restricted access Introduction: Unveiling Domestic Work in Times of Crisis
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Unveiling Domestic Work in Times of Crisis

For female migrant domestic workers, past job dependencies, as well as new ones, make life outside of Greece and beyond the boundaries of private households undesirable or almost impossible. This tendency has persisted even in the current recession, which has led to an increase in unemployment, racism, and poverty, as well as to other forms of social hardship for these women. To understand their conditions of life one has to look at how domestic work shapes these women's perceptions and prospects for mobility in Greece.

A number of scholars see a supposed opportunity for change in the socioeconomic crisis. They observe this change, on the one hand, in the fact that migrants now contemplate returning to their own country or moving to another, and on the other, in the probable emergence of a new division of labor in Greece, which has the potential to (in their view) liberate women from their dependence on employment in domestic service. Neither, however, is a viable possibility at present. Wishful thinking aside, the case of domestic servants and other service workers suggests that employment relations are far more ingrained in people's social and cultural lives than is usually believed. To underestimate the importance of this is like ignoring the social ties between domestic work and class, ethnicity, and gender, as well as the boundaries that these impose.

By the time of the Greek crisis (2009 to the present), migrant domestic workers in Greece had developed a sense of self based on their work experience, service, gender, and ethnicity (Psimmenos 2013). For nearly twenty-five years (since 1990), this sense centered on providing domestic care and cleaning, and more broadly, on what was required of servants as they worked on the margins of the labor market under conditions established by the families who employed them. It was in those margins that domestic workers learned to live a life in isolation from their conationals and other workers, as well as from the social [End Page 1] mechanisms that would otherwise have connected them to the wider society. The private household was their entire world; images, affections, and social relations gradually began to revolve around the family who employed them. So too with their prospects in the country, as well as with their social identity, which in time came to be fused with servitude. In contrast to seminal works by Robert Park (1928), Everett Stoneguist (1961), and the scholars who followed their line of thinking, one could argue in retrospect that migrant domestic workers were ushered into a world of social marginalization, but not through their exposure to the rational order of work. Rather, they were integrated into a labor market that converted paid work into a familistic, emotional, and tribal attribute (Du Bois [1920] 1999). In other words, domestic workers' marginality is due, inter alia, to the fact that they progressively identify their social position with the private household's values and their work with generic characteristics. These characteristics were aggravated in the years that followed the outbreak of Greece's fiscal and social problems, turning economic and social insecurity into a motivating factor for women to further distance themselves from conditions and attributes that endangered their service loyalties, rewards, and status distinctions.

Unveiling Domestic Work in Times of Crisis is a study of the job ties and boundaries that women migrant workers have created and confronted in a period of recession.1 It is concerned with all those social attachments and barriers that perpetuate domestic workers' entrapment at a time of economic stagnation, giving servitude a meaning in life and formulating corresponding expectations. The papers in this collection are concerned with the ways in which social change leads to variations in the degree of workers' dependency on their employers for job security. Such a sociological task is as painstaking as it is challenging and useful for research on social stratification and mobility. This task is essential for understanding both the functioning of domestic services in times of crisis and the role of occupation in it, as well as how economic and noneconomic parameters blend and sustain ethnic and gendered divisions of labor...