Dr. Ewa Palenga-Möllenbeck

The “new butler”: Situating men in outsourced domestic work at intersections of gender, class and ethnicity

Today, domestic workers account for a significant part of migrations both from and inside Eastern European countries. These migrants usually perform domestic work and/or care work for children and the elderly—that is, activities traditionally associated with women, and thus justifying the oft-cited label of the feminization of migration. What often gets overlooked is that “reproductive work” is not strictly female: There are also “typically male” in households that can be categorized as “reproductive”, such as renovations, repairs, or gardening (Kilkey et al., 2013).

My habilitation project on Polish handymen working in German households looks at this “male side” of reproductive work and its commodification — that is, its outsourcing to persons outside the family. It asks how male domestic migrants help the families that hire them to manage their everyday lives—in particular, the issue of balancing career and family—, but also how the migrants themselves tackle this problem.

In the context of the discussion on the commodification and outsourcing of stereotypically female domestic work and the return of the “servant society” (cf. Glenn, 2010), Lutz (2011) has proposed the term “new maids” to refer to female migrants. These “new maids” perform domestic work that affluent middle-class households no longer want to perform, themselves. Along the same lines, I propose a corresponding idealtype for male domestic workers – the “new butler” (Palenga-Möllenbeck 2013ab). The term is likewise meant to highlight the unequal relationship, both in material terms and in terms of social recognition, between so-called “handymen” offering stereotypically male domestic work services and the households contracting them.

In the project I plan to enhance and intensify the concept of the “new butler”, thus exploring how the male dimension of outsourcing domestic work results from and in new forms of intra-European inequalities based on intersecting ethnicity/citizenship, class and gender.


Dr. Alice Szczepanikova has been awarded a postdoctoral scholarship by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and will start working at the chair Women and Gender Studies from 1 February 2010 until 31 January 2012. The title of her research project is ‘Reconstructing Biographies in Exile: Chechen Refugee Women in Germany, Austria and Poland’. It investigates how experiences of forcible displacement and life in exile involve reconstruction of identities. This proposal also won a 'Junior Scientists in Focus' award from the Goethe University.