The census and women's work in Rangoon, 1872–1931

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    The colonial census was a bureaucratic device which provided an essential abstraction from social reality, a ‘statistical fix’ designed to map individual social groups in space. This paper considers the contradictions associated with colonial knowledge systems as reflected in the census grafted onto Burmese society in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It attempts to chart the general adoption and adaptation, in the Burmese context, of a classificatory scheme which categorised labour as either productive or unproductive. Colonialism introduced new attitudes towards work and labour which reinforced patriarchal values which contrasted with more egalitarian Burmese socio-economic systems. The paper suggests that a simple classification of women workers as either productive or unproductive in the Burmese census between 1872 and 1931 resulted in the devaluation of their status as workers. This devaluation was a function of both real economic transformation taking place in the empire and changes in census classification, reflecting a gendering of occupations that undermined the cultural norms of Burmese society. The material result was that women became statistically less visible as economically productive workers. Such ascriptions of value to women workers were largely informed by moral considerations originating in England.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)377-397
    Number of pages21
    JournalJournal of Historical Geography
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Apr 2006

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • History
    • Archaeology
    • Geography, Planning and Development


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