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  • Rethinking Care:Arlie Hochschild and the Global Care Chain
  • Premilla Nadasen (bio)

Arlie Hochschild is a pioneering feminist labor scholar. Over the past forty years, she has examined how both paid and unpaid labor reflects and generates women's subordination, demonstrated the interconnections between the private and public spheres, and inserted "care" and emotion into analyses of work, thereby redefining Marxist notions of alienated labor. A prolific writer and public intellectual, her research and writing has reached beyond the walls of the academy, deepening our thinking about women, gender, labor, and care.

Hochschild coined the term global care chain to describe a pattern of women leaving their own families in developing nations to travel to more developed countries to care for the children of well-off families. These women, in turn, hire other, poorer women in their countries of origin to care for their children, creating "a series of personal links between people across the globe based on the paid or unpaid work of caring" (Hochschild 2000, 131). These links have resulted in what she calls a "global heart transplant" where love is transferred from the Third World to the First World. Poor women from less developed countries, she suggests, have filled the "care deficit" in developed countries where the need for care has expanded as state support for it has diminished (Hochschild 2002, 39).

Hochschild situates household responsibilities in a larger global political economy, illuminating how private, individual decisions are tied to broader transformations. Global restructuring and neoliberal social policy have led to falling wages and made the male-breadwinner model obsolete. While poor women have always struggled to balance paid employment and housework, growing numbers of middle-class women now face similar [End Page 124] pressures and very often resolve the dilemma of household labor by hiring less privileged women. In a context of neocolonialism, structural adjustment policies, and unequal global relations of power, middle-class families' decision to employ migrant women has had a direct impact on the personal lives of the people they hire, their children, and household and economic decisions in their countries of origin.

Although Hochschild's work has been foundational, a number of scholars have offered critiques. Perhaps most important is the presumed heteronormativity and essentialized notion of gender embedded in the idea of a female migrant who transfers her love from her own children to those of her employer. While that may be true in some cases, we cannot assume that all female migrants are mothers or that care, nurture, and love are qualities tied to the biological female body. Manalansan (2006) argues for a queering of migration studies that cautions us not to take gender as a given in analyzing domestic work and urges us to de-link biological parenting and care, examine gendering as a process, and open up avenues to consider men as caregivers as well. Scholars such as Rachel H. Brown (2016) suggest that we shift to a lens of affective labor that will denaturalize care, dispense with the linear model of "links," and explore the overlapping and multidirectional routes of migrants and networks of emotion. This research rests on an understanding of the instability of the category of gender and the emotion of care, which these scholars argue is not static or biologically based. The gender binary and assumptions of a feminine caring subject central to Hochschild's analysis is premised on white, Western, middle-class gender norms and contributes to the construction of a premodern non-Western subject.

Hochschild's work is timely because it speaks to a growing scholarship on globalization and argues for the need to consider what she calls the ecology of care in global relations. Although this is a much-needed intervention, struggles around care are not new nor are they evident only in global relations. Even within the boundaries of the U.S. nation-state, capitalism creates unequal access to care and leads to a diverse set of caring strategies. Poor and working-class parents, especially live-in African American domestic workers, have always had less face-to-face time with their children and have tended to rely on broader kin and social networks. Children were sometimes watched over by grandparents...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1934-1520
Print ISSN
0732-1562
Pages
pp. 124-128
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-26
Open Access
No
Archive Status
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