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Of Home and Whom: Embeddedness of Law in the Regulation of Difference

Rethinking Class and Social Difference

ISBN: 978-1-83982-021-2, eISBN: 978-1-83982-020-5

Publication date: 30 September 2020


Laws geared toward regulating the employment relationship cling to traditional definitions of workplaces, neglecting the domain of the home and those who work there. Domestic workers, a population of largely immigrant women of color, have performed labor inside of New York City's homes for centuries and yet have consistently been denied coverage under labor law protections at both the state and federal level. This article traces out the exclusions of domestic workers historically and then turn to a particular piece of legislation – the 2010 New York Domestic Worker Bill of Rights – which was the first law of its kind to regulate the household as a site of labor, therefore disrupting that long-standing pattern. However, the law falls short in granting basic worker protections to this particular group. Drawing from 52 in-depth interviews and analysis of legislative documents, The author argues that the problematics of the law can be understood by recognizing its embeddedness, or rather the broader political, legal, historical, and social ecology within which the law is embedded, which inhibited in a number of important ways the law's ability to work. This article shows how this plays out through the law obscuring the specificity of where this labor is performed – the home – as well as the demographic makeup of the immigrant women of color – the whom – performing it. Using the case study of domestic workers' recent inclusion into labor law coverage, this article urges a closer scrutiny of and attention to the changing nature of inequality, race, and gender present in employment relationships within the private household as well as found more generally throughout the low-wage sector.




I would like to thank the domestic workers who generously shared their time, stories and experiences with me. Kim Voss, Cristina Mora, Armando Lara-Millán, Jonathan Simon, Gowri Vijayakumar, Tara Gonsalves, Carter Koppelman, Graham Hill, Elise Herrala, Ben Shestakofsky, Paula Uniacke, and Sunmin Kim offered key insightful suggestions, as did members of the Gender and Sexuality Workshop in the Berkeley Sociology Department. I am grateful to Mike McCarthy, Barry Eidlin, and anonymous reviewers for their dedicated feedback, and to Mikael Ruukel for excellent research assistance and legal prowess. A special thanks to Raka Ray for her inspiration throughout this research.


Maich, K.E. (2020), "Of Home and Whom: Embeddedness of Law in the Regulation of Difference", Eidlin, B. and McCarthy, M.A. (Ed.) Rethinking Class and Social Difference (Political Power and Social Theory, Vol. 37), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 185-214.



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