Accepted Paper:

(Neo-)colonial encounters: new migration – old practices? The case of migrant domestic workers in Portugal  
Christiane Hellermann (University of Bremen)

Paper short abstract:

The paper examines Portugal as a postcolonial society by analysing current daily-life practices and linking them to the (colonial) past. The experiences of female migrant domestic workers reveal the commonness of paternalistic and discriminatory behaviour that repeats colonial practices nowadays.

Paper long abstract:

The paper combines theoretical and empirical perspectives. It aims to understand and examine Portugal as a post-colonial society by analysing current daily-life practices and linking them to the (colonial) past.

The employment of migrant domestic workers becomes more and more common and popular in Southern Europe, similar to many other European countries. In the last decade, the issue of domestic work became (again) a hot topic for feminists, and it recently started to be also of academic interest. How far can it be productive to situate this discussion in a historic context that links current practices and experiences to a colonial past? Portugal as former colonial power and myth, and as a (somehow) 'post-colonial' space at the Western margin of the European Union offers an interesting perspective on this complex topic.

My paper looks at the existence and the revival of colonial and feudal patterns in the thinking and behaviour of the urban middle and upper class in Portugal. Therefore, the situation of the empregadas domésticas, the domestic workers, will be analysed. In the past, mostly Portuguese women from poor rural areas worked as domestic servants, nowadays immigrant women take on their place. They come predominately from Brazil and Eastern Europe (esp. Russia, Ukraine, Moldavia, Romania). The fact that the majority of these migrant women has studied and worked during many years in their professions as e.g. engineers, doctors, economists and teachers, is largely ignored by the employers ('os patrões'): Those see and treat domestic workers like brainless servants from uncivilised, 'underdeveloped' countries. Paternalistic behaviour is reinforced, colonial practices repeated.

Panel W060
Strategic uses of colonial legacies in postcolonial encounters