4. Intersectionality at work
4.4. The home and the nation
Work carried out in the sphere of the private home takes on meaning that goes well beyond that sphere. The slave reference that has come up a few times in this thesis – for example in the documentary Kvinne 2013: De gode hjelperne – shows the way in which the work au pairs do takes on meaning beyond what happens at the site where the work is done. Paid domestic labour carries with it the history of slavery and colonialism that makes it relevant for au pairs to mention slavery
as a viable frame of interpretation when addressing their work situation, as done by the au pair in the documentary. This reference to slavery also carries other connotations to the home, migration regimes, racism and sexism, and the way in which the nation and the domestic sphere of the home melt together and mutually constitute each other (see, e.g., Anderson, 2000; Collins, 1998; Lewis, 2006). Au pairs’ race, class, gender, ethnicity, religion, citizenship, sexuality and so on may play a part in these processes of inclusion and exclusion, in the home as well as the nation.
In Norway, as elsewhere, the migrant woman is constituted as that which is ‘not Norway’, and she is constructed in this way through a range of different categories that come together in specific ways at the site of domestic work in the private home, as discussed above. The domestic worker can be seen to embody boundaries – between private and public, inside and outside. The link between the home and the nation has been firmly established (see, e.g., Collins, 1998;
Yuval-Davis, 1993, 1996) and sprang out of a historical change in the middle of the 18th century in the Western world, with an increased focus on a nation-state based on territory as well as a population in this territory. With this shift, the home and motherhood took on new meaning as spheres in which population policy could be exercised (Solheim, 2007, p. 94, see also Foucault, 2002).
In researching migrant domestic work, the links between the home and the nation become highly visible; in the case of au pairs, the home becomes the physical space in which larger processes of marginalisation, inclusion and exclusion take place. The home is a political space where practices are ‘regulated by hidden principles and organised along axes of power’, as well as where identities are shaped and reshaped over time (Triandafyllidou & Marchetti, 2015, p. 4). The home is, in other words, not a neutral or necessarily safe place, but a place where a great deal of negotiation is done – negotiation that happens along numerous axes of power, as I have shown above in the case of au pairs. Home is also where the self spills out into physical space in a process of embodiment
(Ahmed, 2006, p. 11). Yet what happens when the home is not one’s own? When the self cannot occupy the domestic space, but is rather restricted by the temporality and subordination of residing in the space of someone else’s home?
What happens when migration policy makes the home uninhabitable? Gail Lewis notes that:
[T]he fate of the figures of the immigrant woman and the actually existing global careworker is to become the symbolic and embodied representatives of what Chandra Talpade Mohanty and Biddy Martin (2003, p. 90) referred to as the modality of ‘not-being at home’ and thus ‘realising that home [is] an illusion of coherence and safety based on the exclusion of specific histories of oppression and resistance’. (Lewis, 2006, p. 100)
The symbolic figure of the immigrant woman appears to be something distinctly different from ‘the actually existing global careworker’ who may nevertheless share the same fate. Lewis points towards the figure of the migrant woman and the role of the home in producing particular ‘imaginaries of Europe’, wherein the connection between these imaginaries and the immigrant woman ‘lies in the double meaning of the domestic as household (including this as the site of legitimate sexuality) and nation(al), both of which have roots in colonial discourse and practice’ (Lewis, 2006, p. 96).
The production of an imagined common European identity that constructs itself as a universal standard relies on the construction of a distinguishable inside and outside, wherein the figure of the immigrant woman embodies ‘all that is not Europe’ (ibid., p. 89). The categories of gender, ethnicity, race, migrant status and citizenship, sexuality, age and so on all intersect in a larger process of producing not only a particular kind of worker in the home, but also a particular kind of migrant. The home and the nation, collapsed into one, thus become not only the site at which this happens, but also become constituted through the figure of the migrant. In Norwegian public discourse, migrant domestic workers are imagined as almost exclusively female, and are constituted as always already oppressed
(Mohanty, 1988), in the sense that their current economic exploitation is ascribed to their very foreignness – a foreignness that can only be established in relation to an imagined difference from ‘Norwegianness’. In this way, the home and the nation can be established through their exclusion of the history of the migrant woman.