South Asia, Latin America ‘flashpoints’ of global care markets

South Asia and Latin America are far apart on the global map, but the regions share a commonality as two epicenters of migrant care work and the globalized reproductive market, according to scholars Anindita Banerjee and Debra Castillo in the College of Arts and Sciences.

In their edited collection, “South of the Future: Marketing Care and Speculating Life in South Asia and the Americas,” published Dec. 1, Banerjee and Castillo bring together eight essays from fields as diverse as anthropology, law, literary studies, public policy and social work to examine markets of care-giving in the two regions – and the global tensions they reveal and exploit.

Time-worn routes sourcing nannying, nursing and elder care workers from the “global south” (newly industrialized or industrializing nations) to the “global north” (industrialized nations) are being complicated as surrogacy and other biotechnology-enabled reproductive services develop, said Banerjee, associate professor of comparative literature, and Castillo, professor of comparative literature and the Emerson Hinchliff Professor of Hispanic Studies.

South Asia and Latin America “have not only been historically entrenched in transnational flows of care work, but also, more recently, become flashpoints of global traffic in speculative technologies of life,” Banerjee and Castillo wrote in the book’s introduction. “By examining them in juxtaposition, this book comprises the first comparative and interdisciplinary investigation of care markets and biomarkets in the Global South.”

Historically as in the present, the global south has been a vital resource for the sustenance of life and care, Banerjee and Castillo wrote. And as speculative technologies such as surrogacy methods and gene editing develop and take root commercially, these geographical areas are also beginning to symbolize “our collective hopes and anxieties for the future,” they wrote.

“The title and subtitle of the book encapsulate and connect a set of ‘wicked problems’ around the creation, continuation and sustenance of life that are by no means new or unique to these two regions of the global south,” Banerjee said, “but have accelerated and become starkly visible over the last few decades.”

These problems, Banerjee said, include:

  • What constitutes the “essential work” of caring for the most vulnerable in society – the young, the elderly and the sick – and who carries out this work?
  • How does such caregiving correlate with the race, gender, place of origin and economic status of the bodies entrusted with carrying it out? and
  • How has this work increasingly become marketized, financialized and outsourced across a global economic system, and how are the benefits of such work distributed in vastly unequal ways?

“The ongoing pandemic has only made us more conscious about the book’s core constellation of concerns and expanded their implications across other parts of the globe,” Banerjee said.

Like COVID-19 and climate change, the marketing of care and speculative life services requires a multidisciplinary approach, Banerjee said, to questions that are “similarly multifaceted and deeply entangled.”

Among other contributors, Karen Smith Rotabi, professor of social work at California State University, Monterey Bay, compared intercountry adoption in Guatemala and international surrogacy in western India. Sital Kalantry, clinical professor at Cornell Law School, wrote about legal procedure and public policy in India’s unregulated market of gestational care. And Emily C. Vázquez Enríquez, assistant professor of Spanish at the University of California, Davis, wrote about wet nurses in Mexico.

The last two essays in the collection, including one co-written by the editors, “dive into predictive storytelling” by analyzing science fiction about artificial life systems and bioconsumerism, wrote Banerjee and Castillo.

“Readers from any number of fields can enter the book and discover new ways of addressing the issues ranging through the chapters,” Banerjee said.

Banerjee hopes the collection of essays makes readers aware, she said, of the “complex, profoundly unequal and vastly distributed systems that make up the invisible web of care on which we all depend.”

Read the story in the Cornell Chronicle.

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		 Book cover: South of the Future