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Title: Soap and water : cleanliness, class and gender, 1880-1914
Author: Kelley, Victoria
ISNI:       0000 0004 2729 7609
Awarding Body: Royal College of Art
Current Institution: Royal College of Art
Date of Award: 2005
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The aim of this thesis is to examine attitudes towards and the practice of cleanliness in the British working classes between 1880 and 1914. This was a period when the quality of cleanliness was highly valued, partly because sanitary reform activity and the emergence of germ theory had established new links between dirt and disease. In the last decades of the nineteenth century a number of other factors began to change the framework within which the idea and practice of cleanliness functioned. New thinking on the causes and cures of poverty provoked unprecedented interest in the working-class home and the mother's role therein, at the same time as improvements in living standards brought about changes in material conditions, and the rapid proliferation of branded and heavily advertised soaps and cleaning products led to the development of a novel and vigorous commercial imagery of cleanliness. The thesis examines cleanliness through three sets of sources: 'authoritative' or 'civilising' sources, such as social surveys and investigations and household advice literature, working- class autobiographies, and soap advertisements. These three sets of sources are juxtaposed, using theoretical insights from the anthropology of consumption and from 'everyday life', to produce a complex analysis both of competing discourses and of the lived experiences of working-class wives and mothers, in particular. A number of central themes emerge, including class stratification, the changing nature of working-class consumption, and women's work. These are explored through such notions as visibility and invisibility, repetition and regularity, maintenance, the idealisation of the working-class mother, and the spatial arrangement of the working-class home. It is argued that soap advertising - a pervasive, diverse and rapidly changing system of imagery - both reflected and distorted ideas of cleanliness originating in other sources, as well as increasingly influencing its material practice. Advertising embraced contradiction, and simultaneously promoted both modernity and tradition.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available