Shadow Work Case Study

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Shadow work is a topic of controversy and is, by definition, difficult to investigate due to the lack of quantitative evidence. The essay will present the case studies conducted by Jon Burnett and David Whyte on undocumented migrant workers, and by Teela Sanders with indoor sex workers, showing that these social scientists used the concept of risk to interpret their findings. The essay will then compare the two case studies, showing their similarities, but also their differences, outlining how the concept of risk was used to understand shadow work. Globalisation has led to an increase of migrant labour – legal and illegal – in the developed world. Undocumented migrant labour is difficult to evaluate as it operates outside the formal economy,…show more content…
The concept of risk is used by Bernard and White to argue that undocumented migrants have relatively little autonomy, being forced to accept insecurity in order to survive economically, with no real opportunity to reduce their exposure to risks. They have little agency over their conditions of work. On the contrary, Sanders interprets her findings in terms of rational risk actors: indoor sex workers are able to recognise and manage their own exposure to risks, by developing risk management strategies to reduce it (Mythen, 2012, p. 131). In her study, participants are able to exercise some degree of choice and, thus, seem to have more agency than undocumented migrants. Another difference lies in the consistency with general perception and other studies of shadow work. Bernard and White’s findings are quite in line with the general idea that undocumented migrant work is characterised by high level of vulnerability, confirmed by tragedies reported by the press and denounced by NGOs. Sanders’ study, on the contrary, runs counter the widespread view that women sex workers are always passive victims with no real agency. The finding of case studies are not meant to be generalised, but any attempt to generalise Sanders’ assertion might thus stir more controversy than in the case of Bernard and White’s study. This being so, Sanders’ study is certainly useful to shed light on some less well-known aspects of sex…show more content…
undocumented migrant labour and sex work. They choose to approach the phenomenon by studying the risks associated to these activities – a pertinent angle as high level of risk is setting the studied populations apart from society and is inherent to their work. The concept of risk was useful to describe the situation, but also to interpret the findings and to build an understanding of the social phenomenon. While Bernard and White are arguing that high level of risks shows the powerless position of undocumented migrant workers, Sanders is using the concept to explain the risk management strategies developed by indoor sex workers to reduce their exposure to
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