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Donated time, a tool for analyzing housework and care

This release is available in Spanish.

Matxalen Legarreta, a UPV/EHU sociologist, has studied the distinction existing in terms of gender in time distribution. Taking the view that the tools used so far provide a fuzzy perspective, she is proposing that donated time be used to study housework and care, because it links together a quantitative and qualitative methodology and therefore offers the chance to come up with a more complete perspective.

For many years, the sociologist Matxalen Legarreta has been studying matters relating to housework and care. What strikes her as worrying is that time budget surveys still show such a difference in the time distribution of market work, and of housework and care, in particular, depending on whether it involves a man or a woman. "In fact, when both are taken into consideration, women do one hour more work than men and have one hour less for leisure and social life," explains Legarreta.

She has geared her research and PhD thesis towards examining the factors and reasons behind that time distribution, and she is in no doubt that housework and care display special characteristics. "They are done above all by women, they have poor social and academic recognition, they are based on relationships, they have an affective, moral tinge (sacrifice, guilt, obligation, love, etc.), they are based on the principle of reciprocity, they are distributed according to specific gender studies and they are transversalized by asymmetrical power relationships," she explained.

However, all these qualitative aspects become excluded if time is measured only in hours and minutes, which is what time budget surveys do. That is why Legarreta believes that a critical interpretation needs to be made. "Even though time budget surveys are useful for revealing certain aspects, they are very limited. For example, in the surveys conducted by EUSTAT [Basque Statistics Office], simultaneity is measured, but then it is not taken into consideration. The fact is, housework and care are often done at the same time, and many aspects intervene there (what is given priority, what is regarded as important and what not, etc.), but they are in fact two jobs. So, if that work that is done at the same time is properly measured, the time devoted to housework and care is tripled."

However, Legarreta has not stopped there and has taken this a step further. She was keen to take all the time dimensions into consideration: "As Ramn Ramos, my thesis supervisor, says, time can be taken in four ways: as a resource, in other words, as if it were something that runs out; as a scenario, where time is given and is marked out by timetables and calendars; as a horizon where time cannot be obtained and is changeable; and finally there is embodied time. In the last one the human being is time, and periods of life, women's fertility cycles, etc., are included in that."

Donated time, as a tool for studying

So bearing in mind these time dimensions and the material, moral and political factors that transversalize them, Legarreta has put forward a tool for analysing time distribution: donated time. To achieve this, Legarreta has borne in mind the work of the anthropologist Marcel Mauss. "In Mauss' view, donation meant giving, receiving and giving back." Voluntary work would be an example close to donation.

Understood thus, the view of time is not linear but circular. "For example, as a child a person can receive this from his/her parents; then as an adult he/she gives it to his/her parents and offspring; and in old age will cherish the hope of receiving it from his/her offspring, even though that is not so clear nowadays." That concern is widespread in society and exposes the fact that donation time does in fact exist and has its own rules. In actual fact, shortfalls and concern emerge when the rules are not adhered to.

That is why Legarreta is of the opinion that donation time is an appropriate tool for studying housework and care: "Donation time is of a diverse, plural, non-hierarchical nature and has an embodied dimension, and I believe it is useful for deconstructing myths and for exposing the complexity of the dynamics of the home space. In fact, even though the myth says otherwise, "housework and care are not always done out of love, they are not suited to women, and they do not have to be work offered to one's nearest and dearest."


Contact: Aitziber Lasa
Elhuyar Fundazioa

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