Religion, migration, and the globalisation of care work: Reflections on past and present trends

Öffentlicher Vortrag von Prof. Ester Gallo (University of Trento) im Rahmen des Ethnologischen Kolloquiums

Datum: 14. Mai 2024
Zeit: 16.15 Uhr bis 17.45 Uhr
Ort: Universität Luzern, Raum 4.B02

Twenty years after the issue of the ‘transnational political economy of care’ has become prominent in gender and migration studies, the nexus between migrant care work (MCW) and religion rarely gains centrality in current debates. Yet religious institutions play an important role as brokers of MCW across the world, both on the global and local scales. Further, together with ethnicity, gender and class, religion importantly contributes to the hierarchization of workers in the job.

I consider care as encompassing all the material/emotional activities that are necessary to address the needs of dependent individuals and the active population, and to maintaining people inter-generationally. It comprises more ‘feminized’ tasks of cleaning, caring for the elderly, or cooking, and more ‘masculinized’ jobs like janitors or handymen. It involves also (semi)skilled professions, such as healthcare workers.

While scholars pointed to the significance of religion in shaping MCW, we still lack a comprehensive discussion and analysis of its specific role in this domain. To this end, this talk brings together relevant debates in order to present a multi-scalar conceptual framework analysing the role of religion at different levels: the global ‘transnational political economy of care’ (macro), nationally specific institutions and regimes of migration and care (meso), and face-to-face interaction (micro)s. The discussion encompasses different faiths beyond Christianity, and different contexts of MCW in the past and in the present.

By including religion in the picture, the discussion contributes to shifting debates on MCW, which have mainly focused on the secular domain in terms of settings, actors and ideas. The ‘globalization of care’ is not only modelled around economic interests and geo-political inequalities, but crucially encompasses moral, symbolic and cultural dimensions too. The analysis moves beyond a dichotomous interpretation of religion as either a social force enhancing socio-economic mobility – prominent in the US literature - or a marginalising force with respect to labour inclusion/performance – as highlighted by research on Europe. A multi-scalar analysis highlights the ambivalent nature of religion in being at once enabling and constraining pathways of migrant labour mobilities. Religions foster migrant workers’ resistance and provide symbolic resources for inclusion and empowerment; but they can also sanctify social inequalities lying at the heart of care work. 

The analysis draws from ethnographic research on MCW conducted over a period of 20 years in India and Italy, as well as from a critical assessment of the literature (on religion and transnationalism; on religion, migrant labour and MCW; on spirituality in the workplace) conducted with my co-researcher and co-author, Francesca Scrinzi (University of Glasgow).