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Corporate Care: Migrant labour and the care industry in times of (non) crisis

A one-day conference at Goldsmiths College, New Cross, London, 29 October 2015

Deadline: June 12, 2015

Though unsurprisingly hitting the low-income and unemployed harder than ever, the 2007-2011 Global Economic Crisis and subsequent politics of austerity have also revealed the emergence of new and unexpected trends in the West: in the immediate aftermath of the crisis, both non-migrant and migrant women in numerous Western countries were less affected than men in terms of jobs losses, though their working conditions might have not improved. Subsequent austerity policies, on the other hand, seem to have disadvantaged women in terms of working conditions, though they also appear to have reinforced their commitment to paid work (Karamessini and Rubery, ed., 2013; Farris, 2015).

The intertwined fate of non-migrant and migrant women during and after the crisis is due to their position vis-à-vis care, or social reproduction. The assumption that care is a “woman’s job” remains firmly in place, while public state care provision continues to shrink. But while non-migrant women’s rate of participation in the workforce means that they do less unpaid care work in comparison to previous periods, migrant women from ‘post-socialist’ countries and the Global South take on the bulk of the social reproductive tasks in paid form in the booming care industry.

But what is the care industry? How did the crisis change its configuration?

Studies conducted across Europe and the West in the last ten years show that the care industry was not negatively affected by the crisis. On the contrary, the demand for care and domestic service has grown rather than decreased. Moreover, a process of polarization appears to be impacting upon migrant workers employed in the care industry: on the one hand, a proliferation of domestic and care placement agencies as well as so-called ‘non-profit’ organisations (particularly in Southern Europe) is increasingly meeting the growing demand for carers and housekeepers by individual households. Effectively functioning as corporations, many of these organisations are making enormous profits out of mediating for, or directly exploiting, the hugely needed work of migrants in the care sector. On the other hand, anti-immigration policies at the national level and the refusal of numerous states to issue visas for care and domestic workers (particularly during the first years of the crisis) have pushed migrants working in this sector into the underground. But rather than being discouraged to employ migrants, more and more families in fact rely upon “word of mouth” to hire them as carers and housekeepers, as they remain the most cost-effective solution for their caring needs. Yet even in the underground, illegal agencies and organisations profiting from this flourishing industry begin to emerge.

With the crisis and austerity politics in the background, this one day conference aims to analyse this new set of dynamics by focusing upon the care industry, the emergence of corporate care and (female) migrant labour in particular.

While the employment of migrant women in the care industry has been widely studied, the impact of the recent crisis and austerity politics on female migrant labour in the care sector and the boom of care placement agencies have remained largely under-scrutinized.

This conference thus aims to fill a gap in this field of studies by seeking papers that address the following questions in particular:

  • How does the increasing presence of corporations and also non-profit organisations in the care industry in a period of crisis and austerity affect the sector?
  • How does the profitability of care impact upon our understanding of social reproduction theory in particular?
  • How do care and domestic placement agencies change conceptions and cultures of care and domestic work?
  • How have the crisis and austerity politics transformed the working conditions of migrants in the care sector in different countries?

Abstracts should be 300 words long and clearly state the question they address. Preference will be given to papers that seek to combine theoretical and empirical work.

Deadline for submission is June 12, 2015. Please send abstracts and any inquiries to

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