«Work, care and life among low-paid migrant workers in London: towards a migrant ethic of care November 2006 Kavita Datta, Cathy McIlwaine, Yara ...»
So, for example, many Black and minority ethnic women in Northern economies are engaged in relations of care outside of their own families, which in turn, has potentially adverse implications on their ability (or perceived ability) to care for their own families. This is exacerbated further when women are physically separated from their families, which is often the case for migrants who leave immediate and extended kin behind in their home countries. Gender and ethnicity/race also strongly mediate citizenship rights and therefore access to state support and welfare benefits which in turn define and shape racial and ethnic differences in the sphere of social reproduction (Cox and Watts, 2002; Mattingly, 2001). Similarly gender and ethnicity and race are very important in determining who does what. For example, not only is care work dominated by women, there is often a hierarchy of preference for particular ethnic groups such that women of a particular nationality may be most sought after as housemaids and cooks (Cox and Watts, 2002; Stiell and England, 1999).
Research on the interactions between care, caring and space has been critical in providing more nuanced understandings of these relationships which move beyond the ‘caring’ and ‘careless’ dichotomy while also highlighting the complex negotiations of trust, disclosure and vulnerability that are central to the giving and receiving of care (Conradson, 2003; Dyck, 2005). Dyck et al’s (2005) work has explored how the meaning of home changes in the case of elderly people as it is transformed into a place both of rest but also of work.2 The emotional labour involved in the creation of caring spaces is particularly evident in these accounts as exemplified by relations of trust, loyalty, affection and love (McDowell, 2005). Furthermore, the provision of care is the outcome of complex relationships and interactions between the household, the economy and the state. This is evidenced by the fact that the restructuring of care provision in many industrialised nations associated with welfare cuts and the intensification of the work ethic determines who gets cared for, where they receive care as well as from whom (Dyck, 2005; Kofman, 2006). As Stahaeli and Brown (2003) point out, not only has welfare reform recast the relationship between families, citizens, communities and the state, it has firmly positioned the individual/families as being responsible for their own well-being.
Another critical dimension of this research has been the focus on the way in which caring relations are stretched across space as evidenced by the emergence of ‘global circuits of care’ (Anderson, 2000; Ehrenreich and Hochschild, 2002; Yeates, 2004, 2005). As noted above, these ‘circuits’ are crucially shaped by, and reflect, global inequalities, such that increasing numbers of poor migrants from the Global South cannot live with their families and support them at the same time (Ehrenreich and Hochschild, 2002). This research has been part of a wider approach to understanding the feminisation of transnational migration that has developed a more holistic understanding of gender as an integral component permeating all migration processes at various scales whether the individual, family, state or labour market (Donato et al., 2006; HondagneuSotelo, 2001; Pessar, 2005).
In turn, research which considers the intersections of transnational migration and circuits of care has highlighted the following key themes. For a start, there is a recurring debate concerning the extent to which migration should be viewed as empowering or exploitative for women (Hondagneu-Sotelo, 1999; Mahler and Pessar, 2006; Pessar and Mahler, 2003). While early research highlighted the emancipatory potential of migration for women, more recent work has been more tempered and has highlighted a range of exploitative dimensions, noting the connections between changes in gender ideologies and differing employment histories, family and state structures and practices (Mahler 1999; Menjívar 1999), class positions and (especially) ethnicity (Willis and Yeoh 2000). Referring to it as the “female underside of globalisation”, Ehrenreich and Hochschild’s (2002, p. 3), research illustrates the extent to which the global feminisation of labour has continued to restrict women to a narrow range of heavily gendered occupations typified by low-paid service jobs such as caring, cleaning and food processing (Bullock, 1994; McDowell, 2004). Potentially, then, migration and employment may not be empowering processes and this may be further exacerbated by dominant native gender ideologies which may remain one step behind economic realities. As such, even while it may be necessary for women to migrate so that they can provide for their children and their families, gender conventions may continue to preach that they stay at home to care for their children. Their migration may be interpreted as being tantamount to the abandonment of their children, notwithstanding that most women make provisions for their children’s care (Parreñas, 2002; Zontini, 2004). In turn, women migrants often feel great anxiety at this separation from their children and such moves are rarely undertaken lightly (Aranda, 2003; Yeoh and Huang, 2000).
Linked with this, new social institutions have emerged, such as the ‘transnational family’ (Yeoh, Huang and Lam 2005), which demand a rethinking of hegemonic feminine and masculine identities, the nature of caring and care giving as well as the intersections between the family, the economy and the state. The focus of much research has been on transnational mothering (Parreñas 2005; Hondagneu-Sotelo and Avila 1997) and the extent to which this constitutes a ‘care drain’ at home. There is evidence that while the migration of mothers may lead to some reconstitution of gender caring roles in that women take on the role of breadwinner, it does not necessarily lead to a reshaping of male gendered roles as women’s caring work is displaced onto the shoulders of other female kin, namely grandmothers, daughters and aunts (and usually in that order) (Schmalzbauer, 2004). Furthermore, both transnational mothering and the emergence of dual-wage earner families has implications for the children who are left behind (Hochschild, 2002; Parreñas, 2005).
Hochschild (2002) illustrates the extent to which some of these children undergo emotional deprivation as love and affection is diverted away from them to the richer children in the Global North. At the same time, migrant women endeavour to nurture from afar through telephones, remittances and gifts if not visits (Parreñas, 2002). Yet, ironically, where circuits of care and affection are effectively maintained (itself dependent upon where the migrant is, what type of job they are engaged in), pressures on men to assume care giving responsibilities are generally absent.
While male involvement in caring is more variegated than presented above (Gerstel and Gallagher, 2001; McIlwaine et al., 2006; Dyck, 2005), Hochschild (2002) posits that greater male involvement might depend upon raising the value of care work which leads to a lateral as opposed to horizontal displacement of caring activities when mothers start to work. At a larger scale, there is also an appreciation of the fact that migration may potentially constitute not only a ‘brain drain’ but also a ‘care drain’ whether we measure this in terms of skilled professionals such as nurses or doctors or, at the lower end of the skills spectrum, home carers, au pairs and so on (Hochschild, 2002; Kofman and Raghuram, 2006).
Feminist researchers have also explored the implications of global circuits of care on feminist solidarity. Ehrenreich and Hochschild (2002) posit that it brings ambitious and independent women together – and often in very close proximity to each other in the home (see also Mattingly 2001).
Yet, they argue that it does not do this in a way in which second-wave feminists would have wanted, in solidarity, as ‘sisters’ or allies, but instead at best, as employer and employee, or at worst, mistress and maid. Migrant women are doing work that has been completely devalued because it is what women, then ‘women of colour,’ and more recently, migrant women have done.
They are a source of cheap labour which in turn perpetuates the low status of the labour involved.
Parrenãs (2001) argues that migrant women are themselves often only ‘partial citizens’ and have significantly different access to material resources and citizenship rights compared with native women (see also Dyck, 2005). Yet, they potentially enable native women to enjoy fuller social citizenship which is increasingly linked to work and production (Kofman, 2006).
At the same time, implicit in the narratives of many migrant women is a negative judgement of Northern women, and society in general, who abandon their children and elderly into the care of strangers so that they can pursue careers (see below). In practice, both sets of women are caught in a bigger game whose rules they have not written – one of global inequality in which wages earned as a nanny abroad outstrip those of a middle-class professional in one’s own country, in which the gap between the rich and poorer nations is widening without any signs of change leading to people looking for private solutions to public problems, and in which two wages are often needed to maintain a household in the contemporary world (Hochschild, 2002). The stretching of social relations and everyday life over space through transnational migration means that the meaning of care is reconstructed and being mediated through local and global economic and social processes Indeed, as Dyck (2005) argues, a glimpse into the everyday gives us an insight not only into the local, but increasingly to processes being played out at a much wider scale.
More recently, researchers have begun to argue that the wealth of information that exists on global circuits of care has been largely observed at the micro-level of the household and needs to be integrated with broader arguments on the welfare state; immigration policies and so on. Kofman (2006) states that there is little explicit acknowledgment of the fact that migrants make vital contributions to the maintenance of welfare regimes and that despite popular perceptions of migrants as benefit scroungers, they are also providers of care. The role of the state in creating a demand and a supply for care workers must also be acknowledged (ibid.; Yeates, 2005) Furthermore immigration policies fundamentally shape the care-work balance and strategies that migrants are able to provide for their own families. Part of this initiative to link what is happening at the household level to broader economic and social processes can be achieved by focusing on both paid and unpaid work. This leads us to the second aim of this paper: namely how do migrants combine paid and unpaid caring work, how does this impact upon their own work-care-life balance and contribute to a distinct migrant ethic of care?
The recent interest in the work-life balance is attributable to a variety of factors. For a start there is an appreciation that the ‘24/7’ global economy has created a demand for a flexible labour force prepared to work long hours (Hochschild 2003; Houston 2005; McDowell 2004; Taylor 2002). The increased participation of women with dependent children in the labour market, as well as an increase in lone parents, has also led to a concern about the work-life balance given the gendering of caring responsibilities and activities. Indeed, women appear to bear many of the costs of poor work-life balances given that their greater participation in productive work has not generally been matched by men’s assumption of more domestic and reproductive responsibilities leading to a double or even triple workload for women (see above, also Hochschild 2003; Ungerson and Yeandle 2005).
It is important to highlight some of the shortcomings of existing research. As observed above, the term ‘work-life’ is rather euphemistic in that the focus has often been on productive and reproductive work. As such, the fact that ‘life’ should be made up of both personal and care time has often not been the explicit focus of research although it is vital for an ethic of care which recognises the importance of the self as well as others (Yeandle, 2001). Furthermore, given the focus of research on caring or reproductive work, there is a concomitant lack of research on the impact of work on the right of individuals to engage in a variety of activities (leisure, educational), as well as voluntary and community life and political organisation (Bradley et al. 2005). It is also hard, as Taylor (2002) argues, difficult to exactly identify what constitutes a ‘balance’ between work and life. Finally, and perhaps most pertinent in this context, as Hochschild (2003) argues the work-care-life balance is strongly mediated by class such that it is the middle classes which strive for it by employing strategies which predominantly involve other women, an important and increasing number of whom are migrant women. Where the work-care-life balance of migrants has been considered, it has been from the productive-reproductive nexus and as illustrated above, often focusing on the caring arrangements that transnational mothers make for their own children. There is far less research on the arrangements that they are able to make once their children move with them or are born after migration. Arguably, migrants are often placed in a difficult position as they may lack the resources to purchase good quality childcare, have little recourse to the public provision of care,3 while their mobility has also separated them from extended family who may have been able to provide care for them at home (although see Wall and José, 2004).
After a brief methodological note, the paper turns to consider our own empirical research on the paid and unpaid care work provided by migrant men and women in London.