“I Was Her Legs and Her Arms” Micro politics of care and re/organisation of social reproduction in the case of migrant eldercare work
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What is symptomatic of the current (neoliberal) organisation of social reproduction is its return to the household, relying on its traditional character while simultaneously being commodified (Bakker, 2007). One such manifestation is visible in a 24-hour care arrangement where care workers live with their wards as is the case with the six Croatian women I interviewed, employed in Austrian, (North) Italian and German households. Social reproduction refers to all the activities necessary for maintaining human life and sustaining communities, from biological reproduction, care work of all kinds, medical services to education (Brenner and Laslett, 1989). The framework of social reproduction encompasses various sites and institutions, as discussed by Eleonore Koffman and Parvati Raghuram (2015), and this became the most suitable approach to analyse my case study, making it possible to connect the daily performance of care and the larger power structures (the global economy). The caregivers, as the ones who are almost solely responsible for the well-being of the elderly, are a pivotal link in the health care system, where clients' families, medical staff and welfare regimes in the sending countries rely heavily on the caregivers’ emotional and physical capacities to care. Although they are extremely important, these capacities have been undermined due to the worsening of their working conditions as the result of reducing the costs of reproductive labour. By paying attention to the experiences of these caretakers, the scope of my thesis is to reveal the systematic relevance of minute details of care which can indicate deep structural problems, more specifically, showing the contradictory relationship between reproduction and production under capitalism in general, and neoliberalism in particular. In so doing, this project makes a valuable intervention in the debate on social reproduction where the daily performances of care have become a new entry point for analysing the complexity of reproducing human life in our socio-economic order.