My dissertation, The Informal Oeconomy: Home-Based Moneymaking After the Family Wage, 1970-2008, examines intersections between labor restructuring and contested household efforts to monetize excess time, space, illiquid assets, and social networks. I trace the origins, regulatory conflict, and contested incorporation of modes of household economic informality in the United States. I develop my study through four case studies on diverse efforts to monetize the home: the 1970s spread of network “direct selling” (often known as MLMs); 1980s efforts by the Reagan administration to lift a ban on “industrial homework;” contests during the 1980s and 1990s over the rental of “illegal garage conversions,” (what are now known Accessory Dwelling Units) in Los Angeles; and finally, efforts during the 1980s and 1990s by neighborhood organizations and advocacy groups to expand access to illiquid home wealth, or “liberating home equity for all.”
The Informal Oeconomy argues that as labor markets were restructured after the 1970s, so too were households and home refashioned as sites of market activity. The origins of contemporary informality can be found in pockets of household experimentation among groups excluded from or unaccounted for by what historian Robert Self calls postwar “breadwinner liberalism:” housewives, immigrants, workers of color, and the elderly. As labor market restructuring broadened experiences of precarity, the appeal of once-marginal moneymaking practices spread. These practices quickly came into conflict with regulatory boundaries, in land-use zoning, tax codes, labor law, and mortgage law, that enforced the postwar separation between home and market. Their contested incorporation remade gendered divisions between home and market, and racialized constructions of economic informality.
Other research examines the origins of American land-use zoning in early 20th-century Los Angeles. This research speaks to debates about the growing importance of home wealth in managing economic insecurity and theorizes the ways that land-use zoning structures not only housing but also labor markets.