The Precarity of Feminisation

On Domestic Work, Heteronormativity and the Coloniality of Labour


Despite women’s increasing participation in the labour market and attempts to transform the traditional gendered division of work, domestic and care work is still perceived as women’s terrain. This work continues to be invisible in terms of the organisation of production or productive value and domestic and care work continues to be unpaid or low paid. Taking domestic and care work as an expression of the feminisation of labour, this article will attempt to complicate this analysis by first exploring a queer critique of feminisation, and second, by situating feminisation within the context of the coloniality of power. Drawing on research conducted in Austria, Germany, Spain and the UK on the organisation of domestic work in private households, the article will conclude with some observations on the interconnectedness of feminisation, heteronormativity and the coloniality of power in the analysis of the expansion of precarity in the EU zone.


Feminisation Heteronormativity Coloniality Precarity Europe 



I would like to thank Susie Jacobs, Christian Klesse, Erika Doucette and Shirley Anne Tate for their comments.


  1. Adkins, L. (2000). Mobile desire. Aesthetics, sexuality and the lesbian at work. Sexualities, 3(2), 201–218.Google Scholar
  2. Anderson, B. (2000). Doing the dirty work? The global politics of domestic labour. London: Zed Publishers.Google Scholar
  3. Anderson, B. (2007). A very private business: exploring the demand for migrant domestic workers. European Journal of Women’s Studies, 14(3), 247–264.Google Scholar
  4. Anderson, B., & O’Connell Davidson, J. (2003). Is trafficking in human beings demand driven? A multi-country pilot study. IOM Migration Series, no. 15, Geneva.Google Scholar
  5. Badgett, L. M. V., & Hyman, P. (1998). Explorations-introduction: towards lesbian, gay, and bisexual perspectives in economics: why and how they make a difference. Feminist Economics, 4(2), 49–54.Google Scholar
  6. Bair, J. (2010). On difference and capital: gender and the globalization of production. Signs, 36(1), 203–226.Google Scholar
  7. Bakker, I. (2007). Social reproduction and the constitution of a gendered political economy. New Political Economy, 12(4), 541–556.Google Scholar
  8. Bakker, I., & Gill, S. (2003). Power, production and social reproduction. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  9. Barbieri, P. (2009). Flexible employment and inequality in Europe. European Sociological Review, 25(6), 621–628.Google Scholar
  10. Barker, D. K. (2005). Beyond women and economics: rereading “women’s work”. Signs, 30(4), 2189–2209.Google Scholar
  11. Barker, D. K. (2012). Querying the paradox caring labor. Rethinking Marxism, 24(4), 574–591.Google Scholar
  12. Barker, D. K., & Feiner, S. F. (2010). As the world turns: globalization, consumption, and the feminization of work. Rethinking Marxism, 22(2), 246–252.Google Scholar
  13. Barrett, M. (1980). Women’s oppression today. Problems in Marxist Feminist analysis. London: Verso.Google Scholar
  14. Beck-Gernsheim, E. (1981). Der geschlechtsspezifische Arbeitsmarkt. Zur Ideologie und Realität von Frauenberufen. New York: Frankfurt am Main Campus.Google Scholar
  15. Beck-Gernsheim, E., & Ostner, I. (1978). Frauen verändern Berufe nicht? Ein theoretischer Ansatz zur Problematik von Frauen und Beruf. Soziale Welt, 29, 207–257.Google Scholar
  16. Bedford, K., & Rai, S. M. (2010). Feminists theorize international political economy. Signs, 36(1), 1–18.Google Scholar
  17. Benería, L. (1979). Reproduction, production and the sexual division of labour. Cambridge Journal of Economics, 3(3), 203–225.Google Scholar
  18. Benería, L. (1992). Accounting for women’s work: the progress of two decades. World Development, 20(11), 1547–1560.Google Scholar
  19. Bergeron, S., & Puri, J. (2012). Sexuality between state and class: an introduction. Rethinking Marxism, 24(4), 491–498.Google Scholar
  20. Berlant, L., & Warner, M. (1998). Sex in public. Critical Inquiry, 24(2), 547–566.Google Scholar
  21. Boccagni, P., & Decimo, F. (2013). Mapping Social Remittances. Migration Letters, 10(1).Google Scholar
  22. Bock, G., & Duden, B. (1977). Arbeit aus Liebe - Liebe als Arbeit: Zur Entstehung der Hausarbeit im Kapitalismus. In Gruppe Berliner Dozentinnen (Eds.), Frauen und Wissenschaft (pp. 118–199). Berlin: Beiträge zur 1. Sommeruniversität für Frauen.Google Scholar
  23. Boris, E., & Parreñas, R. S. (2010). Intimate labors. Cultures, technologies and politics of care. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Boserup, E. (1970). Women’s role in economic development. London: Allen & Unwin.Google Scholar
  25. Caixeta, L., Gutiérrez Rodríguez, E., Tate, S. A., & Vega Solís, C. (2004). Homes, care and borders—Hogares, cuidados y fronteras. Madrid: Traficantes de Sueños.Google Scholar
  26. Carrington, C. (1999). No place like home. Relationships and family life among lesbians and gay men. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  27. Chaney, E., & Garcia Castro, M. (Eds.). (1993). Muchacha/cachifa/criada/empleada/empregadinha/sirvienta y… más nada: Trabajadoras domésticas en América Latina y Caribe. Caracas: Ed. EPU.Google Scholar
  28. Colectivo Ioé (2012). Impacto de la crisis sobre la poblacion inmigrante. Colectivo Ioé: Madrid.Google Scholar
  29. Combahee River Collective (1983) The Combahee River Collective statement (originally 1977). In B. Smith (ed.) Home girls. A black feminist anthology (pp. 272-2282). New York: Kitchen Table/Women of Color Press. Google Scholar
  30. Constable, N. (1997). Maid to order in Hong Kong. An ethnography of Filipina workers. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Corsani, A. (2007). Beyond the myth of woman: the becoming-transfeminist of (Post-) Marxism. SubStance, 36(1), 107–138.Google Scholar
  32. Dalla Costa, M., & James, S. (1972). The power of women and the subversion of the community. London: Butler and Tanner Ltd.Google Scholar
  33. Davis, A. (1981). Women, race and class. New York: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
  34. Delphy, C., & Leonard, D. (1984). Close to home: a materialist analysis of women’s oppression. London: Hutchinson.Google Scholar
  35. Duden, B. (2009). Arbeit aus Liebe - Liebe als Arbeit. Ein Rückblick. Olympe, 30, 16–26.Google Scholar
  36. Dussel, E. (1995). The invention of the Americas: Eclipse ofthe otherand the myth of modernity. Translated by Michael D. Barber. New York: Continuum.Google Scholar
  37. Düvell, F. (2005). Illegal immigration in Europe. Beyond control. Houndsmills: Palgrave/MacMillan.Google Scholar
  38. Ehrenreich, B., & Hochschild, A. R. (2003). Global women: nannies, maids, and sex workers in the new economy. New York: Metropolitan.Google Scholar
  39. Elson, D. (1998). The economic, the political and the domestic: businesses, states and households in the organisation of production. New Political Economy, 3(2), 189–208.Google Scholar
  40. Engel, A. (2009). Bilder von Sexualität und Ökonomie. Bielefeld: Transcript.Google Scholar
  41. Erel, U. (2012). Transnational care in Europe—changing formations of citizenship, family and eneration. Social Politics, 19(1), 1–14.Google Scholar
  42. European Employment Statistics (Eurostat) 2012. Brussel: Belgium. Retrieved from Accessed 22 May 2013.
  43. European Trade Union Conference (ETUC) (2012). 5 th Annual ETUC 8 March Survey 2012. Brussels: Belgium.Google Scholar
  44. European Women’s Lobby. (2012). The price of austerity—the impact on women’s rights and gender equality in Europe. Brussel: Creative Common.Google Scholar
  45. Fantone, L. (2007). Precarious changes: gender and generational politics in contemporary Italy. Feminist Review, 87, 5–20.Google Scholar
  46. Federici, S. (2004). Caliban and the witch. Women, the body and primitive accumulation. San Francisco: Autonomedia.Google Scholar
  47. Federici, S. (2006). Precarious Labor: A Feminist Viewpoint. Retrieved from Accessed 12 June 2011.
  48. Ferber, M., & Nelson, J. (1993). Beyond economic man. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  49. Fernández, C. J., & Martinez Lucio, M. (2013). Economic and industrial democracy, 14(2), 313–336.Google Scholar
  50. Folbre, N. (1982). Exploitation comes home: a critique of the Marxian theory of family labour. Cambridge Journal of Economics, 6(4), 317–329.Google Scholar
  51. Folbre, N. (1991). The unproductive housewife: her evolution in British economic thought. Signs, 16(3), 463–484.Google Scholar
  52. Folbre, N. (1994). Who pays for the kids? Gender and the structures of constraint. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  53. Fox, B. (1980). Women’s double work day: twentieth century changes in the reproduction of daily life. In B. Fox (Ed.), Hidden in the household. Ontario: The Women’s Press.Google Scholar
  54. Friedan, B. (2013, orig. 1963). The feminine mystique. Betty Friedan 50 years. W.W. Norton & Company.Google Scholar
  55. Gabb, J. (1999). Imag(in)ing the queer lesbian family. Journal of the Association for Research in Mothering, 1(2), 9–20.Google Scholar
  56. Gibson-Graham, J. K. (2006). Postcapitalist politics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  57. González Casanova, P. (2006). Sociología de la explotación. Buenos Aires: CLACSO.Google Scholar
  58. Gutiérrez Rodríguez, E. (2010). Migration, domestic work and affect. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  59. Hartmann, H. I. (1979). The unhappy marriage of Marxism and feminism: towards a more progressive union. Capital & Class, 3, 1–33.Google Scholar
  60. Hausen, K. (2000). Arbeit und Geschlecht. In J. Kocka, C. Offe, & B. Redslob (Eds.), Geschichte und Zukunft der Arbeit (pp. 343–361). Frankfurt: Campus.Google Scholar
  61. Hennessy, R. (2000). Profit and pleasure: sexual identities in late capitalism. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  62. Herrera, G., Carillo, M. C., & Torres, A. (2005). La migración ecuatoriana: Transnacionalismo, redes e identidades. Quito: FLACSO.Google Scholar
  63. Hewitson, G. (1999). Feminist economics: Interrogating the masculinity of rational economic man. Cheltenham: Edwar Elgar.Google Scholar
  64. Himmelweit, S. (1995). The discovery of “unpaid work”. The social consequences of the expansion of “work”. Feminist Economics, 1(2), 1–19.Google Scholar
  65. Hobson, B., Lewis, J., & Siim, B. (2002). Contested concepts in gender and social politics. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing.Google Scholar
  66. Hochschild, A. R. (1983). The managed heart: commercialization of human feelings. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  67. Hochschild, A. R. (2003). The commercialization of intimate life. Notes from home and work. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  68. Hondagneu-Sotelo, P. (2001). Doméstica: immigrant workers cleaning and caring in the shadows of affluence. Berkeley: University of California.Google Scholar
  69. International Labour Organization (ILO). (2012). Domestic workers across the world: global and regional statistics and the extent of legal protection. Geneva: ILO.Google Scholar
  70. IRENE, IUF, (2008). Respect and rights. Protection for domestic/household workers. Report of the international conference held in Amsterdam 8–10 November 2006. Brussels.Google Scholar
  71. Jacobs, S. (2010). Gender and agrarian reform. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  72. Kempadoo, K. (2004). Sexing the Caribbean: gender, race, and sexual labor. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  73. Klesse, C. (2007). The spectre of promiscuity. Gay male and bisexual non-monogamies and polyamories. Farnham: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  74. Kofman, E. (2011). Family reunion legislation in Europe: is it discriminatory for migrant women? Brussels: European Network of Migrant Women.Google Scholar
  75. Kofman, E. (2012). Rethinking care through social reproduction: articulating circuits of migration. Social Politics, 19(1), 142–162.Google Scholar
  76. Lalani, M. (2011). Ending the abuse. Policies that work to protect migrant domestic workers. London: Kalayaan.Google Scholar
  77. Lan, P. C. (2006). Global Cinderellas: migrant domestic and newly rich employers in Taiwan. Durham: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  78. Lazzarato, M. (1996). Immaterial labour. In P. Virno & M. Hardt (Eds.), Radical thought in Italy (pp. 120–142). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  79. Lazzarato, M. (2002). From biopower to biopolitics. Translated by Ivan A. Ramirez. Pli: The Warwick Journal of Philosophy, 13, 112–125.Google Scholar
  80. Leah, F., Vosko, M., Macdonald, V. M., & Campbell, J. (2009). Gender and the contours of precarious employment. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  81. Levitt, P. (2001). The transnational villagers. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  82. Lewis, G. (2005). Welcome to the margins: diversity, tolerance, and politics of exclusion. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 28(3), 536–558.Google Scholar
  83. Lind, A., & Share, J. (2003). Queering development. In K.-K. Bhavnani (Ed.), Feminist utures (pp. 55–73). London: Zed Books.Google Scholar
  84. Lorenz, R., & Kuster, B. (2007). Sexuell arbeiten. Berlin: B-books.Google Scholar
  85. Luibheid, E. (2005). Queer migrations. Sexuality, US citizenship, and border crossing. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  86. Lutz, H. (2008). Migration and domestic work. A European perspective on a global theme. Aldershot: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  87. Manalansan, M. F., IV. (2006). Queer intersections: sexuality and gender in migration studies. International Migration Review, 40(1), 224–249.Google Scholar
  88. Maroukis, T., Iglicka, K., & Gjmaj, K. (2011). Irregular migration and informal economy in Southern and Central-Eastern Europe: breaking the vicious cycle? International Migration, 49(5), 129–156.Google Scholar
  89. McDowell, L. (1997). Capital culture: gender at work in the city. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.Google Scholar
  90. Misra, J., Woodring, J., & Merz, S. (2006). The globalization of carework: immigration, economic restructuring, and the world-system. Globalization, 3(3), 317–332.Google Scholar
  91. Mitchell, J. (1971). Women’s estate. Hardmondsworth: Penguin.Google Scholar
  92. Mohanty, C. T. (1991). Under Western eyes: feminist scholarship and colonial discourses. In C. T. Mohanty, A. Russo, & L. Torres (Eds.), Third World women and the politics of feminism (pp. 51–80). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  93. Mohanty, C. T. (2003). Feminism without borders: decolonizing theory, practicing solidarity. Durham: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  94. Molyneux, M. (1979). Beyond the domestic labour debate. New Left Review, 115, 3–28.Google Scholar
  95. Morales Junquero, María (2013). Recortes a la Ley de Dependencia. El País.Google Scholar
  96. Negri, A. (1999). Value and affect. Boundary, 26(2), 77–88.Google Scholar
  97. Negri, A., & Hardt, M. (2000). Empire. Cambridge: Harvard UP.Google Scholar
  98. Neilson, B., & Rossiter, N. (2008). Precarity as a political concept, or, Fordism as exception. Theory, Culture & Society, 25(7–8), 51–72.Google Scholar
  99. O’Hara, P. (1998). Partners in production. Women, farm and family in Ireland. New York: Berghahn Books.Google Scholar
  100. Oerton, S. (1997). “Queer housewives?”: Some problems in theorising the division of domestic labour in lesbian and gay households. Women’s Studies International Forum, 20(3), 421–430.Google Scholar
  101. Ong, A. (1987). Spirit of resistance and capistalist discipline: factory women in Malaysia. New York: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  102. Ongaro, S. (2003). De la reproduction productive à la production reproductive. Multitude, 12, 145–154.Google Scholar
  103. Ostner, I. (1990). Das Konzept des weiblichen Arbeitsvermögens. Arbeitspapiere aus dem Arbeitskreis Sozialwissenschaftliche Arbeitsmarktforschung, 11, 22–39.Google Scholar
  104. Parreñas, R. S. (2001). Servants of globalization: Women, migration and domestic Work. Stanford: Stanford UP.Google Scholar
  105. Pérez Orozco, A. (2004). Estrategias feministas de deconstrucción del objeto de estudio de la economia. Foro Interno: Anuario de Teoría Política, 4, 87–118.Google Scholar
  106. Pérez Orozco, A. (2010). Global perspectives on the social organization of care in times of crisis: Assessing the situation. Gender, Migration and Development Working Paper 5, INSTRAW.Google Scholar
  107. Peterson, S. V. (2003). A critical rewriting of global political economy: integrating reproductive, productive and virtual economies. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  108. Peterson, S. V. (2009). Interactive and intersectional analytics of globalization. Frontiers: A Journal of Women’s Studies, 30(1), 31–40.Google Scholar
  109. Pfau-Effinger, B. (2009). Varieties of undeclared work in European societies. British Journal of Industrial Relations, 47(1), 79–99.Google Scholar
  110. Phizacklea, A., & Wolkowitz, C. (1995). Homeworking women: Gender, racism and class at Work. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  111. Precarias a la Deriva (2004). A la deriva: por los circuitos de la precariedad femenina. Madrid: Traficantes de Sueños.Google Scholar
  112. Público. (2012) La riqueza de los hogares bajó casi una quinta parte en un año. Retrieve from Accessed 10 October 2012.
  113. Quijano, A. (2000). Coloniality of power and eurocentrism in Latin America. International Sociology, 15(2), 215–232.Google Scholar
  114. Quijano, A. (2008). Coloniality of power, Eurocentrism, and social classification. In M. Moraña, E. Dussel, & C. A. Jáuregui (Eds.), Coloniality at Large. Latin America and the Postcolonial Debate (pp. 181–224). Durham: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  115. Rebhun, L. (1999). The heart is unknown country: love in the changing economy of Northeast Brazil. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  116. Redclift, M. (1985). The contested domain: Gender, accumulation and the labour process. In M. Redclift & E. Mingione (Eds.), Beyond employment. household, gender, and subsistence (pp. 93–115). London: Basil Blackwell.Google Scholar
  117. Revel, J. (2003). Devenir-Femme de la politique. Multitudes, 12, 125–134.Google Scholar
  118. Robin, G. (1975). The traffic in women: Notes on the “political economy” of sex. In R. Reiter (Ed.), Toward an anthropology of women (pp. 157–210). New York: Monthly Review Press.Google Scholar
  119. Rollins, J. (1985). Between women: domestics and their employers. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
  120. Romero, M. (1992). Maid in the USA. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  121. Ruido, M. (2011). Just do It! Bodies and images of women in the new division of labor. Retrieved from Accessed 3 February 2012.
  122. Ryan-Flood, R. (2009). Lesbian motherhood: gender, families and sexual citizenship. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.Google Scholar
  123. Sconvegno, Galetto, M., Lasala, C., Magaraggia, S., Martucci, C., Onari, E., et al. (2007). A snapshot of precariousness: voices, perspectives, dialogues. Feminist Review, 87, 104–112.Google Scholar
  124. Standing, G. (1999). Global feminization through flexible labor: a theme revisited. World Development, 27(3), 583–602.Google Scholar
  125. TNS Political & Social. (2012). Gender inequalities in the European Union. Brussel: Report/Flash Barometer.Google Scholar
  126. Trades Union Congress (TUC) (2013). Just one in 172 fathers taking additional paternity leave. Retrieved from Accessed 13 June 2013
  127. Vega Solís, C. (2009). Culturas del cuidado en transición. Barcelona: Editorial UOC, Niberta.Google Scholar
  128. Waring, M. (1999). Counting for nothing. What men value and what women ae worth. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.Google Scholar
  129. Weeks, J. (2011). Un-/re-productive maternal labor: Marxist feminism and chapter fifteen of Marx’s capital. Rethinking Marxism, 23(1), 31–40.Google Scholar
  130. Williams, C. (2011). Reconceptualizing women’s and men’s undeclared work: some results from a European Union survey. Gender, Work and Organization, 18(4), 415–437.Google Scholar
  131. Williams, F. (1995). Race, ethnicity, gender and class in welfare states: a framework for comparative analysis. Social Politics, 2(2), 127–139.Google Scholar
  132. Williams, F., & Gavanas, A. (2008). The intersection of childcare regimes and migration regimes: a Three-Country Study. In H. Lutz (Ed.), Migration and domestic work. A European perspective on a global theme (pp. 13–28). Farnham: Ashgate.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of SociologyJustus-Liebig University GiessenGießenGermany

Personalised recommendations