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Revisiting Gender in the Analysis of Transnational Migrations: Proposals

based on Anthropological Theory and Ethnographyi.

Carmen Gregorio Gil.
Literature on gender and international migrationii -both of national and
international scope - is recentiii 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 leveliv.
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 metaphorical nature, are
contributing to the view of international migrations as something to do with men:
the problem of “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 monographs on the
subject with a clear aim to address 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.
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.
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
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).
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.
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, it was mandatory to travel beyond our borders, if one were to
track down on bibliographical sources, because at the time those papers
available in Spain could hardly be counted on the fingers of one’s hand. 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, and 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
immigrationv. Monographs on the subject where practically inexistent at the
time, 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 gender. However, gender was still
not seen as the main principle of social organization in the understanding of
migrationsvi. Therefore, I must admit I was overwhelmed by the huge amount of
scholarly literature I came across when returning to this field of theorization.
However, it did not totally surprise me, considering its political and social
relevance, as well as the large demand from Institutions. This is undoubtedly
the result of combining two issues like women and immigration or gender
relations and international migrations worldwide throughout the last decade.
There are concerns arising from many reports by the international organizations
addressing the issue, such as The United Nations Population Fund (UNPF)
Annual Report from 1978: “A Passage to Hope: Women and International
Migration” in the year 2006, or Amnesty International’s report: “More risks and
less protection: Immigrant women in Spain against gender violence” from
November 2007. Violence and traffic in women for sexual exploitation are in the
agendas of those organizations that advocate for immigrant women’s human
It is in the 90s that the first Spanish research papers come into view, coinciding
with the arrival of non-EU migrant population, as this issue is perceived as a
“problem” -both as a socio-political problem as well as an area of research.
From the beginning of the 90s to the present time, scholarly literature in this
field has been widely available in a wide range of disciplines. There are
hundreds of books on the subject, as well as journals and specialized
monographs, documentation centres, institutionalization of national, regional,
provincial, and local congresses; there are research groups and Institutes in

See Gregorio Gil (1996, 1997)
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
several Universities and funding specifically allocated for research and lecturing
programmes. Regarding Anthropology, its emergence may be explained by its
role within the field of Social Sciences, where cultural diversity is theorized.
With the arrival of immigrant population from outside the EU, assuming the
existence of ‘Us’ and ‘Others’ will be embraced as a dividing border between
the ‘Other’, he and the ‘immigrant she’. The ‘Other’ will be “enlightened” and
therefore required to be known of, as well as being controlled from a position of
power from which they will be perceived vii. Not surprisingly, institutional demand
from social anthropology has been focussing on 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

Scholarly literature and research in Social Sciences throughout the past two
decades is immeasurable. However, in agreement with Enrique Santamaría
(2008:8), we notice a “blatant epistemological neglect”. But if we read some of
these papers – either published or presented at congresses – and, above all,
when we observe the indubitableness of some of the assumptions made by my
students on doctoral programmes at the University of Granada, we certainly feel
the need for 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" (2008:342).

I feel the need to contribute to this reflection in social anthropology, taking a

“questioning approach, critical of the widest knowledge trensin social
See Gregorio & Franzé (1999) for a critical analysis of the other’s cultural building
process from public instances intervening in migratory issues.
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)
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”.
anthropology fed on feminist theory and practice” (Gregorio 2002:5). This
approach places gender relations as a principle of social organization and
hierarchization and forces us to reformulate and subvert anthropological theory
and ethnographic practice.
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 be revisited: social reproduction and
social change.
Showing how social reproduction is settled in gender in the same way as other
inequalities and the fact that these are not immutable is still part of our feminist
endeavour. It is our aim as anthropologists to do so 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 able to show the processes through
which differentiations are made in a contextualized way as well as the multiple
significations of social practices. I will try to 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 discriminationxi.

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

It includes all jobs related to care, cleaning, and domestic service, which are usually
carried out inside the household, but are done contractually.
See the work by Escribá (2000) Parella (2003, 2006); Ribas (1998, 2002) Solé 1998,
Tobío & Diáz Gonfinkiel (2003) among others.
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 1987:280).

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 relationsxii. Pioneering papers, like those by Boserup (1970) and Goody
(1973, 1976), despite criticism from feminist approachesxiii, 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 outputxiv. 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 1884xv, 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

See Godelier (1976a, 1977), Sacks (1979), Siskind (1978)
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
See different ethnographic examples in Hirschon (1984)
See feminist critique to the work of Engels in Vogel (1983), Coward (1983) and
Edholm et al (1977)
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,
See also Robertson (1991)
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”.
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, 1998xvii)
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”
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 projectsxviii
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
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.
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.
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
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 nationalismxx, 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 centuryxxi.

A good compilation of contributions to the concepts of culture, economics, kinship


and politics from feminist critique in Gregorio Gil (2002) Moore, Narotzky, …..
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 migrations.
Here, the appearance of work by Badinter is owed to Txemi Apaolaz
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
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 lawxxiii.
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
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).
For a critique on how anthropological knowledge has reduced the study on the ways
to care and be cared for, see Bonerman (1997).

See the works by Parella y Calvanti (2007), Pedone (2003), Golaños et al, (2008) ,

Suarez (2004) among others.

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 nationalism”.
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 theoryxxvi.
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-

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””

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 instinct’
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
See for example Sanjek & Colen (1990)

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.
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 218-219).
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 Europexxix. 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 Spainxxxi.
See the work compilation included in the book published by Anthias & Lazardis


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)

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
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 80sxxxii. 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
Migratory processes, understood in their social dimension as the materialization
of crossings, connections or influences among different cultural conceptions

See references to some of these papers in Gregorio Gil (1995,1996), Brettell (2003)

y Gonzalvez (2007)

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).
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 representations?
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 systems’.
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
genderedxxxiv 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 papersxxxv 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

For example Anadón & Castañón (2007 ), Gonzalvez (2007), Herrera (2005), López

(2007), Meñaca (2005), Pedone (2006) Suárez (2007) Suarez & Crespo (2007).
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, 2008:15)
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 assumptions?

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 lookxxxvi. In his well-known

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
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
migratingxxxvii. 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
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
anthropology, then called ‘Anthropology of Women’

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)

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

It is a well known fact that the sex industry is the second most profitable business in

the world.
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 supportxl, 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 spherexlii -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

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.

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.

The reproduction sphere of relations inside the logics of the market outside the

‘home’, the focus of political life, which is quintessentially masculine.

See Alvarez Veinguer (2007) for the meanings of ‘household’ as an expression of


the sexed universe.

of the Welfare State’s -the “Dependency Law”. This law gives work that
belongs to the so-called ‘casual carersxliv’ back to women, but does not
substantially improve females’ rights and their entitlements as workers and
citizensxlv 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-
racializationxlvi 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 preservationxlix 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
Women who spend a great deal of time caring for their families within the framework

of obligations and duties as prescribed by kinship.

See CGT (2006) for a criticism of the law

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.

See, among others, the ethnographic papers showing these cultural constructions:

Gregorio, Alcazar & Huete (2003), Martín Díaz y Sabuco (2006), Reigada (2007).

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

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.

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 dignityl’, 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

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