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  • The "Hidden Side" of the New Economy:On Transnational Migration, Domestic Work, and Unprecedented Intimacy
  • Encarnación Gutiérrez Rodríguez (bio)


Migration is a topic that occupies the front page of every newspaper in Europe today. As one of the constantly reiterated items in television news, it engages politicians as well as scholars. In times of globalization, migration is viewed both as a cause and a consequence of the intensive exchange of commodities, goods, and capital across national borders. This phenomenon is, however, not new. After all, during colonial times,1 migratory movements occurred that were, as Kien Nghi Ha stresses, at least "bidirectional" and tied to complex relations of power.2 Today, traces of colonialism inform the patterns, modes, and cultural narratives of migration. Transnational migration has evolved in a global setting marked by postcolonial cultural, economic, and political relationships, as well as by new forms of imperial power. Within this historical context and global conjuncture I would like to discuss the "hidden side" of the new economy: care and domestic work. As Eleonore Kofman and Parvati Raghuram3 note with reference to Arlie Russell Hochschild,4 care and domestic work (and I also would suggest sex work) form part of global-gendered inequalities which "are transferred along chains of care, with care provided by Third World women in households in affluent societies."5

It is this latter mostly feminized and deregularized work that I focus on in this essay. This discussion draws on a comparative study done with colleagues in Spain, Germany, Austria, and the United Kingdom (UK) on migration, gender, and domestic work in Western Europe.6 In our project we opted for a Participatory Action Research (PAR) method.7 We conducted "open-ended interviews" and conversations.8 As we drew from Maria Mies's work,9 we saw our method as a generator of knowledge enriched by diverse points of view.10 This knowledge arose in an educational process empowering all those involved to change themselves, their relationships with each other, and their [End Page 60] society.11 However, as I have observed elsewhere, academic and political work with "undocumented migrants" is always affected by the fact that those conducting this work have citizenship rights and access to representation, unlike those being worked with.12

Based on our study, I discuss how domestic work is highly regulated through European Union (EU) migration policies, which constrain the social mobility of migrant women, and how paid care and domestic work structure interpersonal relationships between those who pay for and those who do this work in private households. Bearing this in mind, why should we look more closely at the relationship between private households and domestic work? First, we need to do this to see that postcolonialism influences care and domestic work in private households within a society marked by the globalizing effects of migration and border regimes.13 Second, it is also important to recognize that emotions and affect are important aspects of paid domestic work. Keeping this in mind, I will engage the tension between the public sphere of migration policies and their impact on the local and private level of the household, as well as on the level of affective bonds.

For the rest of the paper, I will attend to these issues by placing the development of the care and domestic sector in the contexts of (a) a postcolonial conjuncture and (b) EU migration policies and their local implementation. I will then focus on the development of the care and domestic work sector and its connection to transnational migration in the last decade before looking at the regulation of domestic work in four European countries: Spain, Germany, Austria, and the UK. My reflection on the space of unprecedented intimacy within reproductive work using excerpts of interviews conducted with migrant domestic workers in Germany will follow. I will conclude with some thoughts on citizenship, workers' rights, and intersectionality. Let us move now to looking at Europe's postcolonial conjunctures.

Europe's Postcolonial Conjunctures

The uneven relationship between former European colonial powers and their former colonies remains, even though this relationship has been modified by struggles for and processes of independence and national liberation. This...


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