Moral Economies of Reproductive Labour (Pehmeäkantinen kirja)

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This study examines the private employment of migrant workers for domestic and care work, or paid reproductive labour, in southern Italy. Italy is a country where there has been a significant increase in demand for privately employed domestic and care workers, especially in elder care work. This demand is analysed in the context of the Italian gender regime, familistic welfare regime, and a migration regime that contributes to the existence of a large number of irregular migrants.

The thesis is based on ethnographic research conducted in Naples, Italy in 2004 2005. During the fieldwork, migrant domestic and care workers from Sri Lanka, Ukraine and Poland were interviewed (N=74), as well Neapolitan employers (N=15) and participant observation conducted in various public places among the migrant communities and in private households employing cleaners and carers.

The thesis, based on five original articles and a synthesis chapter, explores paid reproductive labour from a moral economy perspective on two accounts. Firstly, the economic and employment aspects of the work are obscured by an implicit moral contract, i.e. the expectation that workers should perform their job out of gratitude rather than for pay. Workers dependence on their employers is enforced by Italian migration legislation, which ties the stay permit to a work contract. Secondly, in order to offer a critical perspective to the social construction of domestic and care work as unvalued, unskilled and dirty , the research examines the importance of this labour for the reproduction of home as a complex sensory space.

Contradictory to the most celebratory accounts of transnationalism and cosmopolitanism, the study demonstrates the constitutive role played by persisting borders and associated legislative practices of exclusion. Accordingly, questions such as work and residence permits, right to family reunification and access to welfare and health services underpin the rise of migrancy as an important social category defining the status of paid reproductive labour in the society as well as framing the workers livelihoods in a comparable way to other social categories. The research findings, which point to the striking parallels in the organisation of paid reproductive labour across historical times and geographical places, call into question the evolutionary idea of a Western modernisation, suggesting the need for a radical rethinking of what is meant and understood by development and modernisation within social sciences, as well as a rethinking of the tenets of neoliberal global economics.
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