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Journal Article

Disposable kin: Shifting registers of belonging in global care economies


Amrith,  Megha       
Research Group Ageing in a Time of Mobility, MPI for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Max Planck Society;

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Amrith, M., & Coe, C. (2022). Disposable kin: Shifting registers of belonging in global care economies. American Anthropologist, 124(2), 307-318. doi:10.1111/aman.13688.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0009-DA12-D
As is well discussed in the literature, paid domestic workers become like kin through living with and caring for their employers. Exploring two disparate cases, aging Asian domestic workers in Singapore and African eldercare workers in the United States, the article focuses on two critical junctures when these kin relations are disavowed: the care worker's retirement and the death of a patient. We argue that the flexible registers of kinship that characterize care workers’ relationships with their employers revert, at the end of employment, to fixed notions of kinship based on blood and marriage. These essentialist understandings of kinship arise around inheritance and the worker's care in older age and in illness, enabling employers, states, and private care agencies to avoid post-employment obligations to domestic workers. The fluctuation between kinship-as-doing and kinship-as-essence marginalizes domestic workers in a globalized economy as disposable kin, denying their belonging as citizens or social equals.