More work for Big Mother: revaluing care and control in smart homes

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The home is an ever-changing assemblage of technologies that shapes the organisation and division of housework and supports certain models of what that work entails, who does it and for what purposes. This paper analyses core tensions arising through the ways smart homes are embedding logics of digital capitalism into home life and labour. As a critical way of understanding these techno-political shifts in the means of social reproduction, we advance the concept of Big Mother – a system that, under the guise of maternal care, seeks to manage, monitor and marketise domestic spaces and practices. We identify three tensions arising in the relationships between care and control as they are mediated through the Big Mother system: (a) outsourcing autonomy through enhanced control and choice, (b) increased monitoring for efficient management and (c) revaluation of care through optimisation of housework. For each area, we explore how emerging technological capacities promise to enhance our abilities to care for our homes, families and selves. Yet, at the same time, these innovations also empower Big Mother to enrol people into new techniques of surveillance, new forms of automation and new markets of data. Our purpose in this paper is to push back against the influential ideas of smart homes based on luxury surveillance and caring systems by showing that they exist in constant relation with a supposedly antithetical version of the smart home represented by Big Mother.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages16
JournalEnvironment and Planning A
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 14 Jun 2021


  • digital capitalism
  • feminism
  • marketisation
  • Smart home
  • social reproduction

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