(Dis)comfort in domestic and care practices: historical and contemporary perspectives in a transnational and local Croatian context
Duga Mavrinac (Institute for Anthropological research)
Paper short abstract:
The aim of this paper is to analyze how the concept of comfort can help us understand the deep interweaving of domestic and care practices and how different definitions of (dis)comfort are used in negotiating relationships and in the process of appropriation and (re)creation of home for the workers.
Paper long abstract:
In the last century, the Croatian informal domestic work sector has been characterized by both transnational and local networks and practices. Since the beginning of the XX century, thousands of women and young girls have searched for work in neighboring countries such as Italy, Slovenia, and Austria or in major Croatian cities like Zagreb, Rijeka, and Pula. Many of them found work as live-in elderly care workers whose employment is based on loose verbal agreements. Still, although their main responsibility is to look after the physical and emotional wellbeing of the elderly, by constantly cleaning, tidying up and reordering the domestic space, they are also actively engaged in (re)creating the sense of home and in maintaining continuity and consistency in the (material) narratives and daily routines of the elderly. However, due to geographical proximity these workers have two- or three-week-long work shifts and are constantly moving back and forth between two domestic spaces: their own and the ones where they work. The aim of this paper is to analyze how the concept of comfort can help us understand the deep interweaving of domestic and care practices and how different definitions of (dis)comfort are used in negotiating relationships between families, the elderly and live-in care workers. By comparing archival documents dating from the Austro-Hungarian period with contemporary ethnographic field work data, I will try to disclose changing conceptualizations of (dis)comfort and its role in the appropriation and (re)creation of home for both the female workers and their employers.
Dis)comforts of home: historical and cultural perspectives