Maids, machines and morality in Brazilian homes

Silva, Elizabeth (2010). Maids, machines and morality in Brazilian homes. Feminist Review, 94 pp. 20–37.



This paper engages with debates about the increasing use of paid domestic labour in Europe and the USA contributing with a reflection about the case of Brazil. Relations of gender, class and race are considered in the deployment of maids for housework, the patterns of consumption of household technologies and the moral reasoning of daily living with hierarchical divisions within the home. The paper considers some parallels between the Brazilian context and that of more developed countries and also the specificity of Brazil. Based on participant observation, secondary data and an ethnographic study, rich empirical data are weaved through to discuss material and moral dimensions of domestic labour and care. How does the availability of cheap domestic labour configure relations of inequality? How are social differences in the home lived with and justified? The exploration of the Brazilian case illuminates some of the problems, contradictions and possible consequences of wealthier households benefitting from the displacement of poor women that is currently happening through international migration. The paper argues that in Brazil the deflecting of tensions in gender divisions of labour in households onto a subordinate person has affected relations of equality between women and men and also the patterns of technological innovation to facilitate housework. These are outcomes to be guarded against in Europe and the United States in face of the current trends in 'global woman' relations.

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