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Revisiting Gender in the Analysis of Transnational Migrations:

Proposals based on Anthropological Theory and Ethnography[i].

Carmen Gregorio Gil.
Literature on gender and international migration[ii] -both of national and
international scope - is recent[iii] yet very diffuse. This is certainly due to
the progressive implementation of gender and feminist studies in the
Academy and the influence of “The Wide Movement of the Women” on a
global level[iv].
Feminist approaches put forward categories of analysis that aim to restore
women’s agency and the situation of those women who -as world citizens-
cross borders of a physical and increasingly fortified symbolic nature,
contributing to the view of international migrations as a problem of “male
immigrant workers and their families”. At present, most issues related to
international migrations such as transnationalism, globalization, ethnicity,
development, integration, identity, cultural rights, multiculturalism, cultural
change, health, or the labour market
(to mention just a few) make a special reference to immigrant women and
gender relations in a certain way. There are several reviews on the subject,
which clearly aim at addressing theories on migration. This is pointed out by
Hondagneu-Sotelo in his conference, eloquently entitled “Gendering
Migration: Not for “Feminists only” – And not Only in the Household”
referring to some of the essays in the volume “Gender and U.S Immigration:
Contemporary Trends” “Gender is one of the fundamental social relations
anchoring and shaping immigration patterns, and immigration is one of the
most powerful forces disrupting and realigning everyday life” published in
the year 2003. (2005:2).
We should congratulate ourselves on the fact that gender seems to be
everywhere now and this category of analysis has banished the determinacy
of “belonging to women", a problem that marginalised compilations of
papers related to gender issues in the 80s: “International Migration. The
Female Experiencia” by Simon & Brettell (1986) or “Women in the cities of
Asia. Migration and Urban adaptation” by Faccett, Khoo y Smith (1984) or
the special issue of International Migration Review “Women and Migration”
from 1984. Thus, based upon transnationalism, as one of the newest and
most productive theoretical and methodological approaches of the last two
decades, Pessar and Mahler (2001) argue: “The task of bringing gender to a
transnational perspective on migration was taken up by us (Patricia Pessar
and Sarah Mahler) back in 1996 culminating in a special volume of the
journal Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power published in April
2001” (2001:4)
In the early 90s, papers within the context of Spain could hardly could be
counted on the fingers of one’s hand, but now, 13 years later, I come back to
this field of theorization coinciding with the research project “SEJ2005-
06393 Inequalities in the context of globalization: Care, affections and
sexuality” funded by the National Plan for Research, Development and
technological research of the University and Research Estate Secretary, only
to face a substantially different situation.
During the years 1991-1996, while I was carrying out my doctoral thesis, I
conducted thorough research on papers dealing with the connection between
gender and immigration[v]. At the time, monographs on the subject where
practically inexistent, and only a small number of female authors from
English-speaking Universities – and who were mainly working in the
context of Latin-America and Asian and, to a lesser extend, Africa - were
beginning to stand out for their approach to migrations, based on 'women' or
However, gender was still not seen as the main principle of social
organization[vii]. Not surprisingly, institutional demand from social
anthropology has been centered around those issues related to the so-called
‘intercultural mediation’[viii], or dealing with cultural diversity within
different fields: health, education, housing, violence, social services,
associationism, and women[ix].
As regards the scope of research within Social Sciences, production of
scholarly literature throughout the past two decades is immeasurable. This is
something we may congratulate ourselves upon, however, in agreement with
Enrique Santamaría, we notice a “blatant epistemological neglect”(2008:8).
Reading some papers – either published or presented at congresses – and,
above all, observing indubitableness implied in some of the assumptions
made by my students on doctoral programmes, certainly demand
epistemological reflection, from our position as responsible and committed
lecturers and researchers. The lack of theoretical and methodological
reflection when it comes to the building of problems, making more than a
few assumptions and asserting categorical truths, as well as the scarcity of
contextualized ethnographical data are commonplace. Papers written on
social anthropology end up broadly describing certain cultural traits of
particular groups only characterised by their national origins (Peruvian,
Moroccan, Colombian, Russian…) in particular locations (Madrid, Huelva,
Barcelona, Totana, El Ejido…). As Danielle Provansal points out when she
refers to the excessive generalisation found in papers on immigrant women:
“Though some papers focus on the role of women as social actors and their
ability to undertake initiatives, these claims are not always based on
convincing illustrations, but rather on details, revealing a lack of fieldwork"
It is because of this that I wish to contribute to this reflection in social
anthropology, departing from two axes of theorization to which
contributions from feminist critique within Social Anthropology have been
decisive and whose applicability to the field of migratory studies must -in
my view- be revisited: social reproduction and social change.
Demonstrating how social reproduction is settled in gender inequalities, as
well as other inequalities, and the fact that these are not immutable is
undoubtedly still part of our feminist endeavour. I see our aim as
anthropologists from an ethnographic perspective, even when this approach
may not meet the demand from Institutions whose funds for our research we
are dependant on after all. The path I intend to follow within the field of
migratory studies leads me to redefining the category of social reproduction
in all of its questioning potential, and to reinstating the value of Ethnography
as capable of showing the processes through which differentiations are
made in a contextualized way, as well as the multiplicity of meanings taken
by social practices.

Based upon feminist critique, I will make an invitation to the development

of conceptual and methodological proposals aimed at overcoming the
dichotomies ‘production/reproduction’, ‘public/private’, ‘man/woman’,
through which me may be able to show not only how gender is constructed,
but also race, race, ethnicity, kinship, culture and other social distinctions
assumed as pre-existing realities in our theoretical and epistemological
frameworks. Unfortunately, Emic categories -only with a few exceptions-
are rarely present in research papers, as they are engulfed by our apparent
need to generalize conclusions -'most people think', 'the reproductive
behaviour of Peruvian women', 'foreign women employed in household
services’…- in a field of study which arises coupled with the demand from
Public Institutions and is at issue in various disciplines of scientific
the discuss the usage of the category of social reproduction, as I notice a
reduction of its questioning potential in the papers it has been used, due to
the difficulties of overcoming the analytical dichotomies of
‘production/reproduction’, ‘household/market’ ‘public/domestic’ and
‘gender system of the society of origin/gender system of the recipient
society’, ‘man/woman’. Ethnographic papers with a transnational approach,
in their attempt to overcome the dichotomy ‘country of origin/country of
destination’, are focused on the so-called ‘transnational practices’ of the
immigrant population but will end up naturalizing and reifying the
categories of ‘woman=mother’ ‘family’, as I will try to illustrate. Moreover,
studies focusing on showing the triple discrimination of gender-class-
ethnicity or the ethnic stratification in the labour market will overlook
‘reproductive’ non-paid labour to steer their attention towards a sector called
'services of proximity'[x], unveiling in this way the superiority of national
over foreign women or reporting the difficulties faced by immigrant women
who juggle their household work with their jobs outside the home, as a
group that remain ‘doubly present’, from their positions of triple
Based upon feminist critique I suggest we elaborate conceptual and
methodological proposals capable of showing not only how gender is
constructed, but also race, ethnicity, kinship, culture and other social
distinctions assumed as pre-existing realities in our theoretical and
epistemological frameworks. Unfortunately, Emic categories -only with a
few exceptions- are rarely present in research papers, as they are engulfed by
our apparent need to generalize conclusions -'most people think', 'the
reproductive behaviour of Peruvian women', 'foreign women employed in
household services’…- in a field of study which arises coupled with the
demand from Public Institutions and is at issue in various disciplines of
scientific knowledge.
I will organize my analytical proposal in two sections: first, the one dealt
with under the heading ‘Gender Inequalities and Social Reproduction’ and
secondly, I will address one of the issues most exciting to those of us
approaching this field from the perspective of gender studies: the change in
gender relations, understood as a result of women’s international travelling.
Gender Inequalities and Social Reproduction
Undoubtedly, the organization of household and care work as the building
foundations of gender inequalities is an issue on which most feminist
positions agree. This is not the case for sex work, whose status as work is
refuted by abolitionist positions on prostitution. It is an indisputable fact that
in capitalist societies the invisibilization and naturalization of sex work as ‘a
female task’ and its area of definition -domestic versus public– have denied
the entitlement of rights to those who have more or less exclusively done it
for a living, besides depriving them from social and economic recognition
on the basis of kinship. However, from my point of view, and despite the
fact that this kind of analysis has permeated different disciplinary
approaches -Economics, Sociology, Anthropology, History- and it is a
widely known fact in the understanding of structural gender inequalities and
some of the political formulations which address it, I believe that taking a U-
turn and placing care work in the centre of our analysis is still and exercise
of subversion, capable of shaking too many foundations. As one among
other proposals by feminist Anthropology, we may agree with Marilyn
Strathern that it would definitely challenge holy beliefs, hidden agendas, or
would even tear off family –and therefore comfortable- prospects" (Strathern
Though Marxism was one of the main driving forces for Anthropology to
study women’s economic activities in order to grasp their social position
(Brown 1970th, Friedl 1975th, Gough 1971, 1972, Leacock 1972, Reiter
1975th, Sack 1974), it suffered from certain limitations, because it left
productive labour of use-values out of the analysis. Marxist theory made a
distinction between the production of goods and the reproduction of the
labour force because, even though labour force was identified as an
economic and social product, work derived from it was reduced to the sum
of the livehoods, transgenerational maintenance and education required by
an individual. The time of labour required to produce labour force is
therefore converted into the time of labour required to produce livelihoods
which –as commodities- are linked to the production and creation of
exchange values (Marx 1976 crf. Narotzky 1995). As Narotzky (1995)
points out, women’s domestic labour (food processing, dressmaking,
socialization of children, etc.) as well as biological or genetical labour
(pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding) is a tangible rather than an abstract
job. This is because, though it is not put into operation as a commodity, it
produces an exchange value -the labour force- as well as producing a key
commodity, whose disparity between "use-value" and "exchange value"
generates capital gain. For this reason, domestic labour, though apparently
independent from the laws of value is not unproductive, but rather
productive work. The division between the domestic or reproductive sphere
and the productive sphere involves a process of naturalizing housework
(Friedl 1975, Reiter 1975) as well as simplifying its content, overshadowing
its great variability in space and time.
The links between family and kinship cannot be separated from economic
and political relations[xii]. Pioneering papers, like those by Boserup (1970)
and Goody (1973, 1976), despite criticism from feminist approaches[xiii],
show the existence of links between the status of women, the sexual division
of labour, forms of marriage and inheritance, and the economic relations of
output[xiv]. The connection between gender inequality, the family, and
capitalist production relations was raised by Engels in his paper “The Origin
of the Family, Private Property and the State” in 1884[xv], and also by
different female anthropologists inspired by this work (Leacock 1972 and
Sacks 1974). Women’s subordination is explained by the division of labour
operating in the Capitalist system: work carried out outside the household
within the framework of productive relations, and work carried out inside
the household, where women are relegated to. For Marxist feminist
approaches, kinship relations will be decisive, given their function as
systems of production in stateless societies, and the gender ideologies
organizing them condition their access to the means of production
(Linderbaum 1987, Rapp 1977, Sacks 1975, 1979).
The latest feminist critique in Anthropology has raised the need to study the
value generated by productive activities of subsistence and domestic labour,
as well as the political and production relations where such value is created
in its articulation with other production relations. In connection to this,
feminist theoretical reviews of the categories of home and family (Collier,
Rosaldo & Yanagisako 1982, Harding 1981, Harris 1981, Moore 1991, Rapp
1974, Yanagisako 1979) and proposals aimed at breaking the dichotomies of
relations of domestic production/relations of the marketplace, kinship/State
(Edholm et al 1977, Narotzky 1995, Strathern 1985) have been middlemost.
As for the concept of home or domestic group -used in Anthropology as a
unit of production and consumption- and its relation to the divisions of
labour, theoretical contributions have focused on questioning the
naturalization it has been characterised by. As Moore argues, households are
"very important in feminist analysis because most women’s domestic and
reproductive labour is largely organized around them. As a result, both the
composition and organization of the household have a direct impact on
women’s lives and, in particular, on their ability to access resources, work
and income" (1991:74). But it seems then necessary to question the
household as an autonomous unit, isolated from the group of social,
economic and ideological relations and where marriage is regarded as the
decisive relation out of all gender relations, over and above other kinds of
relations. As Moore points out, the problem is to examine how the
bargaining power in the household group is significantly affected by
questions of power and ideology (Moore 1994:88)[xvi].
Harris (1981, quoted in Moore 1991) criticizes the naturalist postulates
involved in the concept of "domestic mode of production" by Sahlins
(1974). He refers to different ethnographic papers to refute the
conceptualization made by Sahlins on the processes of concentrating and
sharing by which the "domestic mode of production" is characterised. He
also highlights the importance of considering the organization of the
household and the sexual division of labour when looking at the differential
duties of non-paid "family work" and the conflicts generated between the
spouses (Berry 1984, Dey 1981, Guyer 1981, Okali 1983, Whitehead 1981).
Conceptual developments, such as "domestic network" (Stack 1974),
production relations set up around “matrifocal” households (Gonzalez 1965,
1970, Prior 1993, Smith 1970, 1973, Tanner 1974) or patterns of serial
monogamy (Brown 1975) will question the role of the couple who procreate
in an analysis of the household, as well as the impossibility to separate
reproductive from productive tasks.
Other feminist critiques have focused on the homogenizing assumptions that
have been characterizing the units of domestic production ignoring power
relations at its core (Harris 1981, Yangisako 1979, Rap 1978, Hartmann
1981, Folbre 1982, 1983) and hindering its articulation with supra-domestic
processes and logics (Narotzky 1988, 1995).
As regards those theoretical proposals which articulate production and
reproduction relations and the imbrication between different economies,
Claude Meillassoux incorporates the concepts of means and reproduction
relations in Women, Barns and Capital (1975). She presents women as
"means of reproduction" and social relations within the "domestic
agricultural community" as "relations of reproduction" as a contribution to
the continuation and development of society. Her relevance lies in her
attempt to link production and reproduction and the link between different
economies. However, she has been subjected to substantial criticism.
Particularly relevant to the issue we are concerned with is criticism by
Edholm, Harris and Young (1977) on the concept of reproduction. Her
proposal, from the point of view of these authors, fails on the need to
consider three reproductive processes apparently confused: social
reproduction, labour reproduction and human or biological reproduction.
From Marxist perspectives, kinship relations have been analysed as relations
of production (Godelier, 1976, 1977). Yet, as Narotzky (1995:93-94) points
out, though Godelier’s (1977) formulations on the theoretical categories of
infrastructure and superstructure in the study of pre-capitalist allow for some
flexibility of the "economic" and "kinship" spheres, drawing a conceptual
distinction between structures, functions and social relations poses no direct
questioning of the demarcation of both categories, as in the work of
Strathern (1985). Neither does Goody (1973, 1977) analyse gender
stratification deeply, in spite of integrating those issues related to the
establishment of relations of kinship (control of sexuality, forms of
marriage, marital transactions, adoption systems, divorce) with what is
“economic” (the transfer of property) and makes it possible for an analysis
of the processes of stratification.
Another underlying criticism from feminist theorization is the fact that both
Goody (1976) and Meillassoux (1975) have taken control over women’s
reproductive role as the starting point in social reproduction. As Moore
reminds us, what is relevant is the fact that the production of people “is not
an act of reproducing biological individuals or even reproducing labour
force, but an act of producing particular groups of people with particular
assets in a way so that they are congruent with the socially established
power models”(1994:93)
The aforementioned discussions have raised the need for an analysis of the
sexual division of labour, taking into account both social reproduction as a
whole and the material, social and symbolic issues involved in it. One of the
fields on which feminist reviews have focused is that one dealing with the
link between the division of labour and social relations, established by
different meanings (Hirschon 1984), particularly, the link between the social
division of labour and the ideologies asserting kinship relations, household
and capitalist production. Understanding the divisions of gender operating
within the framework of capitalist relations implies incorporating ideologies
of family life and economic and the organizational realities of the household
(Comas 1995, Segalen 1984). The ideological intervention of political
institutions in the organization of family and home life (Pelzer-White 1987,
Weston 1987, Wolkowitz 1987, Yuval-Davis 1987) reveals the continuity
that must be established between the household and the labour market, as
well as between production and reproduction. The study of these issues
highlights the way in which the capitalist system of production and the
thinking behind it enforce a stratification system based on the ideology of
the household, wherein gender relations are established.
The afore exposed is only a small sample of the analytical efforts made by
feminist critique to overcome the dichotomy of production/reproduction,
incorporating a culturally conformed differentiation between what work is
and what is not, or, in other words, what production of commodities is and
what reproduction of life is. Focusing on the category of “social
reproduction” would imply looking into social reproduction as a total social
act, or –again quoting Moore- as “an act of producing particular groups of
people with specific assets in a way so that they are congruent with the
socially established power models”.(1994:93)
Once the political-theoretical aim of social reproduction is set out, I will try
to carry out a critical analysis of its use in papers on migrations based on the
gender theory in the present time. Though obvious, I think its necessary to
remember now that not all papers operating from the category of gender or
woman are necessarily critical of gender inequalities, that is feminist, o what
is the same, as I understand it, its focussed on contributing to unveiling
processes of production of difference and inequality with the intention of
contributing to its change or transformation.
The analysis of papers on gender and migrations show multiple bifurcations
accounting for the debate from feminism on the dichotomy of
production/reproduction, but their theoretical and methodological approach
end up reifying it one way or another. Research seems to take on parallel
directions: on the one hand, the visibilization of immigrant working women
in the marketplace –household services, sexual work and (to a lesser extent)
agriculture and the trade- emphasizing in some cases their position as mere
“household managers”; and, on the other hand, their visibilization as
“transnational mothers” within the so-called “world chains of support and
In the scholarly literature published in Spain, the establishment of relations
between the category of gender, social reproduction and international
migrations start off with the proposal made by Gregorio (1996, 1997,
1998[xvii]) from her proposal to build an analytical framework that would
incorporate gender differentiation gender as a structural principle of the
analysis of the causes and impacts of migrations. As pointed out by the
writer in the introduction to her Thesis, “Literature on immigration is ever-
increasingly available in Spain, but the theoretical models used to explain
migratory processes have rarely taken into account the aspects of gender
involved in them. And this is so, in spite of the discussion held over the past
years on the growing number of women from developing countries who are
present in international migrations (Instraw 1994), as well as the fact that
the proportion of female immigrant population in Spain is similar to that of
the male population” (1996:2).
A review of the literature on migrations carried out by the author done both
in an Anglo-Saxon as well as a Latin American context, with further reading
on gender critique, raises the need to understand migrations as “gendered
processes” (Gregorio 1996:6), focusing on power relations as the main issue
of their ethnographic approach, and women’s jobs, which are denied to be
considered merely reproductive human beings, thus bringing their quality of
agent subjects back to life. As pointed out later “The priority given to the
category of class by historical-structural approaches and the understanding
of labour migrations as forms of moving labour force to the capitalist sector
of developed countries (receiving) has left the category of gender out of the
analysis of migrations. With this, not only has the importance of women
taking part in migrations been minimized as female workers with their own
projects[xviii] beyond their role as mere followers of “productive” men, but
also the social and economic consequences of “reproductive” work have
been rendered invisible and the meanings and differentiations of gender
-which are central to the division of labour and the composition of
migration and kinship- have been left out of the analysis” (Gregorio 2007).
Taking an ethnographic approach, the writer accounts for “flesh and blood”
women’s jobs based in different locations and highlights their implications
for migration theories: their main role in social reproduction, as workers in a
wider sense and their main role as the builders of migratory, kinship and
community networks, basically as social and political agents. With this, she
attempts to overcome the subalternity women are placed in when they are
studied from approaches that refuse to incorporate feminist critique into a
male-centred view, fragmenting social reproduction into economic, social,
political or cultural dimensions[xix].
In an effort to restore the role played by affection and the provision of
support in social reproduction in the global order, and based upon
approaches that aim to overcome methodological nationalism[xx], further
contributions highlight the existence of “world chains of affection and
support”, understood as a “series of personal links between people from all
over the world, based on paid or unpaid support work”, following Arlie
Russel Hochschild (2001:188). However, in spite of the apparent political-
theoretical potential of these concepts, stemming from the generalization of
their use by different papers, this category has been geared towards evincing
inequalities among women based on the description given by Hochschild
and inspired by the works by Pierrete Hondagneu-Sotelo and Ernestine
Avila (1997): “These links often join three series of carers: one cares for
the children of the immigrant who is in the country of origin, a second one
cares for the children of the woman who cares for the children of the
immigrant women and a third one, the mother, who is an immigrant, cares
for the children of professional women in the First World. Poorer women
bring up the children of more accommodated women whilst women who are
even poorer – or elder, or more rural- take care of their own children”
(2001: 195). Hierarchies among women is characteristic of the globalization
of the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, as we
already know that, according to Badinter (1981), poorer women have been
responsible for the upbringing of the wealthier classes’ offspring since the
17th century[xxi].
Though hierarchies in the organization of care based on a transnational
approach are not overlooked in my ethnographic work[xxii], we have an
opportunity to theorize on the intersectionality of the category of gender
with other differentiating categories, and this enables us to go beyond the
assertion of oppression exerted by “professional women from the First
World” towards other women: “Immigrants or women from the Third
World”, clearly stating in all cases the political-theoretical aim to which we
may construct these differentiating categories based upon social sciences and
homogenizing women at the same time, so as not to be misled by
essentialisms towards women as affective and assisting beings in their
alleged relationship with procreation and upbringing.
From an ethnographic and feminist perspective, I would suggest we focus on
understanding the social organization of care in all of its emotional, bodily,
social, economic, political and ethical dimensions; and as the core of our
existence, in the sense of “life’s sustainability” put forward by Carrasco
(1991) in an effort to situationally understand their own logic of
hierarchization and knots of signification. Hochschild seems to subsume a
naturalization of care –assuming the feeling of “love” from the carer- when
he argues that “be the chain as long as it may, wherever its starts or ends,
looking at one link or the other, many of us see the carer’s love for the child
as private, exclusive and separated from context” (2001:189). This assertion
would imply, from my perspective, putting all forms of care and the women
related to it at the same level, darkening in this way the multiple meanings
of care, as well as the framework of political-economical relations within
which it takes place: whoever is taken care of, for what reason, in exchange
of what, whether the work is paid for and/or acknowledged, or whether it is
done for relatives or not, the expectations and demands from the carer or the
person being cared for, etc., as it carries on circumscribing care and affection
to the narrow framework of the principles of kinship (marriage and family),
ratified by political practices and the law[xxiii]. Transfer of love to the
absent child, who was left back in the immigrant woman’s country of origin,
if given, does not necessarily have to be given to her employer’s
son/daughter, whom the domestic servant will care for, as assumed by
Hochschild (2001) when he insists on the “added value of affection” which
someone else’s child and their mother would benefit from, as an employer of
immigrant women.
Another concept among those suggested by the transnational perspective is
the concept of “transnational maternity”[xxiv]. In their effort to highlight
the immigrant population’s social practices that go beyond and across
borders, no few studies have found a field that restores the agency to
immigrant women as builders of chains within the affective links and
obligations involved in maternity. Women are the builders of networks or
communities; they are, in fact, the builders of “transnational life.” This
concept’s potential to make maternity more political is, in my view,
minimized by the essentialization of being a woman, which is based on the
assumption of –presumably universal- models of women as mothers. Instead
of taking such practices as gaps, in the sense of “heuristical loci” set out by
Provansal & Miquel (2005)[xxv] and enabling us to investigate maternity’s
forms of production, these practices are reduced to essential facts which
every woman has and keeps as a biological mother, no matter the physical
distance from her beloved ones as a result of her emigrating. In this sense, I
would suggest we focus on observing the deterritorialized motherly -or
fatherly- practices and how gender, kinship and the identities and
subjectivities of sexuality are defined -and redefined- in the new
transnational context, avoiding stories of guilt, victimization or heroicism
for women-mothers, or those of motherly practices as being methodological
artifices in our epistemological quest to overcome “methodological
Arguing that practices and feelings of all women who leave their biological
children behind in their country of origin are driven by a bond of love
between mother and child, should pose a question for research, rather than
being taken for granted as a fact. In this direction, Heike Wagner’s paper
“Transnational maternity and stigmatizations of Equatorial women in
Madrid: Research beyond the stereotypes” reminds us of the fact that not all
women play the most important part in the upbringing of their biological
children and illustrates the different roles taken by Equatorial migrant
women in Madrid as mothers, in an attempt to counteract those stigmatized
images of migration “that break up the family” when it is the women and
mothers who leave their children back in their country of origin. Wagner
focuses her analysis on renegotiating the gender roles played by these
women as they question the restriction of “being-for- others” and “being-
through-others” (Wagner 2007)
At this point it is also important to remember those efforts made by Feminist
Ethnography to show the different ways through which motherly love and
care practices are expressed towards minors, as they may ‘dessentialise’
what is universally known as the bond between mother and child often found
in Anthropological theory[xxvi].
I believe Ethnography can contribute largely to the review of the categories
of “woman”, “immigrant”, “mother”, “African”, “poor”, just those
categories within which we cram the subjects we carry out our research with,
turning them into compendia of alterity legitimating of our Anthropological
research. Theoretical discussion on the double or triple or quintuple
discrimination, based on different variables, and their intersectionality aimed
at understanding the re-experimentation and experience of different kinds of
oppression will be of little success if we don’t question ourselves about such
categories, taking a radical turn from the confirmation of their existence to
the permanent questioning of their construction and utilization, both from
institutional, economic and scientific power practices and daily practices and
speeches from male and female subjects, who become actors in our objects
of study. It is in this direction where I find ethnographic approaches to be an
essential contribution to the situational description of the organization of
care in a context of global crisis, with an aim to de-naturalize the relation
“woman = mother = carer”, taken for granted, and focus on the political and
historical processes involved in the construction of generalized, sexualized,
racialized, ethnized an deterritorialized bodies in their relation to care.
Work presented by Sandra Ezquerra in the “Fifth Congress on Migrations”
held in Valencia (Spain) represents, in my view, a fruitful contribution in
this sense because, based on its “institutional ethnography” (Ezquerra,
2007), it demonstrates how the State, through its different policies, aims at
turning the bodies of Philippine workers into docile bodies, with no sexual
desire, and responsible for the wellbeing of their families and, by extension,
of their country. For this author, the State is incorporated into her analysis
by identifying its practices of power that “racialize and feminize female
migrant Philippine workers” (2007:2).
In our ethnographical work (Gregorio Alcazar y Huete 2003) we also aimed
to investigate the meanings of gender, race and ethnicity, through which
domestic service is “produced” in today’s context, avoiding the
consideration of these categories as fixed realities which are pre-existent and
resulting from the situation of those subjects who work in the domestic
service as ‘immigrant foreign women of national diverse origins’. In our
research we depart conceptually from the consideration of work in the
domestic service sector as a historical production framed in power practices.
Thus, we look into the logics of differentiation and hierarchization
underlying what is presented as something obvious and naturalized, that is,
work taken up by ‘immigrant women’. The variability of conditions and
differentiations – gender, age, ethnicity, race, class and migratory status-
under which domestic work is carried out may not have been given enough
account by Ethnographic literature, yet it is inmense[xxvii]. In the context of
Spain, we only have to look back on a few years to realise which social
group in urban nuclei had jobs in the domestic service at that time[xxviii].
Understanding domestic service in this way must follow a process of
understanding domestic work as a structure of changing relations and
meanings that would be appropriate for the economic and political context
where it is carried out, and also those practices and significations of the
different actors involved in its reproduction and transformation. As the
authors point out, “Going beyond the differentiations and hierarchizations
incorporated into domestic work as a result of the structural economic and
political conditions under which the work is carried out –foreign and gender
segmentation in the marketplace caused by foreign and immigration
policies, or the existence of a special discriminatory regime that regulates
the work-, we may account for the significations that underline the actor’s
practices involved in its production, bearing in mind the question of how
relevant domestic and feminized representations are, as well how the work
is devalued and rendered invisible” (Gregorio, Alcazar y Huete:2003 218-
Analytically, these positions would contribute to overcoming the dichotomy
of production/reproduction, as they put domestic and care services at the
core of social reproduction. The need to pay particular attention to
“reproductive” work has not been overlooked by papers on “domestic
service” (Escrivá 2000, Herranz 1998, Oso 1998), or the so-called
“proximity services” (Parella 2003), understood as feminized sectors of
work within the marketplace which are taken up by third-country foreign
women from Third
Countries in the context of Southern Europe[xxix]. But from a feminist
perspective that aims to overcome the dichotomy of production/reproduction
at the core of life’s sustainability or social reproduction, paying special
attention to jobs related to domestic labour could, in analytical terms, turn
into yet another way to reinforce the dichotomy of production/reproduction
in the life of women. Or, as Provensal has wittily pointed out: “The fact that
those sectors in which most immigrant women work are domestic service
and child/elder care logically leads to a large amount of studies being
orientated to the same fields. This, in my view, involuntarily contributes to
the scientific naturalization of what is commonly seen as female
specialisms…” (2008:342)[xxx].
To which I would add the danger involved in setting it up as a specialised
field of study – the study of “women” or “immigrant women”- which would
employ “us”, female researchers, as it seems to be happening within the
scope of migrations in Spain[xxxi].

Taking a critical approach, I suggest we widen our scope so as to include the

“job of supporting daily life” as a whole. Following Borneman, I find it
compelling to reclaim “the priority of an ontological process (to care and to
be cared for) as a fundamental human necessity, as well as a raising
entitlement of the international system” (1997:7). As the author points out
“Caring for the others is the beginning and the end of human creativity”. At
the same time, I suggest studying inequalities analysing the production of
ideologies and representations of gender, age, kinship, sexuality and
ethnicity in different contexts of social reproduction of our existence, where
the category of immigrant is thematized –school, work, community, political
institutions, religion, technology, the mass media, etc.- contributing to the
denaturalization of categories substantialised as ‘women’, ‘family’,
‘maternity’, where women of the supposed culture ‘X’ or ethnicity ‘X’ are
no longer represented as a mute, unitary and homogeneous collective, but
rather they are considered social actors who, as Virginia Maquieira reminds
us, “assume, negotiate, redefine questions and select distinctive features
from other groups” (1998:183).
Change in Gender Relations and Gender Systems
Change in gender relations as a result of migration has been the subject of
debate for a group of female researchers from various disciplines and
methodological as well as theoretical approaches from the 80s[xxxii]. In
social anthropology, the analysis of production and change in gender
relations and gender systems represents one of the most productive
theorization axes since the emergence of the so-called ‘anthropology of
gender’[xxxiii] and up to the present time. Undoubtedly, contributing to the
transformation of gender inequalities from our feminist positions means
continuing to show the way in which gender relations are built upon and
transformed, so as to unveil and address the processes of naturalization as
instruments for legitimating social inequality.
Migratory processes, understood in their social dimension as the
materialization of crossings, connections or influences among different
cultural conceptions could not be overlooked by a science like Social
Anthropology, whose endeavour has been to explore human unity in all its
diversity since its emergence as a scientific discipline. But, what and it what
ways can feminist anthropology contribute with by looking into migratory
processes and the analysis of change processes of gender relations and
Our research is guided by the quest to find factors capable of explaining
gender inequalities in their imbrication with other social differentiations. We
aim to reveal them, contributing in this way to projects of social
transformation directed at the establishment of egalitarian relationships and
destabilizing gender in practice and in theory. Undoubtedly, an ethnographic
approach allows us to deeply understand the complexity of relations,
identities and generic subjectivities. Therefore, it comes as no surprise the
existence of a large number of papers that set out to contribute to the search
of fissures and continuities that shape gender systems, based on localized
micro social studies. However, this question leads us to revisiting the
definitions of the category of ‘gender’, ‘gender relations’ or ‘gender
Within Social Sciences, we search for change factors in current migrations
that may result from two “gender systems”: the system of origin and the
system of destination, whether this happens from those locations that
migrants are departing from, and/or those locations that they are arriving in,
identifying the dimensions which contain it and following various analytical
proposals. Thus, for example, Gregorio (1996) addresses her research
problems as follows: Does the immigrant population society of origin’s
stratification system have an influence on the composition according to
gender found in migratory flows which take place between that society and
the recipient society? And can a gendered[xxxiv] migratory process finally
produce changes within the system of gender relations in the society of
origin? (1996:6)
She introduces as elements of the gender stratification system the sexual
division of work and power relations, understood as the ability to make
decisions about one’s own life and the life of others. Particularly, she draws
attention to decisions on the expenditure of income, sexuality and the choice
of partner, and the actual migratory process governing her movements and
those of her relatives.
Another researcher of the 90s, Ángeles Ramírez, raises the uncommon
-almost unprecedented- issue of Moroccan women migrations. They travel
into Spain by themselves in the early 90s, defying the ‘gender stratification
system’ based on ‘Islamic ideology’ and consider as elements of change: the
disappearance of the woman’s normative power model of Islamic ideology,
the change of women’s relations to the marketplace, the disappearance of
extensive families as a model of residence, the change in their relationships
network, the higher flexibility of social control, and the way immigrant
women become supporters of their families –who they also leave behind-
over and above all of its members (Ramírez 1998:27-28).
The most recently revisited papers[xxxv] work on the assumption of what I
will call “dual gender systems” and this is bound to reflect on both the
enunciation of their object of research and the conclusions they arrive to.
From an ethnographic point of view, such an assumption is translated into an
understanding of the category of gender in migratory processes as two
internally integrated and consistent gender systems: a system belonging to
the society of origin - "equatorial patriarchal ideology" “socialization
structures of origin” (Suarez et al.2007) “gender relations in the areas of
origin” (Suarez et al.2007), “social framework of origin” (Herrera 2005),
“family models and gender roles in Ecuador” etc. – and a system which
belongs to the receiving society -“Gender structure in the receiving society”
(Suarez et al.2007) – which in most cases is presumed to be more egalitarian
in terms of gender. Gender equality rests mainly on income which is earned
as a result of the incorporation into the labour market and from which
immigrant women "will benefit". What some authors have described as the
shift from ‘supported to supporters’ (Safa 1998), as well as the physical
distance between their homes and communities in their 'societies of origin' is
understood as ‘contaminant' in relation to gender, and will lay the
foundations for immigrant women to negotiate more egalitarian gender
relations. Being employed implies a higher availability of income, leaving
the “household” space, allowing women -at least in theory- to gain power,
autonomy and independence. Moreover, separating from their home implies
a higher availability of personal time and the opportunity to decide how to
use it, as well as a stronger control of reproductive patterns, since there will
be a reduction in the time dedicated to reproductive tasks, as well as less
husband’s control.
Thus, for example, Suarez et al. (2007:2183-2184), in their paper “Andean
indigenous women facing immigration” conclude that “the transformation
of traditional roles -where man was the main household provider and
women did “their” work (most of the times casual work within the
household) is totally generalized”. From here on, they argue that
immigration would necessarily involve a change in the way gender is
thought of: “migratory processes and the impact of post-fordist capitalism
have resulted not only in the incorporation of women into the productive
sphere but also in their presence in the public sphere. Though there are
factors that limit this transformation (such as employment niches in
household service and sexual work) we should certainly find a change in
gender ideology according to the new situation”.
Based on these assumptions, the conclusions papers arrive at are as disparate
as the contexts in which research has been carried out and the multiple
experiences of women -might we even say from a methodologic point of
view- rushed by the short time during which constant changes to the ‘gender
systems’ of gender identities are sought for. Losses and earnings are
balanced in such a way that they seem to tilt towards earnings, as shown by
the fact that migrant women are more defiant than their partners to invest in
economic projects in their societies of origin or to return to them (Escrivá
1999; Saucedo & Itzigsohn, 2006). Other authors end up tracing down the
roots of the gender system prior to immigration, which seems to persist and
prevent deep changes. Thus, for example, Ramirez (1998) concludes that the
basis for the model of gender relations prescribed by Islamic ideology does
not seem to change, despite the fact that women’s daily activities seem to be
telling us otherwise. This is probably due to the position of symbolic
dependency women are situated in relation to men. For Ramirez, “Moroccan
immigrant women face the world from a position of respect to a man and
from their bond to him. Only by establishing a relationship with a man is
their immigration legitimated to their families. Their lives as immigrants and
all their efforts are geared towards preserving or fulfilling a life project
shared with a man. It is only from there on that prestige from work or money
or beauty is valuable". (1998:28-29)
Pessar studied the identity of mothers and wives beyond changes and
negotiations of their positions within the domestic group of women from the
Dominican Republic in the USA and her study also seems central in the
assessment of changes in gender relations. For Pessar, "The extension of
women’s role in production has upgraded their status in the domestic sphere
and increased their self-confidence. The changes resulting from their taking
part in the labour market –analysed by the author on three levels: authority
within the household unit, sharing of housework and budget control- are
subordinated to their primary identity as wives and mothers, and in many
cases their status is actually reinforced. Immigration does not break the
social scenario in which women are conceptualized but, on the contrary,
migration reinforces women's bonding to their household group, because it
emerges as the most valued institution and as the social field of greater
autonomy and equity for women with respect to their partner" (Pessar 1984
y 1986, quoted in Gregorio 1996:42)
Also Herrera, in her work with Ecuadorian women working in the domestic
service in Spain, makes a distinction between structural and daily
dimensions in her analysis of changes resulting from their immigration. As
for the first structural dimension, she concludes that women's arrival into
work pushes them to the lowest levels of the social scale, and these women’s
position as interns establishes a relation of emotional and psychological
dependence that makes it difficult for them to make decisions and gain
social and economic autonomy. However, “in their daily life, the way
women link their work-related activities to the reproduction of their families,
either at origin or destination raises a complexity in which processes of
gender subordination are entwined with processes of social empowering,
economic mobility and very intense emotional wear. This complicates the
situation even more when it comes to qualifying subordination” (2005:300)
Even those lives of women with similar trajectories of immersion in
supposed systems of gender, class or ethnic origin seem ambiguous and
contradictory, and short-circuit any more or less linear change scheme, as
shown in the work by Gregorio (1996,1998) for women originating from the
South-eastern region of the Dominican Republic who emigrated to Madrid
in the early 90s.
Moreover, papers with a transnational focus account for the main role of
women in the so-called transnational practices –the building of chains and
migratory networks and consignment management- putting them in a
differentiating power relation with respect to their male counterparts
(Escriva 200?, Goñalons et al 2008; Pedone 2003). From this perspective,
the analysis of gender relations understood as power relations between men
and women is incorporated into the so-called transnational fields –chains,
networks, homes, families, communities, associations-. In an attempt to
escape from the dualism of the gender systems ascribed to parameters of
tradition-modernity (the latter understood as a conquest of gender egality),
the analysis opens up to a multiplicity of gender systems, “the transnational
perspective enables us to discover how migrant women are not only under
the gender structure in the receiving society, but they could also be under
the society of origin or other communities” (Golaños et al. 2008:6). Thus,
considering more than two systems or gender structures opens a way that
will end up reducing the category of gender to the observation of
differentiated roles between men and women and contributing to reify
dichotomies like social or domestic vs. political or public, reproductive vs.
productive and -in a word- men and women as homogeneous categories.
This is something we notice, for example, in the conclusions of a theoretical
(review) paper by Golaños et al. entitled “Contributions and Challenges of
the Transnational Perspective: A Reading of Gender”: “Various research
papers, like those mentioned, exhibit a recurring result, and clearly
distinguish the transnational practices of men or women. On the one hand,
men are more focused on transnational activities of an economic and
political nature, which are in fact virtually dominated by them. For
example, Goldring’s research (2001) shows the way in which organizations
carrying out transnational practices are basically dominated by men. On the
other hand, women are more focused on activities related to their receiving
society, and their transnational practices are mainly linked to their home or
their family” (Itzigsohm & Giorgukki-Saucedo 2002) (Golaños et al,
Observing the differentiated transnational practices of men and women,
rather than contributing to questioning our ideas of power, economy, the
family, etc. only add to show the existence of two kinds of people with
differentiated roles, and does not go indepth into the processes of
hierarchization and production/reproduction of sexed peopled who are
gendered in their relation to power and Economics.
The transnational space as a proposal aiming to overcome the
methodological nationalism of “here” and “there” turns into a new ‘gender
system’ going through relationships of power where women may be able to
gain independence but also be oppressed.
“As it regards the analysis of gender, it is also true that transnational spaces
may provide a greater chance to develop strategies that may overcome
gender inequalities. Women may increase their prestige and power by
controlling migratory chains or the economic power of a given family, even
thought they may do it as a household servant. However, transnational
spaces also carry unequal relations and the establishment of certain social
orders. It is therefore important not to rapidly conclude that the transnational
space is emancipating in itself, though it does offer new scopes where to find
spaces of emancipation (Suarez 2007)” (Goñalons, Flecha, Santacruz,
Gómez, 2008:11)
As we have already noted earlier, discovering general trends related to
women’s greater independence and autonomy, whether they leave or stay, is
probably more a desire on the part of the researcher forced by their own
questioning and methods than it is a reality. Without denying the relevance
of migratory fact for certain women who are within the context of particular
social relations, it is my intention to both question the simplification and
generalization with which this subject is being addressed, and reconsider the
formulation of our research questions by opening different ways with regard
to social change in an attempt to get us out of the ethnocentrism and linearity
with which -in my view- this question has been formulated.
Different ethnographic approaches show that women’s realities, experiences
and subjectivities are complex and difficult to handle by our structural
categories of gender, foreignness, class, ethnicity, etc. This crashes once and
again with the changing realities and the multiple meanings given by agents
give to facts whose meaning is universal in our research such as money,
work, body, power, sexuality, family, housework, care, love, etc., disrupting
our ability to establish single or multi-causal relations. A better refinement
of the ethnography approach so as to identify meanings given to practices by
their actors from specific locations leads us to the discussion of the very
notion of ‘gender system’, revealing the ethnocentric assumptions implicit in
the conception of change by the migratory fact.
This definitely reminds us of the difficulties involved in discarding our
dichotomical categories of public/private, market/home, men/women when
trying to understand processes of change. It is like a mirror trick that reflects
our image back to us, so that we end up knowing more about ourselves than
we know about the others. This is why I believe it is important to ask
ourselves: Why are we worried about immigrant women and gender
relations in their societies of origin? Is it not the case that we still see
immigrant women as ‘others’, ‘traditional’, represented as both/either
victims and/or heroines? Would it be more productive to reflect upon the
lenses through which we see women either as victims of their patriarchal
societies and capitalism in structuralist and universalist theoretical models,
or as heroines who break off with their oppressing realities by exclusionist
Recapitulation: Revisiting the category of gender in the light of divisions
of class, ethnicity and race
As I and several authors have put forward, whether the proportion of women
emigrating is now higher than it was years or centuries ago is something we
cannot be sure of if we do not take into account that the representations of
travelling or immigrant women available would be consistent with the
models of femininity defined in the West and would therefore present us
with a deformed reality from an andocentric and ethnocentric look[xxxvi]. In
his well-known immigration laws, the demographer Ravestein (1989) claims
that centuries ago, women from all continents took part mainly in short
distance, rather than long distance migrations. But, how relevant are these
laws to the present time, where distances are shortened and at the same time
made insurmountable for some citizens of the world?. In a time when means
of transportation and communication are so advanced that have made it
possible for some of us to reach all corners of the world and nonetheless,
very close distances which could be covered by swimming or on foot are
made impassable on the borders between ‘North’ and ‘South’ and ‘East’ and
‘West’?. Therefore, I would like to put the emphasis both on the issue of the
feminization of migrations -beyond the numbers- and the search for the
motivations that push women into migrating[xxxvii]. I wish to look into it
within the theoretical and political scope of their movements, as they bring
up a phenomenon I do consider new in Old Europe: the “Care
Crisis”[xxxviii]. The growing consumer society, the flexibilization of the
labour market -with the resulting loss of social rights-, the conformation of a
family-based welfare system in Southern European countries, as well as the
growing incorporation of Spanish women into the labour market, has
brought to light the non-paid and strongly naturalized work that women had
been doing as mothers, wives, daughters or neighbours, coming into light
within the market circuits. Care work, in all of its affective, material, social
and -why not say it- sexual dimensions, the latter turning into a lucrative
object within the capitalist market[xxxix].
Mi definition of care surpasses the boundaries of family and kinship to be
understood as social responsibility – ‘Social Care’ (Daly & Lewis 1999,
Letablier 2007)- and Ethics (Gilligan 1982) and as a continuum that includes
material, emotional, affective, social and ethical dimensions which are
difficult to split (Carrasco, del Valle ¿?, Perez Orozco, Tobio). However, the
naturalization of this work has been turned into the central theme
demarcating of gender and its assumption within family and kinship
relationships, the grounds of which Pateman(1995) called ‘sexual contract’
in her condemn of female subordination. Women leave their home to
incorporate themselves into a life that is considered ‘productive’, the labour
market and social equilibrium achieved by gender differentiation and
hierarchization is broken, unveiling the provision of care. The logical answer
given to this circumstance by the neo-liberal capitalist market is the
production of consuming subjects –everything (except lifetime) seems
buyable: emotional and psychological support[xl], sex, protection, support
for daily needs, rest, communication, etc.– and subjects capable of
generating capital gain, since their place of expression, realisation and
social and political recognition will be activities contained within market
relations. Similarly, States with a seemingly debilitated control of their
labour market, concentrate their efforts on strengthening their border
frontiers, turning immigration into a threat to their welfare –exactly the one
it is exempted from providing- and establishing supranational alliances so as
to control immigrant manpower to remain just as it is: only manpower, never
entitled to benefits from the welfare state and always excluded from
exercising citizenship. In this new global context, gender frontiers generated
by the separation from the reproductive sphere -understood as domestic-[xli]
and the productive sphere[xlii] -understood as work-related-, are a product
of the capitalist model’s ‘sexual contract’ and made more complex by the
emergence of the new logics of domination. We assist to the production of
masculinized body-machines, required to generate capital gain within the
framework of market relations; sexed bodies in their relation to employment,
prevented from care and self-care from social, non-commercial relations,
and feminized bodies, ethnicizied and proletariatized, who travel to and from
the home and the market, also essential for the production of capital gain as
providers of care.
The Care Crisis emerges with the de-territoralization of productive and
reproductive life in women’s bodies. The logics of gender inequality in
social reproduction are held in the new context as femininity is subject to the
production of benefits for the marketplace -both inside and outside the
household- through the devaluation of work belonging to ‘females’. Care
work will take a preliminary position within market relations as it
incorporates the meanings of ‘home’ and ‘household’[xliii], into the
naturalization involved in its quality of affection or feminized love.
It is no coincidence that the ‘family carer’ or ‘the carer of dependant people’
as a new sector of precarious labour which -as we all know- will be taken up
by females, is regularized by a recently passed law, presented as the fourth
pillar of the Welfare State’s -the “Dependency Law”. This law gives work
that belongs to the so-called ‘casual carers[xliv]’ back to women, but does
not substantially improve females’ rights and their entitlements as workers
and citizens[xlv] and shifts women’s position from invisibility to
hipervisibility, but again as a subject of debate for public policies.
Moreover, International Capital and States need bodies which are available
full time, in order to maximize their profits from industries like the sex
industry, the building industry, intensive agriculture, the service sector or the
newborn industry of the so-called ‘proximity services’, saving on the social
costs involved in supporting the care required by our existence within a
sustainable project of humanity on a planetary level. The so-called biopower
(Foucault 1979) or politics on the bodies will go from the hipersexualization,
ethnicitization and racialization of the sex industry to the asexuation and de-
ethnicitization or de-racialization[xlvi] of the domestic care market. If the
sex market’s field of non-reproductive sexuality highlights sexual and racial
marks as valuable, domestic service workers’ sexual desires will pose a
threat and must therefore be inexistent. Women must be sweet and loving
but at the same time reaffirming of their maternal qualities of service or
submission to the others. Basically, they shouldn’t be too ‘culturally
different’ from the imaginary of the ‘good mother and wife’[xlvii]. Thus, the
model of femininity upon which we build the ‘others’ ethnic differences
oscillates between the polarities whore/mother, street/house or bad/good
woman. Work relations inside the ‘household’ –domestic service and, by
extension, certain jobs in agriculture as an elongation of the employer’s
‘house’[xlviii]-, take place in a framework of (ma)paternalist, ‘intimacy’ or
‘privacy’, and moral preservation[xlix] and this are relations where ethnic
and gender representations are entwined with the reproduction of ‘good
women’ as a replacement for the good ‘mother-wives’ (Lagarde).
The sex market and the care market employ foreign manpower and require
bodies which are available full time, in order to replace those women who
had been caring for their relatives, so that they can also be employed full
time. Telephone calls, letters, computer chats, remittances, return tickets for
travelling and presents are all part of the expressions of care towards
relatives and friends of sexed and displaced bodies, while the low cost
employment of workers in domestic and all kinds of care provision,
affection and sex services will be the option taken by other sexed bodies,
thus assuring care and self-care. Basically, the capitalist market keeps on
reasserting differences of gender, as it cannot afford losing ‘capital gain on
generic dignity[l]’, at least by means of three simultaneous processes: the
de-territorization of sexed bodies within the domestic space, built upon the
meanings of affection and care that are supposedly outside market relations
to have them produce capital gain; the commercialization of domestic work
and support for daily life and its precarization, feminization, racialization
and ethnicitization. The imbrication of inequalities –gender, ethnicity,
foreignness- on which the postfordist capitalist logic supports itself forces us
to rethink the generic constructions on the dichotomies domestic/public and
home/factory, to the extent that the productive sphere colonizes the
reproductive sphere.
As Alvarez (2008) pointed out in his paper on migrant women from Russia
and Ukraine: “In informational and cognitive capitalism, production is
located in symbolic flows (Marazzi, 2003), where there is an appropriation
and exploitation of knowledge, wishes and subjectivities generating non-
recognized profits. It can be argued that at present, social life is meant to
produce, and this is something we see in the externalization of domestic
work, where the dividing line between work and non-work is virtually
inexistent, and communicational dimensions are strategically denied and
exploited” (2008:201).[li]

[i] I wish to thank Txemi Apaolaza, Maggi Bullen, Begoña Pecharromán,

Carmen Díez, Herminia Gonzalvez, Maria Espinosa, Ana Alcazar, y Ana
Rodríguez for reading and commenting on this paper ‘s first draft as well as
Teresa del Valle for encouraging me to return to this subject of analysis.
[ii] I use the term migration - not immigration or emigration- as I wish to
include the field of studies that analyse migratory processes without
necessarily prioritizing the context of the receiving countries or the countries
of origin. Therefore, I am referring to those papers focused on immigrant
population in the context of reception, in societies of origin in connection
with problems of development and change, as well as those which
incorporate both contexts or their dissolution from the so-called
transnational perspective.
[iii] We observe production of a significant corpus of literature on the
subject with a national scope towards the end of the 90s; and with an
international scope in the early 80s (Gregorio Gil 2007).
[iv] Following Vargas (1991:195), Maquieira suggests the category ‘wide
movement of the women’ as the new theoretical and practical space to refer
to a movement whose presence –together with other social movements-
fractures old paradigms of political action and social sciences, questioning
the discursive and political centrality of the unified woman subject.
[v] See Gregorio Gil (1996, 1997)
[vi] See Gregorio &Franzés(1999) for a critical analysis of proposals with a
gender approach which draws on the dominant theories on migrations in
those years –dependence, modernization, and articulation- and the now
emerging transnational theory.
[vii] See Gregorio & Franzé (1999) for a critical analysis of the other’s
cultural building process from public instances intervening in migratory
[viii] Some examples are the Intercultural Mediation Service offered to the
local council of Madrid by the department of social anthropology at the
capital’s Universidad Autónoma , Madrid, and the postgraduate Diploma
and Master of Arts in Intercultural Mediation organized by the department of
social anthropology at the University of Granada on demand by the Junta de
Andalucía (Andalusian Regional Council)
[ix] As a social anthropologist, I conducted two projects on social
intervention for the Social Services Department of Madrid’s local council at
the time when plans and projects of integration aimed at the immigrant
population were beginning to emerge in 1994-1997. These two projects were
“The Intercultural Communitarian Office (OCI). A project of social
intervention with the immigrant population of Aravaca-Moncloa” and the
“Project for the prevention and insertion of immigrant’s and other families’
children in the Centre and Aganzuela areas”. I also participated in the
designing of the Plan for the social integration of immigrant population at
Parla’s Local Council, developing the “Research and Action on the
immigrant collective of the town of Parla”.
[x] It includes all jobs related to care, cleaning, and domestic service, which
are usually carried out inside the household, but are done contractually.
[xi] See the work by Escribá (2000) Parella (2003, 2006); Ribas (1998,
2002) Solé 1998, Tobío & Diáz Gonfinkiel (2003) among others.
[xii] See Godelier (1976a, 1977), Sacks (1979), Siskind (1978)
[xiii] See reviews of the works by Boserup in Benería and Sen (1981)
Wright (1983) and Guyer (1984), with regards to the work by Goody see
Harris (1981) and Narotzky (1995)
[xiv] See different ethnographic examples in Hirschon (1984)
[xv] See feminist critique to the work of Engels in Vogel (1983), Coward
(1983) and Edholm et al (1977)
[xvi] See also Robertson (1991)
[xvii] In an attempt to avoid any kind of academia narcisism, the genealogy I
traced forces me to refer to myself. References to my work “Female
migration. Its impact on gender relationships” published in 1998 may be
seen in later publications in Spain and Latin America, e.g. Mora Quiñones.
[xviii] With the exception of papers like those by Annie PHIZACKLEA &
Robert MILES: Labour and Racism. London, Routledge & Kegan Paul,
1980 and Annie PHIZACKLEA: One Way Ticket. Migration and Female
Labour, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983, which have highlighted
both the benefits obtained by the international capitalist system from foreign
female manpower and the identification of “production” mechanisms of
particular occupation, taken up by racialized immigrant women from
feminist marxist perspectives.
[xix] A good compilation of contributions to the concepts of culture,
economics, kinship and politics from feminist critique in Gregorio Gil
(2002) Moore, Narotzky, …..
[xx] It implies setting up the subject and context of study within the
boundaries of the national territory, either unitarily, as the context of migrant
population’s arrival (receiving country or nation) or binarily (nation or
country of origin); it is an epistemological problem turned into an identity
mark by the ‘transnational perspective’. Since the 80s, social anthropology
has been addressing the problem of the de-territorialization of subjects as
well as the need for establishing conceptual frameworks, methodologies and
research techniques that may enable us to apprehend, represent and interpret
these realities. Thus, we should reflect upon the theoretical and political
content behind the rising of this new concept within the theory on
[xxi] Here, the appearance of work by Badinter is owed to Txemi Apaolaz
[xxii] Mothers, mothers-in-law, sisters, other relatives and the so-called
‘chopas’ in a derogatively way and who are paid for their domestic services
or exchanged for basic life-sustaining goods –shelter, food, clothing-, would
make up the links in the social reproduction chain of migrant workers in the
domestic service and work in the middle-class homes in Madrid (Gregorio
Gil 1996, 1998).
[xxiii] For a critique on how anthropological knowledge has reduced the
study on the ways to care and be cared for, see Bonerman (1997).
[xxiv] See the works by Parella y Calvanti (2007), Pedone (2003), Golaños
et al, (2008) , Suarez (2004) among others.
[xxv] With an aim to understand certain social dynamics as heuristic loci,
female writers are inspired by Alain Tarrius (1989), for whom “microsocial
behaviour and phenomena have a heuristic value looking ahead to the
transformations acting on the social body”” (2005:120)
[xxvi] A good review of this related literature is included in the works by
Nancy Sheper-Hughes (), which also makes excellent ethnography to
question the much naturalized and morally unquestionable ‘maternal
[xxvii] See for example Sanjek & Colen (1990)
[xxviii] For this issue see Sarasúa (1994), who draws a distinction between
male servants, among whom we would find butlers and whose functions
include the household’s financial management and to whom the other
servants are subordinated to; and the female servants, where we would find
stewardesses, as the trusted servants of the rich household’s ladies, who give
them advice on their looks and appearance.
[xxix] See the work compilation included in the book published by Anthias
& Lazardis (2000)
[xxx] In this direction, the writer has focused her research with immigrant
women on those activities where women are a minority –the trade and crafts
industry-. See Provensal y Miquel (2005)
[xxxi] It does not escape our attention the fact that, during the latest National
Congress on migrations held at the University of Valencia in February 2007,
the two papers at the board called “Economics and Trade Market” were
presented by two economists. One of them focused the discussion on the
formation of an external employment service in the context of the debate
about the Spanish State of Autonomies (Rojo 2007) and the other one
focused on the legal framework and the “problematic employment-related
issues of foreigners in Spain” (Pérez 2007). At the first one neither domestic
service nor proximity services are even mentioned and at the second one
domestic service will arise only when it comes to quantifying this
occupational sector. Needless to say, feminist critique based on Economics
was absent from both boards. As regards the free papers presented at this
board, only one of the 18 papers that were published dealt with the situation
of immigrant women in the domestic service (Aguilar 2007). However, the
discussion on the dichotomy production/reproduction did have its place in
this congress: a board called “Gender and Immigration”, where all
participants were researchers.
[xxxii]See references to some of these papers in Gregorio Gil (1995,1996),
Brettell (2003) y Gonzalvez (2007)
[xxxiii] I use ‘gender anthropology’ to refer to the moment of theorization in
social anthropology when there is a denaturalization of the very notion of
gender and women that had been handled by the Structuralist and Marxist
schools, resulting in the discussions and main proposals for the
conceptualization of the category of ‘gender’. This field’s designation or
critical approach within the discipline is an issue that has been defined and
redefined according to the way it is presented since the rise of the so-called
‘anthropology of women’ in the 70s and for which the following states of the
art may be consulted: Atkinson (1982), diLeonardo (1991a), del Valle
Lamphere (1977, 1987), Morgen (1989), Mukhopadhyay & Higgins (1988),
Quinn (1977), Rapp (1979), Rogers (1978), Scheper-Hughes (1983),
Schlegel (1977), Stack, (1975) and Tiffany (1982) in their contributions to
trace the genealogy of a feminist anthropology in anthropology, where I am
situated (Gregorio Gil 2002).
[xxxv] For example Anadón & Castañón (2007 ), Gonzalvez (2007), Herrera
(2005), López (2007), Meñaca (2005), Pedone (2006) Suárez (2007) Suarez
& Crespo (2007).
[xxxvi] See the heading inside the book “Las que Saben” (The ones who
know) by Dolores Juliano dealing with this issue (1998:99-102). As for a
critique of the way anthropological theory has transferred western models of
femininity when interpreting ‘other societies’, of ‘other’ women, there are
many papers: see for example those compiled by Harris & Young (1979) in
the decade of the emerging feminist anthropology, then called
‘Anthropology of Women’
[xxxvii] I am referring specifically to those papers guided by the assumption
that motivations driving males and females to emigrate are different. In these
papers ‘autonomous’ migration of females is usually presented as the fail-
safe proof of their breaking with the ‘gender oppressing system in their
societies of origin’. See Gregorio Gil (1997) for a feminist critique on the
notion of gender and immigrant subject involved in this view. Based upon
other structuralist approaches, women emigration has been linked to facts
such as the ‘feminization of poverty’ (Cobo 200?, Gregorio 1996, Oso 1998)
or the ‘feminization of survival’ Sassen-Koob (2003)
[xxxviii] See the special heading “La Crisis De Los Cuidados” (“The Care
Crisis”) in the journal “Diagonal” 3rd-16th of March, 2005, pgs: 12-13 and
the works by “precarias a la deriva” on the “Eskalera Karakola” website
[xxxix] It is a well known fact that the sex industry is the second most
profitable business in the world.
[xl] Questions which are beginning to be the topic of philosophical essays,
see for example “Liquid Love” by Zygmunt Bauman or journalistic essays
like “Global Sex” by Dennis Altman.
[xli] The reproduction sphere of those relations focused on the provision of
material, social, affective and sexual welfare within the “household” and the
quintessential feminine space.
[xlii] The reproduction sphere of relations inside the logics of the market
outside the ‘home’, the focus of political life, which is quintessentially
[xliii] See Alvarez Veinguer (2007) for the meanings of ‘household’ as an
expression of the sexed universe.
[xliv] Women who spend a great deal of time caring for their families within
the framework of obligations and duties as prescribed by kinship.
[xlv] See CGT (2006) for a criticism of the law
[xlvi] I am referring to the process of assignation and reassignation of
features which are considered valuable for carrying out the work derived
from an alleged ‘ethnonational’, ‘ethnoracial’ or ‘ethnolingüistic’ origin.
[xlvii] See, among others, the ethnographic papers showing these cultural
constructions: Gregorio, Alcazar & Huete (2003), Martín Díaz y Sabuco
(2006), Reigada (2007).
[xlviii] I am referring to employment in agriculture which is usually
seasonal, and whose contracts include the provision of accommodation and
food allowance on the part of the employer.
[xlix] See the works by Gregorio Gil (2007) for an analysis of the meanings
taken by work in the household in a ‘family house’ as guarantee of women’s
sexual moral.
[l] Anna Jónasdóttir uses this term to refer to the deeply rooted ‘reproductive
tax’ that women must pay as domestic carers. The writer claims that males
grab those powers of care and love from women without equally giving back
what they received and this exploitation would leave women without the
ability to rebuild their emotional reservoirs and their assets of self-
confidence and authority (Jonasdottir 1993:128 en Cobo 2005:288). Though
I would not agree with the role given to men as main beneficiaries and the
place women would be left in after being ‘exploited’, I think it is an
appropriate term to talk of sexed work, which is intangible but at the same
time specific work of care and love with the potential to generate capital
gain in the context of the capitalist market.