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Remittance networks and stratified reproduction

Remittance networks and stratified reproduction

Ryan Schram

Mills 169 (A26)


September 4, 2017

Available at http://anthro.rschram.org/1002/6.1


Colen, Shellee. 1995. “‘Like a Mother to Them’: Stratified Reproduction and West Indian Childcare Workers and Employers in New York.” In Conceiving the New World Order: The Global Politics of Reproduction, edited by Faye D. Ginsburg and Rayna Rapp, 78–102. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press.

What is a family?

Is the 'family' always the same in different cultures?

Gender and the social division of labor

The social institution of a “nuclear family” has the following social statuses:

  • Mother
  • Father
  • Children (male and female)

If the “family” is a social institution, then gender is one of the main ways that statuses within the family unit are defined. Nuclear families also have a gendered division of labor, with distinct roles for male and female statuses.

Gender and the contradictions of capitalism

Western, capitalist economies also tend to define the basic social institution of the family as a nuclear household, with the male “father/husband” status also connected to the status of being a worker and economic actor, the “breadwinner” of the family. In this respect there is a gender dimension to Western capitalist social structure.

Surprise!! The capitalist nuclear family contains contradictions. For one, only very few households are organized in this way. It is rare to find an actual family in which the father is the sole breadwinner and the mother is only involved in childcare. The shift to post-Fordist production is associated with the decline of the male-breadwinner model of the household.

Actual families in post-Fordist, capitalist societies

  • A married couple (with or without dependent children) who both work full time to be able to afford a house
  • A single mother with dependent children who works part time and whose elder children care for younger siblings
  • Retired, elderly parents and working adult children

Reproduction in post-Fordist capitalism

For many people, especially poor people, one of the only ways out of this contradiction of late capitalism is to rely on an informal economy of care, e.g. neighborhood childcare networks and unpaid care work among extended kin.

For wealthier people, one of the ways out of this contradiction of late capitalism is to rely on the commodification of care, or what Colen calls “reproductive labor.”

The effect is the stratification of reproduction. It's reproduction because it is all the things involved with raising children so that they can move out, get jobs, and form their own households. It's stratified because who does what depends on who can pay–poor people work for rich people.

The domestic domain as a labor market

If you think about it, this violates a very widely held view of how labor relates to livelihood. Most people think about the family as a bubble. Economic activity is what you do outside that bubble. When you're home in your bubble with your family, the role you play is different. You work because you get paid. You help people in your family because you love them.

But in contemporary societies–like Kabre, Maimafu, Mount Hagen, Trinidad, and New York–that idea no longer applies, if it ever did.

Today, in New York and certainly in many parts of Sydney, the home is also a space where employers and employees interact. Employers are wealthy nonnuclear families and employees are poor nonnuclear families. There is simply no distinction between the inside of the bubble and the outside. The dichotomous opposition of between domestic and public is a false one.

Question: What might be the domestic worker's version of “thiefing” in an affluent employer's home?

A guide to the unit

1002/6.1.txt · Last modified: 2017/07/18 22:57 by ryans