“For home and country”: Colonial social reproduction and the Alberta Women’s Institute, 1909-1930
Social reproduction has been a concern of Marxist feminist theorists and geographers for decades. In the most basic terms, social reproduction refers to the paid and unpaid labour that reproduces daily and intergenerational life within a social formation. Indigenous and anti-colonial scholars have demonstrated that social reproduction and the “domestic sphere” are also key spaces in which colonial relations are re/produced both through gendered-racialized strategies of elimination, and the regulation of reproduction among colonial women and men. Less scholarship to date has examined the historical geographies of colonial social reproduction in the Canadian context. This presentation will offer an analysis of Women’s Institutes in Alberta between 1909-1930, and their role in shaping early colonial relations and a racialized-gendered settler sense of place in the making of western Canada. These Institutes were initiated to teach settler women the knowledge of “domestic sciences” and “Canadian values” as a means of improving settlement living conditions, and to foster mutual support and national identity among early rural settlers. At the provincial, national, and local levels, the Institutes promoted a politics of recognition and property rights for women and were closely associated with the early maternal feminist movement in Canada. Yet, as this presentation will show, they were also instrumental in the enactment of provincial eugenics legislation, reactionary anti-immigration policies, and a national identity built around British supremacy. Using archival documents and other historical data, I will argue that the Women’s Institutes demonstrate the centrality of the home and domestic spaces in the reproduction of gendered and racialized colonial relations. Rather than construing the activities of the Institutes as contradictory, I show that they can be understood as falling within the realm of colonial social reproduction, or the valued and unvalued labour that is vital in reproducing and extending the project of colonization. Ultimately, the presentation reiterates calls to attend to processes of social reproduction in settler colonial studies and geographies.