hen I immigrated to Canada eight years ago, my mother was working as a cleaning lady. Her job took her – and me, on some days – to different households and neighbourhoods across Toronto. It was this experience of accompanying my mother as she walked into these private homes as an employee that sparked conversations about the nature of "privacy" in homes, and how tremulous it was in practice. At the time, I understood privacy to be a veil, one that individuals performing domestic work passed through, and left closed behind them. It was only later on, when I met more of my mother's friends, Filipino women who had at some time or the other also been live-in care and domestic workers[1], that I realised how simplistic my original imagining of privacy had been. To understand privacy as a veil did not make space for the structural, interpersonal, and even cultural complexities that arise when a temporary migrant worker is required to live with her employer during her time of employment. Privacy, as I came to discover, functioned within homes in peculiar ways. I posit that for households that employ live-in care and domestic workers under Canada's Live-in Caregiver Program (1992-2013), privacy functions as an intimate infrastructure, facilitating the transnational flows of capital and labour within these households, and concealing how the home can become a private space of abuse for Canada's temporary migrant workers. "Privacy" as an infrastructure is a violent infrastructure, not only as it functions within households of employment, but also in its function within the global transnational labour force.

I propose an understanding of "privacy" in the home as a peculiar infrastructure because of the incongruity between the lived experience of the employee and the employer. The home is affected and shaped by the state's policies and requirements, creating an infrastructure of privacy that simultaneously conceals abuse while protecting the abuser. What, then, are the mechanisms that are built upon the infrastructure of privacy in homes, and how are they perpetuated? How is privacy used as an infrastructure to differentiate between the experiences of the employee and the employer, although they share the same living space?

Ara Wilson, in an analysis of intimacy within infrastructure, paraphrases Star in her discussion of in/visibility, making the argument that "when infrastructure works as it should, we often stop seeing it" (248). I would argue that this understanding infrastructure speaks to a conflation of utility and invisibility, that invisibility is then a characteristic of what makes infrastructure function properly. This rejects, perhaps, the paradigm that infrastructure should be visible, and made visible, for scrutiny and for critique. To raise infrastructure from this invisibility acknowledges not only the work and repair that has always been necessary in its maintenance, but also raises to the foreground the bodies that perform this work. Taking this argument further, the context of domestic privacy as an infrastructure becomes particularly challenging. In the societal removal of the idea of "home" from the public view, the need to interrogate which bodies are performing this work has been simultaneously removed. To set domestic privacy as an infrastructure that exists firmly within the realm of invisibility is to obscure the space of the home, and in doing so, conceals abuse and exploitation.

I believe that the Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP) provides a strong argument that infrastructure, particularly domestic infrastructure, must be removed from the state of invisibility. Within the domestic space that characterizes the Canadian middle-class home, two years of intimate service and of social reproduction that is provided within homes is given in exchange for potential Canadian citizenship. This promise of citizenship alters and complicates the home as a space of work and of living, as well as the relationships between the employee and the employer. The live-in requirement has led to instances of abuse within homes against the employees, examples of which include food insecurity, immigration-related threats; overlong hours of work; and pay shortages (Stiell and England 1997; Pratt 2006; Tungohan et al 2015). These examples stress Brickner and Straehle's (2010) argument that "[by] law, caregivers’ contracts specify hours, wages, vacation time, and benefits, but evidence suggests that these contracts are routinely violated" (314).

As the private sphere is conventionally understood to be the "part of life that is under the control of the individual in a personal capacity… outside official or state control" (Madanipour 2005: 35), I posit that the employer's participation in a state-sanctioned program to bring a temporary migrant worker into the home leans on societal norms of privacy and strengthens the contemporary modes of infrastructuralization that domestic privacy undergoes. The privacy of the home is selective between the employer and the employee, and the rules and regulations dictated by the LCP is nestled within both legal and societal paradigms.

The peculiarity of the infrastructure of privacy with regards to the LCP is the lopsidedness of state involvement between the employer and the employee's experiences in the domestic space. There are regulations intended for the employee, but no parallel intention to regulate or change the lifestyle that the employer leads. The infrastructure of privacy functions to create distinct experiences of the "private" sphere for the employer and the employee. This selectivity has led to situations of abuse for many live-in care and domestic workers, abuse which they endure for the promise of citizenship at the end of the program. Domestic privacy has been disrupted and transformed by the employer's participation in a state-sanctioned program of importing labour from the global south for the social reproduction of the global north. The home as "the institutionalized arena of privacy" (Madanipour 2005: 62) is within this context is structured specifically to protect the interests of the employer.

The closed doors of the "private" home figuratively and literally conceals the exploitation of the labour of live-in care and domestic workers, perpetuating the invisibility of racialised bodies performing the work of social reproduction necessary to maintain Canada's middle class and affluent families. Feminist scholarship has long disputed the idea of the home as a private and gendered space (Roberts 1997; hooks 1984). Consequently, scholars have argued against the idea of domestic work and workers as invisible within a capitalistic framework, presenting instead a more nuanced and intersectional idea of the home as a space of work, where women of colour and of the working class have long experienced the exploitation of their labour and bodies (Roberts 1997). The negative experiences that the live-in care and domestic workers encounter beg an expansive understanding of abuse and exploitation: from the physical toll of food insecurity; to the psychological anguish of a type of work that is isolated by design; to the emotional distress caused by taking on work that necessitated leaving one's family behind for years on end.

Moreover, the homes that employ migrant workers from the global south are illustrative of how "global inequalities between nations are inscribed on the racialized body of the domestic worker and reproduced at the scale of the household" (Mountz and Hyndman 2006: 454). To only imagine the space of the home as “private” assumes a Eurocentric (hooks 1984; Roberts 1997) and class-centric (Nakano Glenn 1992) understanding that disregards and renders invisible the historical and neo-colonial divisions of labour for women of colour and of the working class. Quite often, "live-in paid domestic work in Toronto is usually the work of migrant or immigrant women, especially 'third world' women of colour" (Stiell and England 1997: 340), producing a hyper-visible and neocolonial contrast between the bodies that employ to be cared for, and the bodies that are employed to provide care. The image of a Filipino nanny pushing a white toddler in a stroller has become so ubiquitous as to have reached invisibility in many parts of Canada, especially in Toronto. The optics of hyper/in/visibility in these representations indicate how "global inequalities between nations are inscribed on the racialized body of the domestic worker and reproduced at the scale of the household" (Mountz and Hyndman 2006: 454), with global movements in turn affecting the intimacy of private homes. As Mountz and Hyndman argue, we see in these examples that "the intimate is inextricable form the global" (2006, 448).

With the introduction of the temporary migrant worker into the domestic space, the LCP "fundamentally [supports] the career planning and professional development of the more privileged women without significantly disturbing the classical gender arrangement within the households" (Gutiérrez-Rodriguez 2014: 195). The domestic sector, as Phillips argues, "(provides) a stream of physical and intangible social assets that enable wealth creation" (Phillips 2003: 6) for the employers. The body of the live-in care and domestic worker employed within the LCP is a body that is inscribed with the intersections of the history of women of colour, often from the global South, deprofessionalized and deskilled, who are providing labour for Canadian social reproduction in exchange for citizenship since the 1950s, and of care that is paid for and bestowed upon Canada's families, even as it is violently acquired from the employee's own family.

The peculiarity of the infrastructure of "privacy" within households that employ live-in care and domestic workers, then, lies in its bias towards the employer. The employer experiences no real disruption to their lifestyle, although the character of the home is changed with the introduction of a temporary foreign worker through a state-sanctioned program. The infrastructure of domestic privacy serves to contain and conceal abuse and exploitation, hiding it from public scrutiny, and creating an uneven dynamic that often carries echoes of colonial relationships between the global north and global south. 


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[1] In this piece, I would like to use the term "live-in care and domestic worker" as opposed to "live-in caregiver," toreflect the fact that they performed not only care work for individuals, but also domestic work for the households of employment.