In my previous post, I pasted the abstract of Is Anyone Doing the Housework?: Trends in the Gender Division of Household Labor, highlighting the parts I found particularly interesting or important. The purpose of an abstract, of course, is to provide an overview of the entire article. This will let a researcher know if they want to read more of the article.
An opening paragraph should pull the reader in, making it clear why we should care about the question the article addresses.
Let’s look at the article’s opening paragraph:
Housework is contested terrain. Household members need to eat, their laundry must get cleaned, and living quarters must be straightened and cleaned from time to time. Individuals who live together must set the standards for cleanliness and food preparation that will be tolerated and then depend on someone to do the work of providing meals, cleaning clothes, and maintaining a “livable” home. Much of that provisions can be “outsourced” to nonhousehold members, via take-out and restaurant meals, commercial laundries, and cleaning services. However, most American household have neither the resources nor the desire to purchase all household goods and services outside the home (DeVault 1991; Oropesa 1993). Hence, getting household work done involves cooperation, negotiation, and conflict among household members, usually requiring consensus but also generating potential resentment and disagreements among those who live together (p. 191-192).
Let’s break this down. For all the stereotypes about academics using long, hard to read sentences, Bianchi and her colleagues start with a simple, powerful four word sentence:
“Housework is contested terrain.”
From the start, we know where the tension is.
The next sentence, describing what needs to be done in the home, is obviously true. We know this because we live in the world. So there’s no need to cite anything to make us believe it. But why describe these facts, if everyone already knows them? Here it’s important to remind the reader of what they already know, because the authors are going to build on that knowledge.
I see the third sentence, discussing “outsourcing” of the household labor, as serving two important roles. First, it acknowledges that families are not isolated units, but live within a larger society and can purchase some of this labor from other members of this society. That we’re discussing paying people to do things makes it clear that we need to understand housework as being about, in part, economic relationships.
Then they explain that, even though you can hire people to do much of this work for you, most families don’t. Here they cite something, because it’s not obvious. Some readers might be in circles where most people do “outsource” much of that labor and think that it’s the norm. (As a side note, it’d also be interesting to see how much this has changed in the past couple decades).
Then they end the paragraph with the fundamental problem:
…getting household work done involves cooperation, negotiation, and conflict among household members, usually requiring consensus but also generating potential resentment and disagreements among those who live together.