An Autoethnographic Account of Gender and Workflow Processes in a Commercial Laundry

  • David Weir


The commercial laundry is of interest as an important institution because it stands at the fulcrum of organised industrial society’s concern with cleanliness and the need to regularly purify clothing, linen, and table coverings and make them fit for social use again. The function of a laundry is to make dirty things clean and re-fit them for their proper function in a social order in which cleanliness is a virtue. This case study uses Douglas’ framework of Purity and Danger to illustrate the central significance of gender and the distinction between heavy and light tasks in mapping the flow of work through the organisation.


  1. Ashforth, B. E., & Kreiner, G. E. (1999). “How Can You Do It?”: Dirty Work and the Challenge of Constructing a Positive Identity. The Academy of Management Review, 24(3), 413–434.Google Scholar
  2. Ashforth, B. E., Kreiner, G. E., Clark, M. A., & Fugate, M. (2007). Normalizing Dirty Work: Managerial Tactics for Countering Occupational Taint. Academy of Management Journal, 50(1), 149–174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Baldamus, W. (1961). Efficiency and Effort. London: Tavistock.Google Scholar
  4. Ball, M., & Sunderland, D. (2001). An Economic History of London, 1800–1914, 1800–1914. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  5. Barr, D. A., & Boyle, E. H. (2001). Gender and Professional Identity: Explaining Formal and Informal Work Rewards for Physicians in Estonia. Gender & Society, 15(1), 29–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bashford, A. (1998). Purity and Pollution: Gender, Embodiment, and Victorian Medicine. New York: St Martins Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. BBC. (2016). Voices: North Yorkshire. Retrieved March 15, 2016, from
  8. Bolton, S. C. (2005). Women’s Work, Dirty Work: The Gynaecology Nurse as ‘Other’. Gender, Work & Organization, 12(2), 169–186.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cook, S. (2012). Top 10 Mumbai Attractions: The Best Things to See and Do in Mumbai: – India Travel. Retrieved August 17, 2012, from
  10. Cryer, P. (2016, March 16). The Bagwash: Forerunner of the Laundrette.
  11. Delamont, S. (2007). Arguments Against Auto-Ethnography. Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, Institute of Education, University of London, September 5–8.Google Scholar
  12. Domosh, M. (2003). Pickles and Purity: Discourses of Food, Empire and Work in Turn-of-the-Century USA. Social & Cultural Geography, 4(1), 7–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Donaldson-Evans, M. (1992). The Morbidity of Milieu: L’Assomoir and the Discourse of Hygiene. In A. Tourmayon (Ed.), Literary Generations: A Festschrift in Honour of Edward D. Sullivan (pp. 150–162). Lexington, KY: French Forum.Google Scholar
  14. Douglas, M. (1966). Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo. New York: Praeger.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Finnegan, J. (2001). Do Penance or Perish: Magdalen Asylums in Ireland. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Florence, M., & Fortson, E. (2001). Sex at Work: Making Sense of Attraction, Orientation, Harassment, Flirtation and Discrimination. Aberdeen: Silver Lake Publishing.Google Scholar
  17. Fonrobert, C. E. (2002). Menstrual Purity: Rabbinic and Christian Reconstructions of Biblical Gender. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Geertz, C. (1973). The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  19. Goffman, E. (1961). Asylums. Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates. Harmondsworth: Penguin.Google Scholar
  20. Gutak, B. A., Nakamura, C. Y., Gahart, M., Handschumacher, I., & Russell, D. (1980). Sexuality and the Workplace. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 1(3), 255–265.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hall, P. G. (2002). Cities of Tomorrow: An Intellectual History of Urban Planning and Design in the Twentieth Century. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.Google Scholar
  22. Hearn, J., & Parkin, W. (1995). Sex at Work: The Power and Paradox of Organisation Sexuality. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  23. Hughes, E. (1962). Good People and Dirty Work. Social Problems, 10(1), 3–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hunt, J. (1984). The Development of Rapport Through the Negotiation of Gender in Field Work Among Police. Human Organization, 43(4), 283–298.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Irigaray, L. (1985). This Sex Which Is Not One (trans. Porter, Catherine). New York: Cornell University.Google Scholar
  26. Isaaksen, L. W. (2002). Toward a Sociology of (Gendered) Disgust: Images of Bodily Decay and the Social Organization of Care Work. Journal of Family Issues, 23(7), 791–811.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Korczynski, M., Robertson, E., Pickering, M., & Jones, K. (2005). ‘We Sang Ourselves Through That War’: Women, Music and Factory Work in World War Two. Labour History Review, 70(2), 185214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kreiner, G. E., Ashforth, B. E., & Sluss, D. M. (2006). Identity Dynamics in Occupational Dirty Work: Integrating Social Identity and System Justification Perspectives. Organization Science, 17(5), 619636.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kristeva, J. (1980). Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection (trans. S. Roudiez, Leon). New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Mars, G. (1982). Cheats at Work: A Typology of Workplace Crime. London: Allen and Unwin.Google Scholar
  31. Nayak, A., & Kehily, M. J. (2006). Gender Undone: Subversion, Regulation and Embodiment in the Work of Judith Butler. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 27(4), 459–472. Special Issue: Troubling Identities: Reflections on Judith Butler’s Philosophy for the Sociology of Education.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Pillow, W. (2003). Confession, Catharsis, or Cure? Rethinking the Uses of Reflexivity as Methodological Power in Qualitative Research. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 16(2), 175–196.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Plotnicov, L. (1973). Anthropological Field Work in Modern and Local Urban Contexts. Urban Anthropology, 2(2), 248–264.Google Scholar
  34. Roberts, M. (1994). Laundry. In During Mother’s Absence (pp. 121–129). London: Virago.Google Scholar
  35. Rosen, U. (2008). Rational Solution to the Laundry Issue: Policy and Research for Dayto-Day Life in the Welfare State. No. 133 Cesis Series the Royal Institute of Technology Centre of Excellence for Science and Innovation Studies (CESIS), Sweden.Google Scholar
  36. Roy, D. F. (1959). Banana Time: Job Satisfaction and Informal Interaction. Human Organization, 18(04), 158–168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Sandefur, R. L. (2001). Work and Honor in the Law: Prestige and the Division of Lawyers’ Labor. American Sociological Review, 66(3), 382–403.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Scapp, R., & Seltz, B. (1998). Eating Culture. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.Google Scholar
  39. Schutz, A. (1944). The Stranger: An Essay in Social Psychology. American Journal of Sociology, 49(6), 499–307.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Ten Bos, R., & Rhodes, C. (2003). The Game of Exemplarity: Subjectivity, Work and the Impossible Politics of Purity. Scandinavian Journal of Management, 19(4), 403–423.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Triandis, H. C. (1996). The Psychological Measurement of Cultural Syndromes. American Psychologist, 51(4), 407–415.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Trist, E., & Bamforth, K. (1951). Some Social and Psychological Consequences of the Longwall Method of Coal Getting. Human Relations, 4, 3–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Van Herk, A. (2002). Invisibled Laundry. Signs, 27(3), 893–900.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Walkowitz, J. R. (1982). Prostitution and Victorian Society: Women, Class, and the State. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  45. Wang, J. (2004). Race, Gender, and Laundry Work: The Roles of Chinese Laundrymen and American Women in the United States, 1850–1950. Journal of American Ethnic History, 24(1), 58–99.Google Scholar
  46. Wasserfall, R. R. (1999). Women and Water: Menstruation in Jewish Life and Law. UPNE.Google Scholar
  47. Williams, C. L. (1995). Still a Man’s World: Men Who Do “Women’s Work”. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  48. Williams, C. L., & Dellinger, K. (2010). Gender and Sexuality in the Workplace: Contributions to Technological Advancement: Volume 10 of Research in the Sociology of Work Series. Bingley: Emerald Publishing.Google Scholar
  49. Yang, J. (1999). Vanishing Sons: The Chinese Laundry Workers at 1813 Seventh Street Sonoma, California. M.A. thesis submitted to Sonoma State UniversityGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Weir
    • 1
  1. 1.York St John UniversityYorkUK

Personalised recommendations