From Benevolent Maternalism to Market Logic

Exploring Shifting Boundary Making in Domestic Work Relations in India

Author: Padmaja Barua | Anne Waldrop | and Haldis Haukanes


Framed within a discussion of boundary work and its many facets, this article develops a critical understanding of the discourses that shape the material and symbolic hierarchies of power asserted by employers of domestic workers in Indian households. We analyze the nature of discourses that are mobilized in the boundary work practiced by different groups of employers in India as they negotiate their relationships with their domestic workers. Drawing on fieldwork in Mumbai and Chennai, our analysis outlines two different discourses within the nature of boundary work – one centered on the trope of benevolent maternalism and another which mobilizes a market-based trope – and delineate how these diverge and converge in the relationship between employers and domestic workers. We also show how these discourses differ according to two key factors: on the one hand, whether the employers hire full-time or part-time workers, and on the other hand, the specific positional attributes of the employers in terms of age, occupation and family background. We argue that these two discursive categories are not watertight compartments, but are located on a spectrum, and that employers therefore exhibit elements of both maternalism and market – based approaches within the relationship with their workers.

Regions: South Asia
Countries: India
Topics: Labor

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December 2017
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