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Work, Labour and CleaningThe Social Contexts of Outsourcing Housework$

Lotika Singha

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781529201468

Published to Policy Press Scholarship Online: January 2020

DOI: 10.1332/policypress/9781529201468.001.0001

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Conceptualising Paid Domestic Work

Conceptualising Paid Domestic Work

(p.1) 1 Conceptualising Paid Domestic Work
Work, Labour and Cleaning

Lotika Singha

Policy Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter lays the foundations of the book by first defining the work that the book intends to interrogate and unpacking the angst around it in some quarters of Western society, focusing on the feminist literature where such concerns are evident. Next, the chapter highlights theoretical contradictions and tensions in the literature and the assumptions underlying them, for instance, the work is a problem primarily between women. By drawing attention to some gaps and silences in the invaluable contribution made byprior research tounderstandings of the historically and socially constructed complexities of exploitation in paid domestic work, the chapterargues that the prevailing Western theories of this work are limited by their restricted focus on gender and race as the primary analytical categories.A more inclusive and globally relevant feminist approach would have an equivalent focus on class (and caste).

Keywords:   analysis, angst, caste and cleaning, class and cleaning, contradictions, domestic work theories, feminist approach, gender and cleaning, moral concerns, race and cleaning

‘I find this a really stupid idea for [research].’

‘I am a feminist. I employ a cleaner. He is a man. … We also employ a man [to] cut back the ivy that covers our house. I have no idea why you have chosen this subject …, it makes no sense to me.’

In the early days of the research that underpins this book, I posed a question on Mumsnet, a popular British online discussion forum (see Chapter 2), giving a brief explanation about my project. The question was: ‘Does having a paid domestic cleaner conflict with feminism?’

Twenty-five people contributed to the discussion. Many respondents found my question “hilarious” – feminism was about “allowing women to earn money”. Doing cleaning “as a business” was feminist, “doing it for free or favours” was not. They pointed out that there is no angst around men using the services of other men, car mechanics, plumbers, builders and so on. One respondent had felt guilty “because the people I’ve paid to do my cleaning … have all been clever and capable women”, implying that “there’s something wrong with having a cleaning job”. Others told me my research methodology reeked of sexism: it was I who was “making this a feminist issue by assuming that everyone on here is female, that it is their cleaning they are outsourcing, that it is a menial job [and] not one to be proud of, and that all cleaners are female”. The exercise left me somewhat shaken.1

(p.2) Introduction

Outsourcing of domestic work is an enduring feature of society throughout the civilising process2: its trajectory in Sweden (Hoerder et al, 2015; Platzer, 2006; Sarti, 2005) illustrates how this occupation persists despite political, socioeconomic and technological upheavals and advancements. The intersecting patterns of gendered, classed, racialised and socio-legal exploitation in the work are broadly similar in most cultural–geographical contexts: paid domestic work is constructed as an extension of unpaid and unskilled housework, it is accorded low status and value, and is often performed informally, and even illegally, by those with the fewest social, educational and economic resources – predominantly female migrant workers as well as citizens working underhand in the grey economy (Cox, 2006; Srinivas, 1995). Workers may live in the households they work for or live elsewhere and work for one or many employers. They are often denied labour rights at both structural and individual levels (ILO, 2016). There is wide agreement that even when only the ‘menial’ physical aspects of housework or care work are outsourced, the work incorporates housework’s ‘spiritual’ aspects, aspects which become recast as (invisible) affective labour that is integral to the domestic worker’s self (Anderson, 2000; Gutiérrez-Rodríguez, 2014; Roberts, 1997).

The first part of this chapter elaborates on one of my starting points for this book. The context is set with a general discussion of contemporary social meanings of work, the feminist construction of housework and historical considerations in paid domestic work, before considering the angst around outsourced housecleaning in some quarters of Western society. My other starting point, the invisibility of domestic workers worldwide, is well documented and is covered in the review of extant research in the second part of this chapter. This review focuses on existing evidence around intersections of class and race in paid domestic work, followed by the notion that paid domestic work today is often linked to contemporary middle-class women’s entry into paid work.

Next, I discuss how paid domestic work is theorised as dirty work, and I look at published viewpoints on professionalisation and regulation of paid domestic work. Finally, I consider the meanings of this work for workers and the cultural injustices in paid domestic work as theorised in previous research. The conclusion summarises the overarching issues that emerged in my review and provided the baseline for my approach to researching outsourced cleaning in two cultural contexts.

(p.3) Evolving contexts of work, housework and paid domestic work

Social developments in meanings of ‘work’

In the West, before the concept of the moneyed wage, work included any activity ‘directed at satisfying the human need for survival’ or rising above it, and was primarily carried out at household level; with the Industrial Revolution, productive work moved out of the household, and ‘work’ became ‘synonymous with [male] employment’ (Edgell, 2012:1, 28; Jackson, 1992; Kaluzynska, 1980). Since then, the social and transcendent status of waged work has continued to increase, with a sense of satisfaction beyond remuneration (Edgell, 2012). Today, proper work is ‘masculine’ work that happens in the public space – it has a progressive career trajectory, and involves ‘trading’ in the marketplace (Benston, 1969/1980), motivates the worker to do it (and potential workers to acquire skills to do it), and leads to ‘self-actualisation’ (Oakley, 1974/1977). The ‘feminine’ work of social reproduction is ‘non’-work, that is, work understood as requiring no or few learned skills (Hondagneu-Sotelo, 2001:xiii). In between is a range of ‘uninspiring’ waged service work, an ‘extension’ of women’s reproductive work performed in the shadows by both men and women, collectively called the ‘working poor’. Yet it is this grey work that keeps society’s wheels well oiled and moving (Sassen, 2009; Toynbee, 2003). Some service occupations are subject to wider labour laws, but most legal frameworks exclude domestic work (ILO, 2016). At the time of writing, neither the UK nor India3 feature among the few countries that have ratified the 2013 convention on decent work for domestic workers (ILO, n.d.).

The masculine (productive)/feminine (reproductive) dualism is just one way in which work has been dichotomised. Other binaries include unpaid/paid, high/low-value, dangerous/safe, skilled/unskilled, clean/dirty, and all these have been developed to enable some social groups to garner power through work. This deflects attention from the fact that all work has multiple dimensions, as Ehrenreich noted following her undercover experiences of three entry-level jobs: ‘no job, no matter how lowly is truly “unskilled”’ (2002/2010:193). The mental–manual dichotomy directs our focus on the end-value of manual work, limiting understandings of the meanings of the work. When workers articulate positive meanings in jobs generally categorised as low-value, low-skilled or dirty, they are often considered as having false-consciousness – the thought that goes into the work is overlooked, it becomes just ‘cleaning’ (p.4) or just ‘waiting on tables’ or just something ‘even a monkey’ could do (Lucas, 2011:369; Rose, 2004/2014).

The public–private dualism overlooks the fact that reproductive work also happens outwith the home (for example in educational institutions), and the Victorian country house functioned similarly to a modern organisation. The upstairs/downstairs separation of masters and servants in these houses was part of a larger hierarchy that included secretaries, book-keepers, governesses, gardeners and stable-hands (Sambrook, 2005/2009; Sarti, 2005). Domestic staff controlled entry points to the house (Davidoff, 1995), as do security personnel, receptionists and switchboard operators today, and, as in various departments of a modern organisations, domestic service had its own sub-hierarchical structure (BBC Two, 2012; Sambrook, 2005/2009).

The skilled/unskilled dichotomy hides the gendered devaluation of some work: the same work can be classed as skilled or unskilled depending solely on the gender of the worker (Cockburn, 1991). So contemporary housework (‘women’s work’) becomes low-skilled, even though the human ‘home’ is a product of people’s engagement with other people, technology, processes and activities that require knowledge, hard and soft tools, materials and machines (Cockburn, 1997). Many pioneer and second-wave feminists challenged such distinctions, by politicising the personal and making housework visible as work. However, because of the concurrent belief that women’s emancipation necessitates participation in ‘productive’ work, feminist arguments about the value of housework are often ambivalent (Schwartz, 2014, 2015).

Western feminist theorisations of housework

Early theoretical understandings of unpaid housework as part of women’s subordination were primarily grounded in the negative attitudes and experiences of housekeeping among privileged white women, particularly those who were housewives in increasingly nuclear households (Delap, 2011a; Johnson and Lloyd, 2004). While seeking to destabilise the industrial capitalist notion of ‘work equals employment’ (Edgell, 2012:17), some researchers have argued that the ethno/class-centric feminist rejection of the housewife role entrenched the image of housewife-as-cabbage and the dualisms that devalue housework itself (Ahlander and Bahr, 1995; Johnson and Lloyd, 2004). My focus here is on this devaluation and not on housewifery’s role in the structural gendered subordination of women (with due regard to race/class/caste as factors shaping different women’s experiences (Glenn, 1992)).

(p.5) The feminist unpacking of housework used both theoretical and empirical approaches. The Marxism-derived ‘domestic labour debate’, which constructed housework as proper work through an argument about its utilitarian value for capitalism eventually became passé. Its narrow economistic focus overlooked the historical specificity of the sexual division of labour and the moral homemaking dimension of housework: that is, unpaid housework is done within patriarchal relations, and in same-sex households, regardless of marketisation (Ahlander and Bahr, 1995; Curthoys, 1988; Delphy and Leonard, 1992; Jackson, 1992; Kaluzynska, 1980:45).4

In contrast, the empirically derived sociology of housework, spearheaded in the UK by Ann Oakley’s (1974/1977, 1974/1985) analysis of the domestic practices of a sample of 20 working-class and 20 middle-class London housewives, has gone from strength to strength, documenting again and again the links between housework/housewifery and women’s continued public subordination (see, for example, Lachance-Grzela and Bouchard, 2010; Treas and Drobnic, 2010). In terms of the work itself, Oakley (1974/1985) showed how housework was comparable with assembly-line factory work: it was ‘inherently’ mundane and alienating work, incorporating dulling routines and standards. The interview schedule, however, included leading questions, such as ‘Do you find housework monotonous on the whole?’ (Oakley, 1974/1985:210), which might have skewed the findings. Oakley’s (1974/1977) participants also commented that liking or disliking housework depended on one’s mood. The working-class wives were more invested in domesticity and more likely to like housework. Oakley suggested that these women’s lower education status and linguistic proficiency limited their justifications to ‘common-sense’ reasoning and normative gendered discourses. Their ‘satisfaction’ probably reflected a resigned acceptance of things beyond their control. In the 1980s, in an English market town, however, 15 white ‘wife-mothers’, of whom just over half were middle-class, did not approach housework as a mindless activity. Instead:

their choice was not to adopt the modern methods that would lead to … mindlessness. … [They] were aware of the problems of allowing the machine to take over. Having escaped the tyranny of the factory, the women are not going to fall into the trap in the home which their husbands may endure at work … Through beautifying their homes as well as in cooking, the women realise their creativity.

(Hand, 1992:149)

(p.6) Metcalfe’s (2013) sample of northern English working-class women ably expressed views on housework. It is plausible that experiences and meanings of housework vary, depending on life-stage and other aspects of social life.

Johnson and Lloyd further argued that feminists needed to deploy the housewife subject position as the Other in the struggle ‘to elaborate a speaking position’ for ‘the feminist intellectual’ (2004:2; also Schwartz, 2015), such that today, liking housework seems socially undesirable. When the Woman’s Hour5 presenter Jane Garvey said she enjoyed ironing, her tone was apologetic:

‘I hate to mention this in a way because I know people will squeal with indignation but maybe … some women like housework … I’m one of them actually, sometimes I like a bit of ironing … it’s about bringing order to disorder isn’t it? You know there’s pleasure to be gained … It’s honest graft isn’t it?’

(BBC Radio 4, 2012)

It is against such problematisation of housework and contemporary understandings about ‘work’ more generally that paid domestic work has been theorised. Before coming to that, I review recent historical scholarship that disrupts some popular understandings of contemporary developments in paid domestic work.

Historical considerations in paid domestic work

Manual domestic work has historically been – and continues to be – a site of power and status worldwide (Chin, 1998; Delap, 2007, 2011a,b; Ray and Qayum, 2009/2010; Rollins, 1985; Romero, 2002). At the heart of the well-described domestic master–slave or mistress–maid/servant relationship lies the notion of ‘difference’, in which the slave/maid/servant and their progeny are constructed as culturally and even biologically inferior, based on class/caste and/or race, fit only for lifetime servitude (Ambedkar, 1916/1979/2004; Davidoff, 1995; Ilaiah, 2005/2017; King, 2007; Moosvi, 2004; Rollins, 1985; Srinivas, 1995). However, as part of the social changes following the World Wars (for example establishment of welfare states and a rise in working-class living standards in the West), paid domestic work almost ‘disappeared’ for a brief period in some Western countries (Gregson and Lowe, 1994a; Lutz, 2011). These broad notions lend themselves to several widely accepted understandings of Western historical trends in paid domestic work:

  • (p.7) in the late 19th/early 20th centuries, there was a sharp drop in supply (‘the servant problem’) because of the expansion of work opportunities for working-class women (BBC Two, 2012; Cox, 2006);

  • after the Second World War, demand also reduced, because women across classes were exhorted to be housewives (van Walsum, 2011);

  • from the 1970s onwards, as middle-class women increasingly entered the paid workforce, paid domestic work resurfaced in the West (Ehrenreich and Hochschild, 2003; Gregson and Lowe, 1994a);

  • in all this time, (live-in) feudalistic domestic servitude was transforming into (live-out) capitalist-style exploitative domestic services (Glenn, 1992; Romero, 2002);

  • employers and employees are two separate categories: employers are (often white) women, well-endowed with social, racial and economic capital, while employees are women from disadvantaged class/racial backgrounds (Anderson, 2000; Cox, 2006; Ehrenreich and Hochschild, 2003; Romero, 2002).

More recent historical analyses of domestic service in the UK and India, however, destabilise the linear ‘servitude → service’ and ‘disappearance → resurgence’ trajectories, and the dichotomisation between her and her as belonging to two different social worlds.

In the UK, contemporary popular perceptions of domestic service hark back to a sanitised version of the Victorian/Edwardian master–servant relationship dramatised in television series such as Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey (see Hinsliff, 2014; Toynbee, 2014). Servanthood existed before this period, but rather than lifetime servitude, servants formed part of ‘a socially pervasive and culturally broad movement of young people from their parental homes to live and serve in the homes of others’, termed ‘lifecycle service’6 (Cooper, 2005:367). In times of late marriages and high mortality, this arrangement ensured that orphaned youngsters had a home at all times. Households supplied and used domestic labour regardless of differences in material resources (Laslett, 1988, cited in Cooper, 2005:371), and besides wages, servants received education and training. The arrangement was vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, and thus, individual experiences would have varied (Cooper, 2005).

Lifecycle service transformed into lifetime servitude for working-class people around the late 18th century, when class identities and boundaries became more rigid. Display of status, including having domestic servant(s), was crucial to the emerging middle-class identity (BBC Two, 2012; Davidoff, 1995; Hill, 1996). This metamorphosis of class structure occurred alongside increased longevity and wages, industrialisation, (p.8) financialisation of markets, Britain’s expanding trade and colonial status, evangelical influences on ideas of ‘right’ conduct of family life among the bourgeoisie and political reforms such as selective extension of voting rights (Cooper, 2005; Delap, 2011a; Gunn and Bell, 2002). Many of these middle-class households would have employed a ‘maid-of-all-work’, one of the most exploited servant positions of that period (Cox, 2006; Delap, 2011a). Hence, ‘service → servitude → service’ appears a more appropriate representation of the trajectory of domestic service in the UK, where the configuration of ‘service’ is a product of its times.

The stringent Victorian class boundaries did not reduce servants and employers to monolithic categories. Not all servants lived with their employers or were lifetime servants. Employers included a range of households from small to large, and a servant could also do farm work (Branca, 1975; Hill, 1996:251; also Delap, 2011a; Todd, 2009). In 18th-century London, bricklayers, milliners and plasterers featured among households in the parish of St Martin-in-the-Fields that employed a single servant (Kent, 1989), while domestic service in late 19th-century Lancaster showed ‘subtle gradations within a spectrum of shared social, economic, geographical, and educational backgrounds, rather than unbridgeable divides’, with the number of servants varying over the life-course (Pooley, 2009:419). In early 20th-century London, alongside printers and gas workers, 29% of households of clerks and commercial travellers employed domestic help (Booth, 1902, cited in Delap, 2011a:80). Status/religious norms created ‘need’ even in penurious conditions. East London’s immigrant Jewish families regularly employed local Gentile char and washerwomen (White, 1980/2003). A comparison of historical Lancastrian and contemporary UK-wide data reveals similarities in the patterns of outsourcing in relation to class (Table 1.1). Furthermore, female mill and factory workers in the 19th century ‘created opportunities for others [in their class] to gain an income from home-based activities’ (Jackson, 1992:158). During the World Wars, organised crèches and canteens supported working-class mothers doing other work (Hall, 1973/1980); these likely employed other working-class women. I consider the history of gendering of domestic work in more detail in Chapter 5.

The defining factor of domestic service was not the work, but ‘the duty of complete and unquestioning obedience to their masters and mistresses, the subsuming of their own background, social identity and personality in that of their employers’ (Hill, 1996:252). This ‘duty’ extended to governesses, apprentices, servants working in husbandry, daily labourers, and so on.

The literature is conflicting as to whether domestic work was the worst possible job. Some reports state that British women left it in droves as (p.9)

Table 1.1: Historical and contemporary UK data* on outsourcing of domestic work

Historical Lancaster census data(Pooley, 2009)

Contemporary UK-wide survey (Jones, 2004)

Servant- sending households (1881 data) (%)

Servant- employing households (1891 data) (%)

Income (£)

Working households employing paid help (%)











Skilled white collar





Skilled manual













Class not known



(*) Data are rounded percentages.

Sources: Table 4, Pooley (2009); Table A, Jones (2004).

factory jobs and shopwork became available (BBC Two, 2012; Horn, 2012), leading to ‘the servant problem’. Other research shows that shopwork was similarly harsh (Cox and Hobley, 2014) and factory work similarly stigmatised, with some women preferring domestic service (Branca, 1975; Delap, 2011a) or choosing it as the ‘lesser of two evils’ (Todd, 2009:187). Indeed, unionising British domestic workers at the turn of the 20th century ‘saw their grievances as extending beyond the individual mistress–maid relationship to connect with wider experiences of workplace exploitation’ (Schwartz, 2014:175). In the US, Magnus (1934a) argued that it was not the work itself that was at the root of the servant problem, since domestic service training courses that were not tied to employment continued to attract applicants.

A common understanding in 20th-century American research is that live-out work was at the helm of the ‘servitude → service’ transformation of domestic work, partly triggered by modern housing designed for nuclear-type families and better local transport facilities (Dill, 1994; Hondagneu-Sotelo, 2001). It might have been more liberating for women than home-based or family-business work, because it was ‘employment outside the family’ (Glenn, 1981:362). In the UK, census records list the ‘daily’ (or the charwoman, the charlady, the char) since the Victorian era (Delap, 2011a). Although live-in domestic service noticeably declined after the Second World War, the ‘daily’ was present through most of the 20th century, including the angel-housewife years (Delap, 2011a; Gittins, 1993; UK census 1951, 1961, 1971, Census Customer Services, (p.10) 20147). Mid-20th-century middle-class European women did not always appreciate being ‘servant-less’:

The housewife did not appear as a settled identity willingly embraced by women in the 1950s and 1960s, but rather as a problematic subject position into which women from formerly servant-keeping families had been forced … it was far from being internalized in the subjectivities of privileged and educated women, and was always bolstered in practice by the [unobtrusive] extensive employment of daily domestic workers … often of migrant status.

(Delap, 2011b:202–204)

Elite Western feminists of this time, such as the American Betty Friedan (1963/1983), the Swedish Alva Myrdal (Myrdal and Klein, 1957, cited in Platzer, 2006:212) and Virginia Woolf, Vera Brittain and Katharine Whitehorn in the UK, like many earlier feminists (Delap, 2011a; Todd, 2009), might not have imagined liberated life as one devoid of domestic help.8 Popular media representations of middle-class households included chars and cooks (see Delap, 2011a:131 for details), for despite post-war improvements in Western working-class living standards, many working-class women continued working in a range of low-wage jobs – including live-out charring and childcare (Delap, 2011a; UK census 1951, 1961, 1971, Census Customer Services, 2014, see endnote 7) – to make ends meet or for a ‘bit on the side’.

What was live-out work like then? Charring was mostly poorly paid, casual work. It was physically more demanding than domestic work today, even when using appliances, as early incarnations of vacuum cleaners and washing machines were heavy or cumbersome to use. Many women worked long hours to earn a living wage (Delap, 2011a).

In India, and several other regions, a much longer trajectory of live-in ‘servitude’ has been transforming to varying degrees of live‑out ‘service’.9 The purity–pollution ideology and the associated caste system, slavery as a consequence of war, and market forces intersected to construct servanthood throughout proto-historical and pre-colonial India; socioeconomic class also mattered, as higher-caste servants were known (Moosvi, 2004). Symbolic concerns – as in the UK (Davidoff, 1995) – meant that even low-income households employed servants for ‘polluting’ tasks (Frøystad, 2003; Moosvi, 2004; Ray and Qayum, 2009/2010). This longstanding condition of servitude, however, was located, as in the UK, within wider social hierarchical relationships. For instance, in gurukuls students lived with their teachers and performed personal ‘lifecycle service’ for them as part of their education (Bose, 1998).

(p.11) The colonial period introduced another layer of complexity in the master–servant relationship: that is, Victorian class norms and morals further tightened caste-based occupational segregation (Srinivas, 1995). Consequently, independence from Britain did not transform servitude to service. Instead, lifetime servitude exists alongside lifecycle servitude and lifecycle service, because modern cultural understandings of work continue to be shaped by feudal and ideological imaginaries. In other words, contemporary demand for servants in India is not linked to women’s work status (Raghuram, 1999; Ray and Qayum, 2009/2010). While only one fifth of urban women do waged work (Desai et al, 2010), servants are everywhere.10

These historical trajectories of paid domestic work in the UK and India show little evidence of a distinct pattern or relation to public–private and racialised ideologies. In pre-Victorian UK, lifecycle service developed in an essentially white society with rural–urban migration and little public–private distinction. It morphed into lifetime servitude in the same population when the public–private divide became established. When live-in servanthood declined, it transitioned to lifecycle service again, delivered largely by white migrants (for example Irish, Austrian), but this time with the public–private division in place. In India, lifetime servitude existed in a hierarchical casteised society prior to the introduction of colonial ideologies of private–public division. Lifetime servitude was also present in slave societies such as the US, but these have transitioned to lifecycle service despite continued racialised discrimination and public–private division (Dill, 1994; Hondagneu-Sotelo, 2001; Rollins, 1985; Romero, 2002). At this point, it is important to reiterate that employers’ and intellectual notions of ‘servitude’ were not always shared by those doing the work. For instance, the first union of ‘servants’ formed in Britain in the early 1900s was called ‘Domestic Workers’ Union’, because the women did not perceive themselves as servants but as ‘workers’ (Schwartz, 2014).

More recently, feminist researchers have highlighted the yet again increasing ‘proletarisation of paid domestic work’ – from symbolic of ‘high’ status to a ‘necessity’ across classes – due to outsourcing of domestic labour by an ageing population across classes in a diminishing welfare state (Triandafyllidou and Marchetti, 2015), as well as outsourcing by women working part-time (de Ruijter and van der Lippe, 2007; Tijdens et al, 2003). These latter works draw attention to the ways in which the demand for paid domestic labour, while still significantly linked to middle-class women’s participation in the modern capitalist workplace and to status enhancement, also goes beyond these two oft-cited factors.

Another point of importance here is migrant domestic work, which has been exhaustively researched.11 Both in- and out-country migration from (p.12) poorer (rural) to prosperous (urban) areas for any/better work or wages, including domestic service, is a remarkably constant feature of history (Fauve-Chamoux, 2004; Hoerder et al, 2015; Sarti, 2005). In 18th-and 19th-century England, women increasingly dominated in-country rural–urban migration (Branca, 1975; Hill, 1996). Many Indian ayahs also came to Britain with returning colonial mistresses (Visram, 1986/2015), and domestic service also pulled northern European women to the US, Canada and Australia (Momsen, 1999). Indeed, in the 19th century, ‘aliens’, which included white women, were ‘over-represented in the domestic service’ in some Western countries (Magnus, 1934a; Moya, 2007). Although absolute numbers of migrant domestic workers are greater today and migratory flows have a greater ‘geographical spread’, Moya argues the ‘new immigration wave has not yet surpassed the old in relation to the world’s population’ (2007:569–570). The particular problems of contemporary migration-related domestic work include:

  • its transformation into a ‘transnational activity’ (Momsen, 1999:14), in which educated, skilled mothers migrate to look after other people’s children with the aim of ensuring a better life for their own children left behind, often in the care of other women (the global care chain (Ehrenreich and Hochschild, 2003) or new world domestic order (Hondagneu-Sotelo, 2007));

  • undocumented immigration status, which makes the worker more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation (Anderson, 1999; Momsen, 1999).

Other research shows that these concerns are also pertinent to migrants working in other industries such as food processing and construction (Anderson, 2007; Lalani and Metcalf, 2012; Potter and Hamilton, 2014). However, the research on contemporary paid domestic work reveals a moral concern that is particularly directed towards it.

The angst around outsourced housecleaning

Something strange is taking place in my world. My friends are employing servants … lower-middle class teachers, NGO types, trade union organisers … I have to admit that I have a strong reaction to this – a mixture of self-righteous moralism and class rage ….

(Foreman, 2014)

Today, paid domestic work is often considered a ‘crisis of care’ (Glenn, 2000), in which middle-class women’s entry into paid labour and failure (p.13) of middle-class men to share domestic work play a significant role.12 Thus, many feminists, including academics, outsource housework,13 and some researchers such as Meagher (1997) and Romero (2002) had previously worked as domestics. A few argue that commodification of domestic work will eventually encourage gender equality (Bergmann, 1998; Hom, 2008/2010). Many others, however, denounce it, because it continues to be shaped by its historical associations with (female) slavery and servitude, the undervalued work of (oppressed) housewives, religious/secular fetishes around dirt and cleanliness, structural exploitation of workers, and the controversial global care chain (Calleman, 2011; Cox, 2006; de Santana Pinho and Silva, 2010; Ehrenreich and Hochschild, 2003; Foreman, 2014; Gregson and Lowe, 1994a). Many other Westerners (and post-communist era Eastern Europeans) today also express discomfort around outsourcing domestic work, particularly cleaning, because it is seen as a ‘return’ to a classed society (Cox, 2006; Daily Mail, 2015; Kordasiewicz, 2015; Mumsnet, 2013a; Williams, 2012). A few researchers have proposed phasing it out (Cox, 2006; Gregson and Lowe, 1994a), and others – some resignedly – suggest regularising it as ‘just another job’ (Anderson, 2001:25; Hondagneu-Sotelo, 2001; Romero, 2002) or outsourcing it as a social but not as a consumer service (Devetter, 2016).

For some second-wave liberal feminists such as Friedan (1963), outsourcing of housework formed part of the solution to the white middle-class woman’s ‘problem with no name’. Radical feminists such as Davis (1981/1983) argued that housework itself was oppressive, because it lacked a concrete end product and recommended industrialising it; but others such as Delphy and Leonard (1992) asserted that the oppression was rooted in the patriarchal conditions under which housework was done. Marxist and socialist feminists are more likely to see paid domestic work as appropriation of one woman’s labour by another in terms of classed (or racialised) exploitation that ruptures the ideology of sisterhood (Ehrenreich, 2000; Romero, 2002). That is, while ‘both women are subject to the imperatives of the market and to sexual domination, their actual experiences reflect their class positions’ (Romero, 2002:59; see also Ehrenreich’s (1976) exposition of socialist feminism). As part of this exploitation, domestic workers are denied labour rights on the basis that the workplace is the employer’s home (Albin, 2012; International Domestic Workers’ Network (IDWN), 2011). Contemporary Marxist feminists also argue that the woman-to-woman transfer of work benefits men, because they can continue to conveniently avoid it (Anderson, 2000; Cox, 2006; Ehrenreich and Hochschild, 2003; Romero, 2002). That is, capitalist exploitation in paid domestic work reproduces the dominant (p.14) patriarchal structural ideologies of gender, class, race (and caste – see Ray and Qayum, 2009/2010).

Cox points out the role of the ideologies of pollution, the ‘relationship between dirt, cleaning and status’ (2006:6). Removal of dirt is considered low-status work and most societies assign it to particular groups of people, whose status then is further lowered because of the work they do. Anderson (2000, 2001, 2003) argues that what is being bought in domestic work is not ‘labour power’ but her personhood, because caregiving involves the whole person. The worker’s self cannot be divorced from her work (also Lutz, 2011): the means of reproduction (of gender/class/caste/race) become embodied in her as she buys the ability to command her whole person.

All of these lenses persuasively show that householders across societies consistently refuse to see themselves as employers, conveniently constructing the worker as simply ‘help’ around the house or as ‘part of the family’ (Anderson, 2000; Cox, 2006). These tropes render invisible the class/caste and racialised exploitation, the power imbalance in the economic, social, legal, psychological and physical aspects of the worker–employer relationship. Between the lines of thorough objective analyses, however, sometimes there is a subjective disproval of paid domestic work that goes beyond her exploitation in Marxist terms and the cultural oppression of women as a whole and as classed/raced beings (Bowman and Cole, 2009; Meagher, 2002, 2003). This censure sits between the notion of housework as real work (as theorised by Marxist and socialist/materialist feminists) and as oppressive ‘women’s work’, and is largely directed towards cleaning, the domestic task of lowest social value (Gregson and Lowe, 1994a). ‘The cleaner comes and applies pressure right where it hurts [the feminist employer]: in the contradiction between theory and practice, between ideals and compromises’ (Molinier, 2009/2012:289).

Cox (2006) proposes that the only way to establish a fair society is for everyone to clean up after themselves. Persisting ideologies of pollution and work–life imbalance among the richer sections of society and the lack of state provision of affordable high-quality childcare are barriers to creating this post-outsourcing world. Cox rightly observes that we should challenge social attitudes towards dirt. However, the first step to her solution is not convincing. She suggests establishing state-funded affordable high-quality childcare, in which carers are ‘fairly rewarded’, which would ensure work–life balance for everyone, with enough time for housework. Anderson concurs with this: ‘While a couple might have to employ a carer to enable them both to go to work in the productive economy, they do not have to employ a cleaner’ (Anderson, 2001:27, original emphasis).

(p.15) The distinction between childcare and cleaning (both aspects of domestic work) is perhaps made by Cox and Anderson because, in theory, publicly delivered childcare removes the problems that beset paid domestic work: nursery nurses are recognised as workers, while nannies might be considered ‘helpers’. The crèche at the first women’s liberation movement (WLM) conference in the UK in 1970 was run by men (BBC Radio 4, 2010; Kennedy, 2001). But this practice gained little purchase, and today, professional childcaring remains a low-paid, exploitative transfer of care between women (Department for Education, 2011, 2012, 2014; Eurofound, 2006; Rolfe, 2006), with prescriptive duties and responsibilities, and cleaning up after other (often wealthier) people’s children (sometimes at an hourly rate lower than that of a live-out cleaner – see Toynbee, 2003).

What, then, could be the starting point for ‘ungendering’ of domestic and care work? This question informed my approach to understanding the social construction of the relationship between the structure of housecleaning and women’s ‘innate’ caring abilities in the first stages of developing my argument (see Chapter 5).

Anderson (2000:142–143, 2001) correctly points out that some people might outsource domestic work for status enhancement, because a certain ideal of cleanliness is part of status construction (see also Cox, 2006). She further argues that something peculiar happens when domestic work is outsourced: the ‘very act of employing a domestic worker weaves [the two women] … into a status relationship’ and ‘lowers the status of ’ the housework done by her as she fills her time with something better (Anderson, 2003:105–106, 113–114). Anderson’s observation is a defining principle of paid work (Weeks, 2011), and outsourcing cooking, gardening and household maintenance can also be about status enhancement of the middle-class man. Another contention is that much outsourced housework, such as dusting of artefacts, is only about maintaining status, as these artefacts are not ‘necessary’. Are mobile phones and bank accounts necessary, except in terms of the times we live in? Even if people give up ‘unnecessary’ artefacts, they can assert status through participation in, for example, ‘high’ culture. So while Anderson rightly states that employers should be invested in improving the conditions of domestic work to make it just another job, the subjective elaborations preceding her conclusion muddy her argument. The argument presented in this book thus attempts to be mindful that people reproduce class in multiple ways, and in multiple spaces, in the same timeframe (Lawler, 2005) and its implications for domestic work.

Ehrenreich notes that ‘liberal-minded employers of maids … all sense that there are ways in which housework is different from other products (p.16) and services …’ (2003:101), but that ‘sense’ veers on hypocrisy: ‘someone who has no qualms about purchasing rugs woven by child slaves in India or coffee picked by impoverished peasants in Guatemala might still hesitate to tell dinner guests that, surprisingly enough, his or her lovely home doubles as a sweatshop during the day’. Here Ehrenreich also confesses that she had outsourced cleaning once, to get her house ready for a ‘short-term tenant’. She might have used an agency that gave its employees full employment rights, but such guarantees do not take away the cultural and monetary exploitation (Foreman, 2014). Ehrenreich does not dwell on these implications of her action for her theoretical position. Rather she moves on to note how several of her colleagues, ‘including some who made important contributions to the early feminist analysis of housework’ were employing maids (2003:90). So should one-off cleans by an agency and on-and-off outsourcing be theorised differently from having maids and servants all the time? This conundrum informs the analysis of demand in Chapter 3, which forms part of the foundation for my argument presented later in Chapters 5–7 (see also Meagher, 1997).

Ehrenreich also suggests that employers are reluctant to confess, because the work they have outsourced is the work that their employees ‘almost certainly never [would] have chosen’ for themselves, had the latter been in the position to make a choice. Ehrenreich’s articulate descriptions of dirt found on floors are intended to make readers conclude ‘this is not the kind of relationship that I want to have with another human being’ (2003:91); finally, she notes that outsourcing housecleaning smacks of ‘callousness and solipsism’, and children learn to see the cleaner as a lesser being and carry that feeling into adulthood (2003:103). When Lutz (2011) engaged in participant observation, she noted in her journal: ‘I wonder whether a home help can find it humiliating, having to pick up and fold a little upstart’s clothes’. Her findings did not appear to support her musings:

None of our interviewees described such activity as ‘humiliating’. However, there is a widespread view that a child who is not taught to clear things up after himself will never learn to do so later in life and will end up living in … [a] kind of ‘de-ranged’ home … as an adult.

(Lutz, 2011:59)

While I concur with Lutz that people should pick up after themselves, no references were provided by both researchers to support the ‘widespread’ view that if children are not socialised to do certain things in life, they never learn to do them. Research into the domestic practices of middle-class Indian migrants in the UK revealed that most respondents had done little housework as children in India, but they were doing it as adults (p.17) in the UK (Singha, 2015; also Westwood’s (1984) Asian participants). Feminists against outsourcing can also leave mugs unwashed in the university common room or the parish hall kitchen. While I am not denying children’s internalisation of discriminatory (domestic) practices, they are not forever bound by them.

The sociological gaze more generally focuses on adverse aspects of manual work, and Meagher has argued that the analytical emphasis on ‘negative experiences … as definitive’ has heightened unease surrounding paid domestic work (1997:188). While there is no doubt that there are many real concerns in paid domestic work, domestic workers are neither always unreflexive victims nor always vociferous protestors – subjectivities are fashioned and refashioned both in different situations and over the lifecycle (Bujra, 2000; Constable, 2007; Lan, 2006; Lutz, 2011; Saldaña-Tejeda, 2015). The feminist approach developed in Chapters 2–7 is grounded in, and builds on, these and other previous theories reviewed in the next section – theories that have made visible the work that so many take for granted.

Theorising paid domestic work

Both qualitative and quantitative methodologies have been used to study contemporary domestic outsourcing. This section mainly reviews the qualitative research that largely focuses on the micro-politics of paid domestic work and issues regarding migration and migrant workers. Although this book focuses on local and in-country migrant labour markets, several of the concerns around domestic work as performed by an out-country migrant domestic worker are universal concerns. I also consider the related literature that interrogates attempts to professionalise domestic work, the organising and unionising efforts of workers, and its regulation by states and the ILO. The primarily Western quantitative literature focuses on the demand side – the associations between the present-day propensity to outsource work and utilitarian variables such as economic resources and time availability – and is referred to in Chapters 2 and 3.

Domestic work, class and race/ethnicity

The race/gender axis in paid domestic work, rooted in the ideologies and practices of slavery and colonialism, is clearly an issue.14 Today in the West, how does class impact on this axis? Milkman et al (1998; also Dill, 1994) (p.18) showed that the common denominator for the likelihood of outsourcing housework in various American regions was the level of socioeconomic disparity. Other, more recent, Western survey-based research, however, shows people are more likely to outsource in those countries that have greater numbers of low-skilled immigrants (Estévez-Abe, 2015).

Accordingly in the UK, a 2015 documentary claimed that the job is “primarily done by the scores of immigrants arriving in the UK”, while white (women) cleaners are “rare” (BBC Two, 2015b). The focus of the programme was, however, only London. Anderson’s (1993, 2000,15 2007) research on macro- and micro-level abuse and exploitation among migrant/undocumented workers, was also based in London. Cox extrapolated from research mainly conducted in the affluent London borough of Hampstead (where a range of ethnicities were represented among cleaners) and adverts in The Lady16 to describe a picture of ‘domestic workers living and working in Britain’ (2006:9). Several other studies draw on London-based migrant domestic workers/commercial cleaners (for example Cox and Watt, 2002; Wills et al, 2009; Yilmaz and Ledwith, 2017). Focusing on male domestic work, Kilkey et al (2013), despite noting that migrant populations in the UK are concentrated in London and the South-East, make reference to their research in terms of ‘the UK’. In Sykes et al’s (2014:4) study of commercial cleaning in various UK cities, 63 out of 93 participants were migrants; the authors noted that their sample was representative of the UK, but the supporting statistics cited indicated that migrants made up around 30% of the non-domestic cleaning workforce.

In contrast, Gregson and Lowe’s (1994a,b) research – albeit older – in south-west and north-east England (Reading and Newcastle-upon-Tyne, respectively), had identified two domestic labour markets:

  • a high-end national-level market, with placements chiefly advertised in The Lady; employees moved from the regions to work primarily in London;

  • local markets, in which local people worked for local employers.

Their sample, which included both nannies and cleaners, was remarkably homogeneous: the 20 cleaners were White British working-class women with no qualifications and limited work opportunities, and familial caring responsibilities, living in households dependent on benefits, doing cash-in-hand work; the 50 nannies comprised younger white women from lower-middle-class backgrounds with childcare qualifications. The authors stated that migrant domestic workers were evident in London in the 1980s, but in their research sites domestic work showed little association (p.19) with racialised migration; they concluded that outsourcing of different forms of domestic work was grounded in a ‘class-mediated hierarchy in domestic tasks’, in which the lowliest work was outsourced to the older working-class woman and childcare to a woman who was closer in status to the middle-class employer (Gregson and Lowe, 1995:155–159).

Also, Cox, in findings presented at a 1997 conference, indicated that ‘while migrant labour is readily available to do such work in London, outside of the capital domestic workers are more likely to be “poor English”’ (quoted in Anderson, 2000:87). Samples in more recent studies of low-wage/low-skilled work (Hebson et al, 2015; Rubery et al, 2011; Shildrick et al, 2012) and 2011 UK and European-level census data (Figure 1.1) support these older observations. It is possible that snowball sampling and strong group identities among workers could have affected the ratio in the Sykes et al (2014) study. I elaborate further on sampling issues in Chapter 2, where I show that although my own samples clearly are representative of particular social contexts, they are not representative of entire countries.

On the basis of Gregson and Lowe’s findings and Cox’s paper, Anderson (2000) argued that the UK was probably unusual among the developed countries. However, post-2000 research evidence indicates that the picture is complex elsewhere too. In Sweden, cleaners include retired Swedish women (Rappe and Strannegård, 2004, cited in Bowman and Cole, 2009:176). Morel (2015) notes that in the largest Swedish commercial cleaning agency, 57% of cleaners were Swedish. In the Netherlands, although domestic work has become racialised in the past two decades, away from urban metropoles, indigenous Dutch students, single mothers on welfare and rural housewives might be the main domestic workers (van Walsum, 2011). Some Portuguese commercial agencies reject foreign applicants (Abrantes, 2014a). In Belgium, just under three-quarters of workers are citizens (Morel, 2015). Most domestic workers in Italy are also Italian, live-in workers are more likely to be foreign (Colombo, 2007). In Germany, Lutz’s team focused on migrant workers, because ‘we have the impression that the numbers of migrants have been growing’ (2011:34), but Shire (2015) draws on official statistics to show that 10% of part-time domestic workers in Germany are migrants. Some parts of the US are still ‘very’ white (Ehrenreich, 2002/2010). In 2007, 39% of recorded Brazilian domestic workers were white (Tomei, 2011). Elite households in Europe and North America seek ‘English’ butlers and nannies (sometimes from elite backgrounds; Cox, 1999; Hondagneu-Sotelo, 2001). In the 1950s, on arriving in the ‘mother’ country, Britain’s African Caribbean citizens discovered they were not welcome. Alongside other discriminatory practices, people preferred local charwomen for ‘fear’ of having a (p.20)

Conceptualising Paid Domestic Work

Figure 1.1: (a) People working in low-skilled occupations in England and Wales disaggregated by sex and ethnic group


Conceptualising Paid Domestic Work

(b) People working in elementary occupations in several advanced European economies, disaggregated by place of birth and citizenship

Notes: Low-skilled occupations: caring, leisure and other service, sales and customer service, process, plant and machine operatives, and elementary occupations.

Data sources: (a) ONS, Census 2011, Table DC6213EW – Occupation by ethnic group by sex by age, ONS Crown Copyright Reserved [downloaded from Nomis on 14 June 2016]; (b) Eurostat, Census 2011 Hub (Tables HC29 and HC13) (http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/web/population-and-housing-census/census-data/2011-census).

(p.22) non-white person in the house (Delap, 2011b). Similarly today, many contemporary Westerners are reluctant to host au pairs, who in reality are glorified domestic workers, from another culture (Anderson, 2007; Cox, 2015a). At the same time, middle/upper-class migrant households in the West also outsource housework to either local or migrant workers (Hondagneu-Sotelo, 2007; Singha, 2015).

Alongside this research, I looked at the first seven rounds of the academically driven European Social Survey (2002–2014), as this source appears to have been untapped. The majority of domestic cleaners and helpers sampled in Germany and other European countries where research reports an increase in outsourced domestic work (Abrantes, 2014b) stated they did not belong to an ethnic minority group (Table 1.2).

In other world regions, many domestic workers are in-country migrants or migrants from even poorer countries.17 In Latin America, while more Brazilian domestic workers are black (de Santana Pinho and Silva, 2010; Tomei, 2011), in Ecuador, lighter-skinned employers prefer someone ‘like’ themselves (De Casanova, 2013). In India, Dickey (2000b:481) argued that while caste played a majority role in determining who did domestic work in India, class reproduction through the occupation was significant in its own right. In all, a greater proportion of ethnic minority women in particular Western countries might do domestic work, but this does not seem to mean that they represent the majority of domestic workers in those countries. The people doing paid domestic work in a particular geographical region in every historical epoch largely appear to belong to the group(s) relegated to the bottom of the social hierarchy in that region and time period.

Regarding the demand side, the statement ‘all the employers were German’ (Lutz, 2008:44) does not obviously indicate that they were all also white, unless an assumption is made that other citizens could never be service-users. In my home town in the Midlands region of the UK, several middle-class Indians use the services of local service-providers (cleaners, gardeners, handymen, and so on). Upwardly mobile African-Americans and Mexican-Americans, and blue-collar white families in the American south, where domestic labour is ‘cheap’, also outsource housework (Milkman et al, 1998; Rollins, 1985). Middle-class black Americans may look for service-providers outwith the black community, because of the unfortunate history of domestic servitude in the US (Bates, 2013). While Polish migrants work as cleaning service-providers in the UK, Ukrainian women migrate to Poland for the same purpose (Kindler, 2008). Domestic workers may also employ others to do their housework at various lifestages (Bujra, 2000; Constable, 2007; Hondagneu-Sotelo, 2001; Lan, 2006; Meagher, 2003), and in India, ‘upwardly’ mobile


Table 1.2: ‘Domestic cleaners and helpers’ in the European Social Survey disaggregated by ethnic group status

Belong to minority ethnic group in country

























































































Data are weighted absolute numbers.

Source: European Social Survey Rounds 1–7.18

(p.24) lower‑caste Indians also outsource housework as they try to adopt upper-caste markers of status (Dickey, 2000b; Ray and Qayum, 2009/2010). In several world regions, users and providers may have the same racial/ethnic background, for example in Ecuador (De Casanova, 2013), South Africa (du Preez et al, 2010; King, 2007), the Philippines (Driscoll, 2011) and Zambia (Hansen, 1990).

This suggests that racialisation, a Western construct, neither inheres in paid domestic work (Delap, 2011a) nor is it ‘added’ to class (Romero, 2002) but that class – and caste – mediates the effect of race. Therefore, in my research, I have focused on class (and caste) alongside gender to add greater depth to the intersection of race with class in the published research, not only in terms of supply but also demand. I now review published research on the latter.

Contemporary middle-class women’s outsourcing of domestic work

An association is well documented between middle-class women’s presence in the paid workforce and the demand for paid domestic work across societies, regardless of their commitment to gender equality:19 ‘“It is part of the whole Stockholm package,” one woman explained. “Work a lot, commute, hire under-the-table cleaning help”’ (quoted in Bowman and Cole, 2009:168).

In liberal market or welfare states, the modern ‘work ethic’ does not encourage greater gender parity in household labour as it side-steps work commitment (Collins, 2007). So, white middle-class women’s liberation is happening at the cost of the continued oppression of their working-class/migrant counterparts, whose day is spent doing her and her housework (Cox, 2006; Ehrenreich and Hochschild, 2003). Indeed, the notion that the dual-career heterosexual nuclear household is more likely to need this service is a springboard for some research into paid domestic work: ‘This study is limited to working women [in dual-earner heterosexual households], because decisions on substituting domestic work are primarily theirs … because non-working women do not face time constraints from their market work’ (Tijdens et al, 2003:5).

At the same time, Delap (2011a) has unpacked post-war Western middle-class housewives’ dependence on charwomen. A similar situation is also evident among men: contemporary British middle-class men from various ethnic backgrounds outsource their housework (for example gardening and house maintenance) to domestic handymen, to gain parenting or leisure time – time which the handymen then lose out in their turn (Kilkey et al, 2013). Moreover:

  • (p.25) • all Western household types outsource housework or host au pairs, and these households might also belong to lower-income groups (Cox, 2015b; Hyland, 2017; Triandafyllidou and Marchetti, 2015);

  • status is still a factor in outsourcing (Anderson, 2000, 2001, 2003);

  • egalitarian couples might outsource cleaning to gain ‘leisure’ time (Gregson and Lowe, 1994a);

  • increasingly, a range of personal services are being sold and bought on the inter(net)-connected capitalist marketplace, justified through various moral economies: people are outsourcing not just housework but the ‘self ’ (Hochschild, 2012).

These various strands of research into paid domestic work raise some questions. Do time constraints related to work commitments qualify as a valid ‘need’ to outsource housework? Does outsourcing improve relationship quality, by avoiding confrontations over housework20? In Chapter 3, I consider these questions, to show that the factors determining contemporary demand are often complex. Crucially, the nuances in this complexity require attention when thinking of solutions to the problem of paid domestic work. Furthermore, unease about outsourcing domestic cleaning is also based on the premise that cleaning is the lowliest of work (Gregson and Lowe, 1994a).

Domestic work as dirty work

Housework is largely viewed as a chore, as drudgery. These terms are also used in the research analysing ‘who does what’, particularly in heterosexual households. When housework is outsourced, however, it becomes dirty work.

Wider research challenges historically specific cultural notions about dirt, cleanliness and pollution (Collins, 2007; Cox, 2007/2012a,b, 2011, 2016; Davidoff, 1995; Douglas, 1966/2002), and shows that the link between dirty work, cleanliness and status is not just a female domestic matter. The frontline operatives in sewage or waste-processing units are more likely to be men (‘watermen’, ‘binmen’, ‘wastemen’; BBC Two, 2014, 2015a; Perry, 1998; Slutskaya et al, 2016), who sometimes process this waste in inhuman conditions (Praxis India/Institute of Participatory Practice, 2014). All constructed areas where higher-status people are found appear more clean and shiny, and are cleaned by Others. Thus, Chapter 4 analyses the transformation of housework from just work to drudgery to dirty work, by examining the intersections between the role of gender in this process and the influences of wider cultural ideologies around dirt.

(p.26) At the same time, I am cognisant that the paradigm of ‘dirty work’ as elaborated by other feminist researchers is not only based on cultural meanings but also on the material injustices in domestic work, including in its professionalisation even in progressive democratic liberal societies.

The professionalisation of domestic work

Today, commercial cleaning requires training in safe use of chemicals and handling of heavy equipment, teamwork and efficient use of time. But because of societal assumptions around cleaning as unskilled manual labour, training might be cursorily delivered (Smith, 2009; Sykes et al, 2014). The ‘professionalisation’ of housework by commercial domestic cleaning agencies across cultures draws on feudal definitions of a good ‘servant’ in terms of race, personality and behavioural stereotypes, their person rather than their work, embedding rather than reducing gendered and racialised hierarchies in domestic work (Abrantes, 2014a; Anderson, 2000; Constable, 2007; Lan, 2006; Mendez, 1998, Mirchandani et al, 2016). Indeed, feminists have been critical of training, arguing that it is an institutionalised ploy that transfers the soul-destroying hard graft of caring for middle-class homes, children and dependent adults to working-class/racialised women (Romero, 2002; Skeggs, 1997/2002). Furthermore, Anderson (2000, 2001) urges caution in recommending professionalisation: because it can lead to ‘specialisation’, an ‘unskilled’ migrant worker doing housework and childcare would then run the risk of earning less for more work than, for instance, a white nanny or cook who could offer a specialist service.

Scrinzi (2010) observed that training offered by French cleaning agencies aimed to denaturalise housework as women’s work, by framing it as different from unpaid housework. Migrant women, the main recipients of the training, were expected to put aside their knowledge of their own traditional ways of doing housework, adopt a ‘reflexive’ approach and learn ‘modern’ French ways of doing housework. Scrinzi deemed this practice racist, as the ‘relational’ training incorporated deference and emotional labour, and the migrant workers had to smilingly submit to their employers’ cultural notions of housework. Most workers, many of whom had experienced downward mobility on migration, were dismissive of the training. Some migrants thought the training helped them to do the work with more dignity and in a ‘more satisfactory way’, but Scrinzi did not explore this further. Clearly, there are valid concerns here in terms of the racial/gender axis. However, the research did not appear to consider the class dimension in the migrant sample, (p.27) and the paper did not mention the reasons why some of the women appreciated the training.

Also, would housework always be done the same way in households sharing the same wider cultural context? In Gregson and Lowe’s (1994a) British research, a reflexive element was evident, albeit in a different relational context, where the cleaners had greater autonomy. Bujra, who investigated domestic service in Tanzania, concluded that the notion that women always-already ‘know’ domestic work because of early socialisation is an assumption, as household skills vary by culture and class, so ‘what is learnt at home in one class [or culture] is not always the most useful knowledge for the work place’ (2000:74).

Lutz (2011) argued that professionalisation cannot obliterate the ‘hierarchical differences’ of the private space. But, says Weeks (2011), neither does this happen in the ‘formal’ workspace. Other feminist researchers have shown that the transformation of domestic work by contemporary independent live-out workers in the West from ‘labour power’ to ‘labour services’ includes emphasising competencies and learning to avoid role diffusion, by maintaining boundaries in the workplace (Glenn, 1986; Hondagneu-Sotelo, 2001; Romero, 2002; Salzinger, 1991).

When workers are scolded by employers for unsatisfactory work, the interactions may be interpreted as symbolic acts that ‘reinforce employers’ higher social status’ (Chin, 1998:141). In many instances, no doubt this is the case. But perhaps while everyone can do some cleaning (in the same way that everyone can take photographs), perhaps not everyone can do it well (like taking photographs of the quality that can help to earn a living). Oakley (1974/1985) found a range of cleaning standards among both working- and middle-class women – from being obsessive to being inattentive towards dust and dirt. French agency managers who recognised that paid domestic work is not the same as its unpaid equivalent also noted reduction in service quality when working time was tightly controlled (Bailly et al, 2013). An Australian government report mentions that almost 40% of commercial agency managers surveyed were ‘unhappy’ with their employees. One in every 2.2 applicants was deemed unsuitable, most commonly because of a lack of obvious interest or technical skills (Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, 2006). Paradoxically, the report concluded that recruitment could be boosted by simply targeting hard-to-place groups such as single mothers, older workers or those with disabilities. More recently, responding to the noticeable fall in the quality of state-subsidised cleaning services in Belgium, Tomei argues: ‘training programs for domestic workers are necessary to challenge the entrenched view that domestic work is work (p.28) that anyone can do and, thus, that workers must be unskilled and not worth much’ (2011:204).

In contrast, many workers are dismissive of their work in the first instance. It is ‘just’ cleaning (Scrinzi, 2010; Smith, 2009), with women more likely to see it as ‘an extension of housework’ (Bailly et al, 2013; Sykes et al, 2014:33). Persistent questioning by Smith (2009) revealed agency cleaners as knowledgeable about a range of cleaning-related information, such as health and safety issues related to complex cleaning materials and handling of industry vacuum cleaners. The training was frequently devalued, because it was not the training the workers had actively sought (also Sykes et al, 2014). It seems the question is not about whether training per se is a problem, but how the training, and the content of training, is conceptualised.

Another argument why domestic work is not amenable to professionalisation is because it is too ‘highly emotionally charged’, it incites both ‘disgust, shame and pain as well as … pride, sensuality (e.g. the smell of a clean apartment or ironed laundry), delight and satisfaction’ (Lutz, 2008:49). Are these emotions absent in other work? Ehrenreich’s experience as a cleaner, waitress and retail assistant led her to conclude: ‘Each job presents a self-contained social world, with its own personalities, hierarchy, customs, and standards’ (2002/2010:194). It appears that ontological and epistemological assumptions about housework require acknowledgement while analysing qualitative data. In Chapters 6 and 7, my analysis of material and cultural injustices in outsourced cleaning is underpinned by this observation.

Concerns around professionalisaton are not just about skills. Researchers, society and domestic worker activists have also considered whether paid domestic work is ‘just another job’ or whether it is a unique occupation (because anyone can do it).

‘Work like no other, work like any other’

The ILO describes paid domestic work as ‘work like no other, work like any other’ (2010: 12). Some researchers recommend that domestic work should be ‘work like any other’, because that will ‘make the skill level required for domestic work more visible’ (Blackett, 2011:14) and ‘impose on society the need to reconsider the provision of care and the taken-for-granted role of care workers, economically empower them, and incorporate this historically excluded category into the general political clientele of employees’ and their generic labour demands, irrespective of the work they do’ (Mundlak and Shamir, 2011:307; see also Neetha and Palriwala, 2011).

(p.29) But others argue that the nature of the worksite defies regulation, and unionisation is difficult for isolated workers (Bailly et al, 2013; Calleman, 2011:132; Lutz, 2011). Behind the closed doors of home, social inequalities are ‘reproduced and challenged on a daily and intimate basis’ through ‘the most intense, sustained contact with members of the other classes [and races] that most of its participants encounter’ (Dickey, 2000a:32). Thus, only when domestic work is shared by all physically able adults in an unpaid capacity will equality be achieved (Calleman, 2011). As briefly mentioned earlier in this chapter, Weeks, who looks at work more widely, argues that what Dickey considers distinct to paid domestic work is fundamental to paid work: ‘the work site [that is, any workplace] is where we often experience the most immediate, unambiguous, and tangible relations of power that most of us will encounter on a daily basis’ (Weeks, 2011:2). For instance, Potter and Hamilton’s (2014) account of exploitation of mushroom-pickers in Ireland raises similar issues to domestic work, including difficulty in organising because of high turnover and isolation of the workforce. Many domestic workers too, from the early 1900s to date, have countered the perception that the home is a distinctive workplace or that their work is not proper work and that their exploitation is different from that of other workers (IDWN, 2011; Schwartz, 2014; Sen and Sengupta, 2016:4). Worldwide, despite isolation and invisibility, these workers have been – and continue to be – involved in collective struggles demanding regulation with admirable successes, for instance the inclusion of domestic work in the ILO agenda on decent work (Pape, 2016).21

Domestic work is also considered unique because indirect exploitation of people by households-as-consumers is not comparable: ‘[organisations] can make use of advanced technology to offshore their tasks to low-wage workers abroad, unnoticed by the domestic customer base, [but] domestic work cannot be exported’ (Lutz, 2011:188). On opening up this debate, one would find that the situation is similar for plumbing and other household maintenance work. In the countries to which the West outsources low-wage work, outsourcing of domestic work is even more common (ILO, 2013). Still, many researchers note that domestic work is often work that no-one does out of choice (for example Anderson, 2000; Gregson and Lowe, 1994a; Lutz, 2011) and is a dead-end ‘ghetto’ occupation (Glenn, 1981; Mattila, 2011). In wider gender and sociological research, however, domestic work is one of many ‘ghetto’ occupations: ‘Ghetto occupations have been classified as those which are female-dominated and of low status, poorly paid, with narrow job content and that offer few prospects for promotion … clerical work, unskilled factory work, low-grade service work, nursing, cleaning, teaching and caring occupations’ (Truss et al, 2013:349–350).

(p.30) Male-dominated occupations may also be blighted by class injustices and precarious working conditions, such that a range of occupations, regardless of their gendered nature, could be deemed ‘poor’ work. The characteristics of this poor-quality work appear similar to the feminine ‘ghetto’ occupations: ‘often requiring no or low formal skills or qualifications’, such work is associated with ‘little room for the expression or development of skills’, and it is ‘often done under poor terms and conditions of employment (for example lack of training provision, holiday, maternity and sickness entitlement, “zero hour” work contracts and so on)’ (Shildrick et al, 2012:24; see also Potter and Hamilton, 2014). At the extreme end of poor work is forced labour, which occurs in several industries besides domestic work (Pai, 2008; Skrivankova, 2014). These working conditions are replicated along a spectrum of worsening conditions across the globe from North to South (for example in India, see Bremen, 2013; Coelho, 2016; Gill, 2009/2012; NCEUS, 2009).

Another part of the domestic work problem is that it can switch from being a job to ‘non’-work in a moment, since domestic workers can be hired or fired on a whim (Lutz, 2011). This appears to lead to a risk of naturalising the work of cleaning, because jobs come and go in all fields, with the work taken over by others as necessary in a paid, unpaid or overburdened capacity. In better work conditions, the blow is softened by – often generous – redundancy packages. But, across several industries, informal workers or those in forced labour, work without contract agreements and they are at the mercy of their contractor/employer (Bremen, 2013; Raju and Bose, 2016). Lutz’s analysis seems more revealing of how societies have constructed domestic work to appear different rather than it being inherently different. For instance, in 2010, the pro-socialist Ecuadorian government carried out inspections to ensure that employers of live-in domestic workers were fulfilling their legal obligations and honouring workers’ rights (De Casanova, 2013). Indian legislation has also considered home a workplace, because the Sexual Harassment of Women in the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Bill includes domestic workers (Sen and Sengupta, 2016). At the same time, ratification of the ILO convention and its recommendation for regulating domestic work was resisted in the UK on the grounds that health and safety legislation or inspection regulations devised for large organisations cannot be applied to a two-person ‘special’ employment relationship agreed in a private household (Albin and Mantouvalou, 2012:77). Underneath this simple explanation is the reality that it would mean paying more for the service, that is, upper-class notions that service work is not amenable to regulation appear to be part of the exploitation of domestic workers rather than a cause of it. Consequently, one cannot (p.31) commend highly enough those domestic workers, who, despite the limitations offered by the site and ambivalent legal status of their work, are fighting back alongside other workers in a climate of general weakening of labour protections.

Some domestic workers’ organisations have preferred to work separately from other such organisations (Anderson, 2007; Chaney and Garcia Castro, 1989; Varghese, 2006), rooting their grievances in the long and problematic history of servitude and endorsing domestic work as exceptional. In the UK, where historical legal changes led to a shift from domestic workers’ enjoying ‘sectoral advantage’ to suffering ‘sectoral disadvantage’ in terms of impact of sectoral rules, structures and culture, Albin proposed that a detailed sectoral approach should be the first step to redressal of injustices, because labour law ‘has never dealt with’ this kind of work (2012:231, 247). But others argue that the ‘unique’ job approach makes it difficult for workers and the work to lose the subordinating label, risks introducing arbitrary distinctions in waged work, and reduces the ability to deal with socio-legal issues that cross occupational categories (Chigateri, 2007; Hom, 2008/2010; Varghese, 2006).

Unionisation of early 20th-century British domestic workers had roots in the suffragette feminist movement (Schwartz, 2014). The historical trajectory of black Brazilian domestic workers’ activism showed that joining forces with wider black and feminist movements and unions was key to making race, class and gender ‘empowering’ instead of ‘disempowering’ characteristics (Bernardino-Costa, 201422). At a World Trade Organization conference, the Hong Kong Coalition of Indonesian Migrant Workers Organizations’ experience of protesting alongside other marginalised groups, such as Korean peasants and Filipino fishermen, made them aware of the similarities in the issues affecting them and these other groups (Lai, 2007). In the same vein, following their review of the challenges facing regulatory possibilities for domestic workers in India, Neetha and Palriwala concluded that ‘[t]he complexity of work organization, wage rates, poor working conditions, poverty, illiteracy, caste, migrant status, lack of alternative work, and the exigencies of the life of domestic workers are similar to that of the vast numbers of informal workers’ in India, and the ‘success of social policy depends on the extent to which [all] these workers’ rights are recognized rather than through piecemeal welfare measures’ (Neetha and Palriwala, 2011:118; see also NCEUS, 2008, 2009; Raju and Bose, 2016).

Although the research presented in this book is at the micro-level, these broader debates informed my understandings of a more inclusive feminist approach to resolving the issues around regulation and professionalisation at the individual level alongside cultural injustices in everyday practices.

(p.32) Cultural injustices in paid domestic work

Cultural injustices associated with the distinctiveness of exploitation in domestic work include personalism, paternalism/maternalism, deference and affective labour. Personalism is a characteristic of feudal relationships, where employers are ‘concerned with the worker’s total person’ rather than the quality of their work (Abrantes, 2014a; Anderson, 2007; Glenn, 1986:154). It reproduces racial inequalities, with employers considering skin colour for particular work, for instance, a white au pair but a non-white person live-out cleaner (Anderson, 2007). Other research shows that ‘modern’ employers routinely seek certain people for certain jobs, using the language of soft skills to mask criteria such as physical appearance and attitudes (Anderson and Ruhs, 2012; Lloyd and Payne, 2009; Warhurst and Nickson, 2009). In the creative industries, ‘soft judgements of insiders about whether [freelancers] are trustworthy, reliable and good to work with [are crucial]. Networks and contacts are the main means of gaining employment …’ (Leung et al, 2015:56). Selection interviews in academia, banking, law and so on were historically designed to assess whether the applicant is ‘just like us’, ‘will fit in’: even today a white man or Oxbridge candidate may be considered as having greater competence (Archive on 4, 2016; Rivera, 2015).

In sum, personalism remains a key social rule to avert the ‘threat to the “natural” order’ (Archive on 4, 2016) of racialised or class superiority in every possible space – the workspace, the leisure space, the home. Within this institutionalised injustice, when circumstances permit, domestic workers also assess employers, including on the basis of appearance (Grover, 2017; Lahiri, 2017) and resist unfair treatment despite personalism (Dill, 1994; Hondagneu-Sotelo, 2001). Some do not prefer depersonalisation (Dill, 1994; Lan, 2006; Näre, 2011), because it makes her more invisible when working (Molinier, 2009/2012) and encourages stereotyping of workers, reducing her ability to negotiate with employers (Mendez, 1998; Tomei, 2011).23

Maternalist/paternalist practices in paid domestic work are reported cross-culturally, although researchers have argued about which term is more appropriate in this context (Anderson, 2000; de Santana Pinho and Silva, 2010; Parreñas, 2010, cited in Mattila, 2011:337; Rollins, 1985; Romero, 2002). Such debates risk contradicting feminist efforts to counter reducing women and men to femininity and masculinity, respectively. As King argued, the ‘relationship is patterned along paternalistic lines that inverts characteristics of maternalism to enhance the power and image of self in relation to the “other”’ (2007:16), that is, both are embodied in the employer, since neither is inherent to her biological makeup.

(p.33) The critical problem, then, is the pseudo-construction of the worker/servant as infantile24 and ‘part of the family’, and their continued dependency on the employer (Anderson, 2000; Srinivas, 1995; Tellis-Nayak, 1983). In this situation, much recompensation is done in kind alongside a low monetary wage, ‘gift’-giving (often second-hand), help with children’s education and so on. Workers often resent this dependence (and the associated construction of their condition as ‘needy’ by employers) (Ray and Qayum, 2009/2010). Perusing the wider literature, however, it appears that such dependency is not specific to domestic work. Ehrenreich (2002/2010) and Toynbee (2003) worked undercover in several low-wage jobs in the US and the UK, respectively. Both concluded that they could not live on all those jobs. In the US, the working poor generally live with the constant threat of eviction and hunger, with little chance of owning a home, building a nest egg, having a pension. In the UK, they depend on state benefits, variously known as Family Income Supplement, Working Families Tax Credit and Universal Credit. Indeed, many low-waged workers remain dependants of the state if not of their employers.

At the same time, even though in Western labour relations paternalism is considered unfavourable for development, ‘[m]ost organizations find themselves operating within this understanding of leadership’ (Laub, 2013, n.p.; see also Landry, 2011; Pellegrini et al, 2010). Organisations might mould employees through free courses on ‘character’ development and so on (Hochschild, 2001). Organisational management discourses adopt the ‘language of family values … to manufacture consent and adjust individuals to preconceived roles’ (Weeks, 2011:158; also Dodson and Zincavage, 2007; Hochschild, 2001; Sturges, 2013). These ‘values’ and welfare provisions, bonuses, Christmas parties and gifts are used to extract more work through ‘“function creep” – the requirement to do more with less’ (Gregg, 2009, cited in Gill, 2010:237; Westwood, 1984) as in paid domestic work. Workers who resist ‘can appear ungrateful and disloyal’ (Hom, 2008/2010:34; also Hochschild, 2001). My readings indicate that a deeper understanding of the perpetuation of cultural injustices in paid domestic work might require taking these similarities into consideration (see Chapter 7).

Housecleaning can also be degrading due to the implicit demands for deference and servility (Romero, 2002). Gregson and Lowe (1994a) stated that deference in domestic work was context-specific to the US. Still, in their book, they used first names only for the domestic workers, but referred to employers as Mrs So-and-So or ‘Ann Bloggs’. They clearly note that their decision was made to avoid confusion and should not be interpreted otherwise. This was useful, as choosing what is usually (p.34) considered as a show of deference to clarify who is the employer and the employee could be misinterpreted. It is important to read prefaces, introductions, footnotes and endnotes, and appendices before coming to conclusions about others’ work. Strategies used by modern organisations to keep low-wage workers ‘in their place’ (a phrase that regularly appears in titles of articles and books on domestic servants) include cult-like induction programmes and unexpected changes to schedules or work plans: ‘In fact often it was often hard to see what the function of management was, other than to exact obeisance’, noted Ehrenreich (2002/2010:209–212; see also Hochschild, 2001). Other societies such as India are overtly hierarchical. At the same time, many people are not blind to their oppression and resist it as best they can (Constable, 2007; Dill, 1994; Rollins, 1985; Saldaña-Tejeda, 2015).

Finally, domestic work includes emotional or affective labour, which cannot be captured in a contract. Anderson questioned reducing emotional labour to money, even if it was appropriately remunerated – it would ‘bring with it no mutual obligations, no entry into a community, and no real human relations’ (2001:31). This aspect however, has been theorised as a particular problem between women:

Affect, … not only unfolds context …, but is also produced in a specific context. Thus, while they [the feelings and emotions associated with doing housework] are expressions of immediate bodily reactions and sensations, which are neither rationalized through language nor situated in a dominant semantic script, they impact people and places, and are situated in a social space, such as a private household … the affective energies attached to the organization and dynamics of unpaid and paid domestic work in private households evolve within the logic of the feminization of labor.

(Gutiérrez-Rodríguez, 2014:47)

Later in the same article, Gutiérrez-Rodríguez acknowledges that all labour ‘needs to be conceived in relation to … feelings, emotions, sensations … that drive’ it (2014:51). Gynocentric conceptualisation of domestic work as a problematic affective terrain traversed only by women risks naturalising affective labour’s association with the female domestic worker and its inevitability in the domestic workplace. Feminisation of domestic work is not ahistorical (see Chapter 5), men doing gardening or house-maintenance are also labelled domestic workers (Kilkey et al, 2013), and most work relations have ‘instrumental’ and ‘affective’ components (Gill, 2010; Penz et al, 2017). Perhaps it might be that the ‘masculine’ conceptualisation of paid work on the whole is the problem? The analyses (p.35) presented in the subsequent chapters were conducted bearing these observations in mind.

Turning the lens from the demand to the supply side also might help. It appears that the single live-in worker is more likely to experience domestic work as ‘work like no other’,25 while the live-out worker is more likely to experience it as ‘work like any other’ – these workers have also had a key role in domestic worker movements, because they are more visible and mobile (Sen and Sengupta, 2016). Workers who have experienced both situations seem to prefer the latter (Dill, 1994; Hondagneu-Sotelo, 2001; Narula, 1999), thus here I mostly draw on accounts of live-out work. In conditions of extreme social inequalities and entrenched caste/race, gender and social/religious norms around purity/pollution, the meanings of the work become intricately bound to experiences of wider cultural injustices. Chigateri (2007) reported how in India Tamilian Dalit26 women did not want societal inscription of domestic work on their bodies.

The experiences of the variously racialised live-out workers in Western countries are more complex. The autonomy in the work certainly appears to be better than in other low-wage/status regularised jobs – a feature that is deemed important by the workers, as are often the better wages and greater job stability.27 Dill detected two kinds of attitude among her respondents, 26 black American women who had done domestic work for an average of 37 years. Five women found the experience unpleasant, the work was mundane compared with other work they had done. The remaining women were invested in their work and tried to ‘create opportunities for self-satisfaction’. Their ambivalent accounts gave Dill a better ‘understanding of the rewards and detractions of the occupation’ and she likened their experiences to a generalised experience of work (1994:99). Romero commented that the ‘challenge [for her sample of domestic workers] was to find a job outside domestic service’ (2002:174); their preference for this degrading work over other dehumanising work was the ‘paradox of domestic service’ (2002:42).

In Meagher’s (2003) Australian study, some workers (that is, migrant and local workers) said they liked cleaning, creating ‘order’ out of other people’s mess, and did not see the work as inherently degrading. Meagher listed five kinds of work orientation in domestic cleaning:

  • stop-gap work (for example students, including feminists);

  • stepping stone for other work (for example because of learning transferable skills);

  • filler work (doing this work as a reasonable source of income, while waiting for an appropriate opportunity for work of choice);

  • (p.36) • career (doing this work with the aim of opening a domestic service agency);

  • dead-end (doing this work on a permanent basis).

Some workers have expressed a dislike for cleaning toilets (Anderson, 2000; Gutiérrez-Rodríguez, 2014; Meagher, 2003). But others have said that the worst job is cleaning shared housing (for example student accommodation) or just very dirty and messy houses (Gregson and Lowe, 1994a; Meagher, 2003). But workers universally are hurt by their stigmatisation.

Clearly, taking both sides into account acknowledges the agency of the worker, while also recognising its limitations, and this has posed a dilemma for some researchers. My review indicated that this dilemma can aid in reading between the lines of one’s own analysis, to ensure that one is presenting respondents’ voices at all times. I have attempted to keep it in mind, while writing this book.


Evidence from outwith the core domestic work literature shows that the essential features of paid domestic work are also present in other work. The meanings of domestic work appear to be shaped by several factors:

  • the work itself;

  • previous work experiences;

  • the conditions under which it is done (as a raced, classed, casteised woman or man; citizen or non-citizen; live-out or live-in work);

  • relationship with the employer(s);

  • what the worker hopes to achieve from the whole experience in terms of their wider life circumstances.

Affect and emotion may be constructed as feminine, but they are intrinsic to all work (Mundlak and Shamir, 2011). Researchers are universally sympathetic to women who do cleaning work – and this is vital within a feminist approach. The gendered theorisation, however, reinforces domestic work as low-value ‘women’s’ work, which then keeps the work in the shadows, instead of what Ehrenreich rightly demands, ‘to make the work visible’, a project started by second-wave feminists but left incomplete (2000, n.p.). The Mumsnetters responding to my question at the beginning of this chapter may have been a step ahead, because they questioned cleaning as women’s work, but cleaning was ‘only a bit (p.37) of cleaning’ and, hence, not worth researching. All these ideologies and norms, present across cultures – women’s work, work that anyone can do, unique work – appear to undermine domestic workers’ efforts to work under a ‘contract for service’ rather than under a ‘contract of service’ (Meagher, 2003:149).

The published literature is an invaluable source of information and evidence of many researchers’ thoughtful hard work in the growing societal recognition of domestic work as real work. It also shows, though, that subsequent feminist approaches to the continuing conundrum need not only to focus on the work itself, taking into consideration the multiple axes of oppression that continue to operate, but also to seek to situate it within the context of wider work practices, to aid filling the gaps in our knowledge about how this work has evolved as societies have progressed. The next chapter describes the methodology used and the research respondents whose accounts provided the basis for the argument that emerged from the research for this book by attempting one such feminist approach. (p.38)


(1) Mumsnet, topics ≫ Media/non-member requests. 31 March 2014. Does having a cleaner conflict with feminism? (46 posts).

(2) The Civilising Process is the title of Elias’s 1939 work tracing the historical development, meanings and understandings of everyday social behaviours, manners and etiquette in the European context. In this, Elias emphasises the role of wider institutional changes, particularly the shift of ‘acceptable’ violent behaviours from the individual to the macro level. (See Elias, 1994/2003.)

(3) A few Indian states have introduced regulations, but their implementation has been irregular (Neetha and Palriwala, 2011; Sen and Sengupta, 2016).

(4) The debate has been revisited more recently in related contexts, for instance the ‘problem’ with work (Weeks, 2011).

(5) A British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Radio 4 programme that discusses topical issues for and about women.

(6) Also in other northern and central European countries (Sarti, 2005; see also Bujra, 2000, for a Tanzanian context).

(7) Census Customer Services (2014) Email to Lotika Singha. With extracts from census tables from 1951, 1961, 1971 and 1981, 14 October 2014. See Mayer-Ahuja (2004) and van Walsum (2011) for the German and Dutch context, respectively.

(8) See Chaney and Garcia Castro (1989) for the Latin American context.

(15) In association with the London-based charity Kalayaan (see also Lalani, 2011).

(16) The Lady is a British magazine that carries adverts (wanted/seeking position) for domestic help in upper-middle/upper-class households. Its modern incarnation retains its ‘genteel’ Victorian English character (Wheen, 2012).

(18) ESS Round 7: European Social Survey Round 7 Data (2014). Data file edition 2.1. doi:10.21338/NSD-ESS7-2014; ESS Round 6: European Social Survey Round 6 Data (2012). Data file edition 2.3.doi:10.21338/NSD-ESS6-2012; ESS Round 5: European Social Survey Round 5 Data (2010). Data file edition 3.3. doi:10.21338/NSD-ESS5-2010; ESS Round 4: European Social Survey Round 4 Data (2008). Data file edition 4.4. doi:10.21338/NSD-ESS4-2008; ESS Round 3: European Social Survey Round 3 Data (2006). Data file edition 3.6. doi:10.21338/NSD-ESS3-2006; ESS Round 2: European Social Survey Round 2 Data (2004). Data file edition 3.5. doi:10.21338/NSD-ESS2-2004; and ESS Round 1: European Social Survey Round 1 Data (2002). Data file edition 6.5. doi:10.21338/NSD-ESS1-2002. NSD – Norwegian Centre for Research Data, Norway – Data Archive and distributor of ESS data for ESS ERIC.

(22) Although alliances with parallel feminist struggles were not always successful, because many feminisms view domestic work as inherently oppressive (Bernardino-Costa, 2014).

(23) Malaysian employers in Chin (1998) gave sweeping descriptions of Indonesians as dirty, lazy and untrustworthy and Filipinas as better educated, better behaved and hygienic.

(24) An extreme version of this ideology was part of the domestic service delivered through slavery (King, 2007).

(25) The areas where the ILO convention for domestic work falls short, because it tries to follow the Fordist model of regulation, is mostly in areas that concern live-in workers, such as being on call 24 hours, and immunity from prosecution of diplomats who abuse their employees (Albin, 2012).

(26) The Dalits form a significant proportion of the caste groups that continue to be ostracised and perform manual work in demeaning and some dehumanising ways (for example manual scavenging) (Chagar, 2011; Human Rights Watch, 2014; Ilaiah, 1995/2004; Irudayam et al, 2011).

(27) Other jobs such as factory work, residential care work, hospital housekeeping, hairdressing and agricultural work (for example see Gregson and Lowe, 1994a; Hondagneu-Sotelo, 2001; Jones, 2004; Meagher, 1997, 2003; Rollins, 1985; Romero, 2002).