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Remittance networks and stratified reproduction

Remittance networks and stratified reproduction

Ryan Schram

Mills 169 (A26)


September 5, 2018

Available at http://anthro.rschram.org/1002/6.2


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.

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.

Marx on the family

The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation. (Marx and Engels 1848, 248)

This, while stated rather bluntly, is true

  • under Fordism: The household is group of people defined by their consumption of the breadwinner's wage.
  • under post-Fordism: Parents are primarily workers, and care and nurture is a service which can be bought.

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?

Side note on dichotomies

Dichotomies—either-or, black-and-white, binary choices—are often misleading

There are many dichotomies that people use to talk about differences:

  • Rural–urban
  • Domestic–public
  • Emotion–rationality
  • Tradition–modernity

In a sense they are all covert ways of representing differences in ethnocentric terms, or in terms of

  • Us–Them

Care chains

Just like the production of commodities for Western markets is now highly globalized, so too is the commodification of care also globalized.

There are commodity chains which circulate goods produced in one place for consumption in another place. There are also commodity chains of reproductive labor, or “global care chains” (Hochschild 2000).

Commodity chains are assembled by capitalist firms using container ships. How are care chains created?

Sending so much more than money

Remittances are transfers of cash from person to person between countries, usually by a migrant worker sending money home to family or relatives to support them.

Remittances are, in other words, gifts of money. They are ways of doing kinship when you can't be physically present to provide the care you normally would in your role as a family member.

From a macro perspective, remittances are also a major part of the contemporary global economy, especially from the perspective of the so-called developing world, where many immigrants come from.

Gifts make the world go round

Remittances, migrant labor, and the global economy

  • In 2015, globally, over US$ 582 billion were sent home as remittances.
  • 133 billion US dollars was sent overseas as remittances in one year (2015).

Remittances drive economic development in many small countries

  • In many receiving countries, remittances sent back are well over what the country receives in foreign development aid (OECD 2017).
    • In Haiti, 64% of external resource flows come from remittances, 33% from foreign aid.
  • In many of these countries, remittances are equal to or greater than what the country earns from exports (World Bank 2017).
    • In Tonga, remittances in 2015 equaled 27% of GDP (up from 20% in 2010)
    • In 2015, exports in Tonga accounted for 17.5% of GDP (up from 13.3% in 2010).
    • Other countries where remittances are worth more than export income: Liberia, Comoros, Nepal, Haiti, Tajikistan.
    • These countries, in other words, participate in global capitalism mainly by exporting people.

Commodity chains and care chains compared

A commodity chain gives us an image of one side of globalization, but it is incomplete.

If we conceptualize globalization as a transnational network of gifts, we get a better picture.

The city is not a big village

Cities are transnational hubs

Cities are microcosms of global capitalism


Hochschild, Arlie Russell. 2000. “Global Care Chains and Emotional Surplus Value.” In On the Edge: Globalization and the New Millennium, edited by Anthony Giddens and Will Hutton, 130–46. London: SAGE Publications.

Marx, Karl. 2000. “The Communist Manifesto [Parts I, II, and IV].” In Karl Marx: Selected Writings, edited by David McLellan, 245–55, 270–71. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. 2017. “Resource Flows beyond ODA in DAC Statistics.” Accessed September 5. http://www.oecd.org/dac/stats/beyond-oda.htm.

World Bank. 2017a. “Exports of Goods and Services (% of GDP).” World Bank Open Data. https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NE.EXP.GNFS.ZS?view=chart.

———. 2017b. “Personal Remittances, Received (% of GDP).” World Bank Open Data. https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/BX.TRF.PWKR.DT.GD.ZS.

A guide to the unit

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