HomeSouthern Countries’ Domestic Service. Today’s Work and Tomorrow’s Prospects

Southern Countries’ Domestic Service. Today’s Work and Tomorrow’s Prospects

Les domesticités des pays du Sud. Travail d’aujourd’hui, perspectives de demain

Las domesticidades en los países del Sur. Trabajo dehoy, perspectivas de mañana

Revue internationale des études du développement n°246 (2021-2)

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Published on Thursday, June 04, 2020 by Anastasia Giardinelli


This issue aims to examine not so much the “core” of domestic work as its heterogeneity, by focusing on Southern countries where there is a particularly high share of domestic workers among the workforce. This issue extends the research to all regions of the South, and spotlights the less known worker flows which take place within the South and between Southern countries – and possibly, from North to South. Without focusing solely on a political analysis of domestic work in the South, the aim is not only to deconstruct the archetype of the female domestic worker, since domestic work does not only involve women, but also men or even children, from different social backgrounds, but also to account for the plurality of these workers’ life and work trajectories, the laws and market dynamics that govern them, the relationships with their employers, and the legal and moral foundations on which these relationships are based.



  • Alizée Delpierre (, sociologist, CSO (CNRS/Sciences Po Paris)
  • Hélène Malarmey (, sociologist, IRISSO (CNRS/Paris Dauphine)
  • Lorena Poblete (, sociologist, IDAES (CONICET/UNSAM)


The current dynamics of studies on domestic work

Almost eighteen years ago, a special issue on “Women and Domestic Work,” edited by Blandine Destremeau and Bruno Lautier, was published in a journal called Tiers Monde (Destremeau, Lautier, 2002). In its introduction, the two researchers described domestic work as a “category neglected by research,” and deplored the lack of research from a political angle on a topic that did not arouse any interest either in the public space from the media or those in power. The stakes of the special issue were therefore to explore various situations of domestic work, to account for their commonalities, and to establish the convergent characteristics and life trajectories of domestic workers across the world.

Since this issue was published in 2002, domestic work is no longer “neglected” by research, with an increasing number of studies in sociology, anthropology, political science, economics, and history. In history, most studies on domestic work relate to the post-fifteenth century, and trace its “long history” (Pasleau, Schopp, Sarti, 2001-2005; Fauve-Chamoux, Walls, 2005; Fauve-Chamoux, 2009; Sarti, 2014). As far back as the sources allow historians to go, these works highlight the importance of domestic work on the labor markets of so-called “Western” countries. Case studies by country have been devoted to it, whether for France (Dépatie, 2008; Zeller, 2016; Béal, 2019), Spain (Dubert, 2006), Belgium (Piette, 2000), England (Abate, 2003; Delap, 2011), or Poland (Kuklo, Kamecka, 2005).  Of course, domestic work, both past and present, does not only concern these geographical areas. The globalization of domestic work has been the focus of the bulk of the research in this field produced in the social sciences for the past two decades. The influx of servants, particularly from so-called “Southern” countries to so-called “Northern” countries, has drawn all the attention (Drouilleau, Fine, Jacquemin, Puech (ed.), 2009): domestic work is understood as a phenomenon whose history and contemporaneity have a global dimension, within the framework of national and international migrations (Moya, 2007; Lutz (dir.), 2008; Hoerder, Nederveen Meekerk, Neunsinger (ed.), 2015).

The studies produced so far have borne as much on the production, export, and mobility of domestic workers (Anderfuhren, 2002; Kindler, 2008; Debonneville, Killias, 2019), as on their working conditions, their employment situations, and the rights that they have gained (Anderson, 2000; Dahdah, 2010; Schwenken, 2011). These studies have examined their life trajectories, their life experiences, their relationships with their employers, and their vulnerabilities (Lutz, 2002; Bernardo, 2003). The research emphasizes the great asymmetry between employers and employees, and the construction of otherness and of the latter’s subordination to the former (Rollins, 1985). Following the works that have theorized the flows of domestic workers as a “global chain of care,” these different studies have focused on “global servants” (Glenn, 1992; Parreñas, 2001; Ehrenreich, Hochschild (ed.), 2003) who take on domestic tasks and child care for other women, and more generally take care of the vulnerable, young, elderly, and/or dependent (Scrinzi, 2003; Moujoud, Falquet, 2010; Borgeaud-Garciandia, 2015). The poor woman from the South who has migrated to work as a servant in the North under unfavorable conditions to send money to her family who has stayed behind appears as the current archetype of these domestic workers.

Studying the diversity of domestic workers

Reading these works, it is undeniable that domestic work is a phenomenon whose stakes, which are directly related to contemporary gender, class, and race inequalities, concern a large population: the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that between 67 and 100 million people work in the care economy at home. Domestic work, defined by the same organization as “work performed in and for a household or households,” is even subject to state regulations and government prerogatives which aim to regulate labor flows at the national level (for France, for example: see Carbonnier, Morel, 2018).

In an article underlining the recent momentum of studies on domestic work, Christelle Avril and Marie Cartier propose to contextualize each new piece of research conducted on domestic work to highlight the plurality of forms of domestic work, i.e. the life trajectories and living and working conditions of domestic workers (Avril, Cartier, 2019). Beyond their common traits, there is a great diversity of work situations and servant profiles among domestic workers. The archetypal poor domestic worker from the South who migrates to the North, far from being marginal, therefore is more complex and may require some nuance. Likewise, migration trajectories take various directions: they can be transnational but also national, and sometimes take place at the scale of a country between different regions and cities. Domestic work as a career can be temporary or permanent. Working conditions are all the more likely to vary from one context to another since the situation of the wages associated with domestic work is not always clear (Falquet, 2009). Lastly, the domestic labor market is not subject to the same regulations everywhere in the world, and the matching between employers and employees does not go through the same intermediaries.

Two decades after the publication of the issue edited by Blandine Destremau and Bruno Lautier, this issue therefore aims to examine not so much the “core” of domestic work as its heterogeneity, by focusing on Southern countries where there is a particularly high share of domestic workers among the workforce. In order to provide complementary work relevant to the most recent studies on domestic work in the South, especially on the African continent (Jacquemin, Tisseau, 2019), this issue extends the research to all regions of the South, and spotlights the less known worker flows which take place within the South and between Southern countries – and possibly, from North to South. Without focusing solely on a political analysis of domestic work in the South, the aim is not only to deconstruct the archetype of the female domestic worker, since domestic work does not only involve women, but also men (Deslaurier, 2019), or even children (Jacquemin, 2012), from different social backgrounds, but also to account for the plurality of these workers’ life and work trajectories, the laws and market dynamics that govern them, the relationships with their employers, and the legal and moral foundations on which these relationships are based. This issue will also insist on the diversity of the actors on the domestic labor market.

The approach will therefore be threefold: alongside employees, there are also employers, and any intermediary placement institutions, which fully play a part in the functioning of the domestic labor markets. Employers have diverse motivations and resources to resort to domestic work, and live in contexts with their own socio-economic and political labor frameworks. Some employ a part-time domestic worker; others employ multiple full-time domestic workers (Delpierre, 2019). At the institutional level, the International Labour Organization has been concerned with domestic workers following mobilizations in several countries (Schwenken, 2011); governments have regulated domestic work and offered training to those who emigrate to be domestic workers (Debonneville, 2014), while unions (Vidal, 2007) and nonprofit organizations (Alsheltawy, 2018) have fought for these workers’ rights (on this subject, see issue 242 of the journal, as well as Blackett, 2019). Thus, employers and intermediaries on the domestic labor market fully belong in this issue. Finally, the empowerment or agency abilities of employees in negotiating their working conditions on the one hand, and in their ways of increasing their standing on the other (Constable, 1997) must be highlighted, should they exist on the ground, to show the complexity of their relationships to their work and to the authority of their employers.

An approach through three lines of inquiry

Benefitting as it does from the wealth of studies that have been carried out so far on domestic work, this issue proposes to gather various portraits in the so-called countries of the South, from a multidisciplinary perspective. Articles in history, sociology, anthropology, or economics that are based on original, in-depth qualitative and/or quantitative studies will be favored. They should either focus on one of the actors on the domestic labor market, or link the points of view of two or three parties. They should fit within one or more of the following lines of inquiry:

  • 1st line of inquiry: Learning and socialization to domestic work

While domestic work is often considered – both by employers and by the public authorities – as unskilled work, in reality one must learn it, and it may require a real conversion to the tasks and the rules governing the relationship between employers and employees. This learning is twofold. Depending on the context, it may concern both those who are learning to be employers – that is to say, those who must hire their staff, pay them, give them orders, control them, and interact with them – and those who are learning to be employees. Learning to serve or to be served can be done in different spaces: at home, an atypical work space, or in more established outside training. What does the socialization of employers and employees to domestic work consist in? What tools are available to allow them to learn how to incorporate their respective roles? In this line of inquiry, we expect that the life trajectories of employers and employees be linked with the process of socialization to domestic work. Other questions may therefore be asked in parallel: when and why does one resort to domestic work? What leads employees to enter domestic service? It would be interesting to compare the points of view of the various parties involved in the domestic work relationship.

  • 2nd line of inquiry: Hiring and placement on the job market

In some countries, placement agencies or nonprofit organizations offer to handle finding jobs and employees, while they are nonexistent elsewhere. In a given location, there can also be different ways of finding an employer or an employee, from the most institutional to the most informal. How do meetings on the domestic labor market take place? Is there public or private support to set up these meetings? If the meetings take place outside the scope of dedicated institutions, it would be relevant to examine precisely who employers and employees resort to in order to find each other – colleagues, family, or the local community. In addition, this line of inquiry calls for identifying the criteria for the selection of labor, and vice versa, of workplaces, and for analyzing the qualities that prevail on this labor market. A few studies have already suggested how important the essentializing of certain racial characteristics is, thus implementing a culturalist segregation of the workforce. What qualities are highlighted by employers for this type of work? How do employees represent these qualities at their best during the hiring process? The focus should be on the placement and hiring strategies pursued by the different parties involved.

  • 3rd line of inquiry: Defining and negotiating the work

The existence of laws concerning domestic work does not mean that they are systematically enforced, or even known to the different parties involved. However, working in another person’s home and employing someone at home require agreeing on the work that must be done, as well as on the relationships that govern it. In addition to presenting the legislative frameworks that govern work in a given location, this line of inquiry aims to answer the following questions: how is the work defined by employers and employees, and what does it involve in their relationships? Do the actors rely on documents to define the work? The role of trade unions, professional organizations, and NGOs in a given employment context may be studied here, including by discussing the effects of possible recent measures to regulate the behavior of expatriates with regard to a local population. This line of inquiry also examines the possible conflicts and power imbalances found in work situations, and the ways in which they are respectively resolved and reversed. Are employees systematically the losers in domestic work relationships? What room for negotiation do they have? This line of inquiry looks at the power relations that play out between employers and employees at work, in the institutions, and with the more informal intermediaries involved, by considering the obstacles encountered by each of the parties when negotiating.


The editors will favor submissions offering an in-depth local, national, and transnational analysis, relying on sound empirical fieldwork. Authors should contextualize their analysis by judiciously combining theory and empirics. For submissions focused on ethnographic work and/or on one or several individuals involved in domestic work, a keen analysis of their profiles and characteristics will be valued. Lastly, given the difficulty to grasp massive work that is not always statistically identifiable, submissions proposing a more macro-sociological, economic, and demographic approach of domestic work will be valued.

The contextualization of empirical studies and original corpuses, and the combination of a sound theoretical approach and fieldwork are expected.

This issue will favor an interdisciplinary approach. Authors from all the social and human sciences may submit papers, including but not limited to: sociology, political science, economics, history, anthropology, psychology, and philosophy.

Submission details / Participation in Issue no. 246 (2021/2) of the RIED

The authors agree to read the editorial policy of the Revue internationale des études du développement and to comply with the code of ethics.

The selection process will take place according to the dates specified in the publication calendar below.

  1. Submitting the proposal:

The proposals in French, English, or Spanish must present the paper in 4,000 characters (with spaces), or approximately one page. The file for the proposal must be entitled “AUTHOR’S SURNAME-Proposal-246,” and must include:

- a title (70 characters maximum, with the possibility of adding a subtitle);

- an abstract detailing the research question, the theoretical framework, the fieldwork, and the main results;

- some bibliographical references (not included in the character count);

- a file entitled “AUTHOR’S SURNAME-246-info,” including the author’s first name and last name, their status, their institutional affiliation, and their email address.

The relevancy of the proposals with regard to this call for papers and their conformity to the journal guidelines will be verified by the journal editors and the editorial team.

  1. Submitting the paper:

The authors whose proposals have been selected will be invited to send a first draft of their article, which must absolutely follow the guidelines below. The articles will then be submitted to a double blind peer review by two external reviewers who are experts on the topic.

The articles (40,000 characters with spaces, excluding the abstract and references) may be written in French, English, or Spanish. They must be original work. They may however have been presented at a conference (with proceedings), as long as they have been adapted to the format required by the Revue internationale des études du développement (see the guidelines for authors on the blog for the publications of the IEDES), but the author must not submit their paper to another journal simultaneously.

Publication calendar

The authors agree to comply with the calendar.

The proposals must be submitted by July 3rd, 2020 to:

- the editorial office:

- the editors:

  • Alizée Delpierre (
  • Hélène Malarmey (
  • Lorena Poblete (

The authors preselected by the editors and the editorial committee will be notified by the editorial team the week of July 6th 2020.

The first draft (V1), following the journal’s guidelines for authors, must be submitted by the authors to the three aforementioned email addresses by October 5th 2020.

The evaluation process will take a few months; each – anonymous – article will be submitted to a double blind peer review by two external reviewers who are experts on the topic. Requesting a first version of the article does not constitute a commitment on the part of the journal to publish the aforementioned article, which must be approved by the editorial committee, following the different steps in the evaluation process; no. 246 is expected to be published in September 2021.


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Moujoud, N., Falquet, J. (2010). Cent ans de sollicitude en France : Domesticité, reproduction sociale, migration et histoire coloniale. Cahiers genre et développement, 9, 229-246.

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Sarti, R. (2014). Historians, Social Scientists, Servants and Domestic Workers: Fifty Years of research on Domestic and Care Work. International Review of Social History, 59(2), 279-314.

Schwenken, H. (2011). Mobilisation des travailleuses domestiques migrantes : de la cuisine à l'Organisation internationale du travail. Cahiers du Genre, 2(51), 113-133.

Scrinzi, F. (2003). The Globalization of Domestic Work: Women migrants and Neo-Domesticity. In Freedman, J. (dir.). Gender and Insecurity. Migrant women in Europe, Routledge, 77-90.

Vidal, D. (2007). Les bonnes de Rio. Emploi domestique et société démocratique au Brésil. Septentrion.

Zeller, O. (2016). Revisiter l’histoire française des serviteurs et des domestiques. Revista de Historia Moderna, 34, 257-278.



  • Friday, July 03, 2020


  • domesticités, sud, travail


  • Béatrice Trotier-Faurion
    courriel : sr [dot] revdev [at] univ-paris1 [dot] fr

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  • Béatrice Trotier-Faurion
    courriel : sr [dot] revdev [at] univ-paris1 [dot] fr

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