Negotiating Care Culture and Ethnic Difference: Employment of Migrant Care Workers in East Asia

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 10:45
Oral Presentation
Pei-Chia LAN, Department of Sociology, National Taiwan University, Taiwan
The need for outsourcing care has expanded globally due to population aging in postindustrial societies. East Asian countries, facing a similar problem of care deficit, have recruited migrant care workers from Southeast Asia while negotiating the cultural meaning and institutional arrangement of care: Should care be viewed as a familial duty or professional work? Is care a culturally embedded practice or a form of market service that can be easily transferred to a foreigner? Do the ethnic boundaries and cultural differences between care providers and care recipients interrupt or facilitate the performance of care work, which requires intimate encounter and emotional labor?

These propositions, often posed as exclusive dualisms, are intertwined with each other and dynamically reconstituted in the daily practice of care work. This paper compares the recruitment of migrant care workers in Taiwan, Japan and South Korea to explore how carework is culturally defined and institutionally regulated in different ways. Many employers prefer to hire migrant workers for the benefits of status hierarchy and labor subordination, but they are equally concerned about whether these ethnic others are suitable for the role of fictive kin in a modern household. Southeast Asian women are often associated with essential characteristics, such as a “natural inclination” to care, and therefore considered ideal candidates for the performance of affective labor. And yet, the receiving society also questions their qualification for professional care in a cultural context which is not their own.