical tools, invigorated with many empirical findings. The book might be of interest not only to students but also to social scientists working on fields of work and economics, who want to grasp the social reality more holistically and wish to examine class, gender and migration dynamics. For feminist researchers, on the other hand, Gender, Work and Economy offers many inspiring thoughts and resources to further develop one’s own research.


Walby, S., , Armstrong, J. and Strid, S. (2012), “Intersectionality: multiple inequalities in social theory”, Sociology , Vol. 46 No. 2, pp. 224-240.

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