In dominant perception, the welfare state is thought of as a discreet and bounded entity. Its citizens are moreover perceived of as individuals with claims to care and financial security vis à vis a national government. In fact however state regulated care and financial security is always grounded in assumptions concerning family obligations, and flanked by a market supply of commercial provisions of care and financial security based on contract. The triad state, family and market is not fixed, and can shift as governments try to varying degrees to win the “hearts and minds” of their citizens, to cut costs, facilitate business or support social hierarchies. Moreover, while one can argue that the relationship between state and citizen is inherently national, if not in geographical terms then at least in terms of jurisdiction, family and privately contracted relationships can easily be transnational in scope. In a context of accelerated globalisation, this is increasingly the case. This fact is “brought home” by the phenomenon of migrant care labour – citizens of one nation providing care for the citizens of another. Closely related is the phenomenon of the transnational provision of financial security through remittances. Given the fact that migrant care workers (most of them women) are also major providers of remittances, these two phenomena are linked. Seeing them in relation to each other, we are encouraged to rethink issues of social policy from a transnational, rather than a national perspective. Between 2008 and 2010 I did empirical research on the legal position of migrant domestic workers in the Netherlands, focussing on social rights, labour rights and the impact of restrictive migration policies. As part of that project, I interviewed migrant domestic workers in the Netherlands coming from Ghana and the Philippines. I also visited family members of some of those workers. In my talk, I describe how my informants try to meet their own social needs and those of family members left behind in their countries of origin, while contributing, through the work that they do, to the social needs of their employers. In my analysis I discuss how tensions between family obligations, state policies and individual aspirations are negotiated. In my conclusions I question how we might try to rethink social policy from a transnational, rather than a national, perspective.
14 Apr 2011
Conference: Making Connections: Migration, Gender and Care Labour in Transnational Context.