Brokering ServitudeMigration and the Politics of Domestic Labor during the Long Nineteenth Century

Brokering ServitudeMigration and the Politics of Domestic Labor during the Long Nineteenth Century

Andrew Urban

Print publication date: 2018

ISBN: 9780814785843

Publisher: NYU Press

Abstract

Brokering Servitude examines how labor markets for domestic service were identified, shaped, and governed by philanthropists, missionaries, commercial offices, and the state. Because household service was undesirable work and stigmatized as menial and unfree, brokers were integral to steering and compelling women, men, and children into this labor. By the end of the nineteenth century, the federal government—as the sovereign power responsible for overseeing immigration—had become a major broker of domestic labor through border controls. By determining eligibility for entry, federal immigration officials dictated the availability of workers for domestic labor and under what conditions they could be contracted. Brokering Servitude is the first book to connect the political economy of domestic labor in the United States to the nation’s historic legacy as an imperial power engaged in continental expansion, the opening of overseas labor markets in Europe and Asia, and the dismantling of the unfree labor regime that slavery represented. The question of how to best broker the social relations of production necessary to support middle-class domesticity generated contentious debates about race, citizenship, and economic development. This book asserts that the political economy of reproductive labor, usually confined to the static space of the home, cannot be properly understood without attention to labor migrations, and especially migrations of workers who were assisted, compelled, or contracted. Their interventions responded to household employers who were eager to not only compare the merits of different labor sources, but also pit these sources against each other.