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domestic system


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The organization of production in the homes of workers. The method began in the Middle Ages when almost all manufacturing was carried out within the home. However, when markets grew rapidly, some production was concentrated in factories. For some products, such as textiles, gloves, boots, and shoes, the system of subcontracting remained. The domestic or putting‐out system had many advantages for the master or capitalist manufacturer. The work often required little training. Workers were paid only for their output, and employers did not have to bear the cost of lighting and heating. The masters employed ‘bagmen’ to distribute raw materials and to collect finished items. The payments for work done depended on the quality of the product and disputes often arose between agents and workers.

The decline of the domestic system was a consequence of the industrial revolution. Growth in mass markets, combined with the development of textile machines, gave dominance to factory production. During the 20th cent. the domestic system or home working survived, usually associated with low‐paid work by women, who rarely joined trade unions or organized to obtain adequate pay and conditions. Home working continues in a wide range of contexts, from the making of exclusive high‐fashion knitwear for the fashion industry to new developments in teleworking and networking from home using computers.

Subjects: British History.


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