Embodied Work, Embodied Resistance: Responding to Shifting Arrangements in Paid Domestic Work

Authors: Caitlin Alcorn*, University of Washington
Topics: Latin America
Keywords: labor geography, paid domestic work, Brazil
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Paid domestic work remains one of the largest sectors of female employment in Brazil, accounting for 14% of total female employment, and 18% of black female employment in 2015 (IPEA 2019). Within this sector, there exists a great diversity of employment arrangements, broadly characterized as mensalista residente (live-in), mensalista externa (full-time, live-out), and diarista (day work), each representing unique spatio-temporal arrangements. While full-time workers (both live-in and live-out) are covered by basic labor protections, day workers, who work no more than two days a week for a single employer, are not. Day work arrangements are increasingly common, particularly in urban areas. For example, in 2018, 42% of domestic workers in the city of São Paulo were considered diaristas, up from just 20.5% in 2000 (SEADE 2019). Drawing on in-depth interviews with domestic workers and employers in São Paulo, this paper explores the geographies of this increasingly fragmented sector. Workers’ (and to a lesser degree employers’) experiences across a range of employment arrangements reveal surprising fractures and continuities within this historically marginalized sector. Workers recount similar strategies by employers to extract additional labor from them, as well as everyday acts that attempt to deny workers their humanity. Workers, with differing levels of access to legal recourse and assistance from labor unions, engage in a range of spatial practices to exert control over their work and lives. Confronted with increasing precarity and informality, workers find new ways to resist the devaluation of their work and bodies.

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