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Relational history of the gender among local artisans and merchants in the village (19th-20th centuries)


Our thesis focuses on crafts and rural trade between 1890 and 1960, a period corresponding to the peak and decline of these lines of businesses. As such, the working life of several families of small entrepreneurs has been studied: the framework of the small family business managed by a couple supported by their children, with or without an employee, allows the relational history of these workers to be made. Thus, this study reveals the decisive role of women at the head of their own activity or alongside their husbands since they reconcile the work of the workshop or boutique, the children’s education and domestic tasks, without which the family business cannot exist. By discovering the daily lives of these women, we deconstruct the image of the wife assisting her husband in his profession while underlining the very real inequalities in gender relations.A total of 8 eight companies and ten sectors of activity were studied thanks to the multi-activity of families from Drôme and Bourbonnais. The fact that they go through the same stages in their careers—learning, settling in, choosing a spouse, developing work strategies, transferring knowledge—allows for a comparison to be made. The two main companies selected are the Bardet family, respectively a restaurant/café/hotel/ball/grocery shop/ironmongery near Moulins, which operated from 1896 to 1975, an the Thivolle family, respectively a joinery/funeral director/haberdashery/millinery 30 km north of Valence, between 1900 and 1968. In addition, there are six other families of Drome artisans and merchants who offer other activities such as hairdressing, mechanics and saddlery. This corpus allows the study of the family division of tasks between spouses, children and ascendants. This thesis is part of a broad line of study concerning not only professional equality but also the challenges of local rural trade. This is an economic and social study on gender relational issues, the life of small businesses and sociability in the village, which implements many research avenues: viability of activities, demographics of the workshops or boutiques that make a living from them, associations of artisans and merchants, combination of activities, multi-activity, flexibility of small businesses, systematic male inheritance, becoming of other children, etc. In addition, the disciplines (sociology, ethnology, geography, economics, history) are intertwined to allow the study of this population by integrating it into an economic and social framework.The results produced by this work show that the first artisan merchants of the families studied disengaged themselves from a previous peasant condition. They reveal certain aspects of the sectors of activity: grocery shops, haberdashery and cafés provide information on the evolution of the consumption habits of rural people in full change through the increase in the number of sedentary sales outlets in the commune, the farmers’ departure from self-sufficiency and the diversification of industrial products offered for sale. They reveal the extreme multi-activity of these families at the beginning of the century before a growing specialization in the organization of their work. They reveal the conditioning of the lives of these workers and their children through their business: their life course being defined by the requirements of work organization, economics, transfer of knowledge, etc. in order to ensure their sustainability. They reflect the strong involvement of artisanal traders in village life, and the role played by their professional activities in building village sociability. Finally, they provide information on the precarious position of women in this sector but also on the importance of their role induced by gender and economic constraints.

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