Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

Making a fur coat: women, the labouring body, and working-class history

Document type Article
Author Sangster, Joan
Journal International Review of Social History
Volume 52
Date 2007 08
ISSN 1469-512X, 0020-8590
Pages 241-270


This article historicizes the making of a fur coat in post-1940 Canada, exploring the social relationships and forms of labour that made the fur coat possible: skinning, sewing, and selling. Focusing especially on women's labour, the author examines the significance of Aboriginal women's work, often unwaged, and seldom recognized in many fur-trade sources, as well as the way in which racial constructions of Aboriginal women intersected with the appropriation of their labour. The wage labour of women in a manufacturing sector dominated by eastern European Jewish immigrants, and by a masculine hierarchy of skill, as well as working women's protests and unionization, are also examined, as is retail selling labour in large and small stores. An exploration of these forms of labour, with a focus on gender, provides insights into discussions about the body and working-class history. While many feminist works have emphasized the cultural and discursive in their explorations of fur, the author argues for a theoretical perspective that fuses a feminist critique of race and gender hierarchies with a materialist understanding of labour, class, and alienation. While embracing a feminist scepticism about the existence of a “natural” body, she argues for the need to avoid the dematerialized body of much postmodern theory in explorations of the body and working-class history.