Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

"Keeping the Kids out of Trouble": Extra-Domestic Labour and Social Reproduction in Toronto's Regent Park, 1959-2012

Document type Thesis
Author James, Ryan Kristopher
Degree Ph.D., Social Anthropology
Publisher York University; Toronto
Date 2017
Pages 332 pages


This dissertation is an historical ethnography of social reproduction in Regent Park, Canada's first public housing project. Built from 1948 to 1959 as part of a modernist slum clearance initiative, Regent Park was deemed a failure soon after it opened and was then stigmatised for decades thereafter, both for being a working-class enclave and for epitomising an outdated approach to city planning. A second redevelopment began in 2005, whereby the project is being demolished and rebuilt as a mix of subsidised and market housing, retail space, and other amenities. Despite its enduring stigmatisation, however, many current and former residents retain positive memories of Regent Park. Participants in this study tended to refer to it as a community, indicating senses of shared ownership and belonging that residents themselves built in everyday life. This dissertation emphasises the capacity of working-class people to build and maintain community on their own terms, and in spite of multiple and intersecting constraints. To theorise community-building, I begin from the concept of social reproduction: the work of maintaining and replenishing stable living conditions, both day-to-day and across generations. Much of this work is domestic labour unpaid tasks done inside the household such as cooking, cleaning, and raising children. In Regent Park, social reproduction demanded even more of residents: the stability of households was often threatened by dangers and challenges unique to life in a stigmatised housing project, and it was largely left up to residents themselves to redress these. To account for the considerable effort this involved, I propose a concept adjacent to domestic labour that I call extra-domestic labour: unpaid work done outside the household, usually through informal collaboration among members of different households, that is necessary for social reproduction. Extra-domestic labour built community and fostered a territorial solidarity that, I argue, is the primary means through which Regent Parkers developed class consciousness. This was often expressed through emic class categories, which were defined in relation to the locality more so than the workplace, and through which people interpreted their position in the wider social order.