Academic journal article Human Organization

The Speech of Services Procurement: The Negotiated Order of Commodification and Dehumanization of Cleaning Employees

Academic journal article Human Organization

The Speech of Services Procurement: The Negotiated Order of Commodification and Dehumanization of Cleaning Employees

Article excerpt

Othering enables employers and managers to justify maltreatment and bad payment of cleaning employees. We examine forms of speech in the context of the subcontracting employment system and show how dehumanization of employees is coextensive with the structural commodification of their work. Two separate processes of dehumanization, through intimacy and through distancing, were defined from analysis of 31 interviews with employers and 24 Human Resources managers in Israel. We discuss the possibility that the two processes facilitate each other and together consist of a system that weakens employees and reinforces their exploitation.

Key words: Israel, dehumanization, subcontracting, cleaning workers


Othering, when related to gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, and class, has long enabled the maltreatment of cleaning employees. Numerous studies have shown how Othering contributes to the justification of exploitative employment conditions of women of color and immigrants employed in cleaning (e.g., de Ia Luz Ibarra 2000; Glenn 1 986). Rollins (1985), dealing specifically with intersectionality, argued that middle/upper class white women treat their cleaning employees as unidimensional others; that is, as women who need supervision even if they accept their role as servants.

Othering is central to justifications of class hierarchy and casts bad payment as a generous gesture supporting those otherwise unable to provide for their children. Othering is also part of inferiorizing unskilled women who preserve the continuum between cleaning as unpaid work done in the private sphere and cleaning outside one's home (Browne and Misra 2003).

The importance of Othering in the context of the subcontracting employment system has been described in detail by Rees and Fielder ( 1 992) and Esbenshade (2004). It increases concurrently with employees' weakness vis-á-vis their employers (Vosko 2000, 2006). This weakness takes places once "cleaning work" (as performed by the people who clean) is redefined as a "cleaning service" (which is quantified in terms of cleaned areas so that the workers who perform it disappear from the equation). This redefinition constitutes a commodification process because it shifts cleaning payment from negotiation concerning labor relations to one of the price of a purchased commodity.

Oppressive Othering in a "negotiated order framework" is defined as a trans-situational process which accounts for the connection between local actions and extra-local inequalities (Schwalbe et al. 2000). Cleaning services have been purchased trans-national Iy since the early 1980s, and are authorized by the General Agreement for Trade and Tariffs (GATT)1 international trade agreement procurement codes. Major economic globalization institutions have, thus, transformed the ability of member states to regulate cleaning-related employment and forced the massive introduction of the subcontracting employment system. This process began to permeate Israel in the late 1960s (Bernstein 1986) and accelerated rapidly after the compulsory tender law was passed in 1992 (Reich 1999; Shalev 1997). It led to decreased social protection of cleaning employees because enforcement of labor laws in this area became minimal (Benish and Tsarfatie 2008). Various reports have shown that this exploitative system of employment commonly violated workers' rights (e.g., Benish 2006).

In this article, we examine how specific forms of speech emerge in the context of the commodification of cleaning employees. Our study examines Othering in employment relations and specifically in the subcontracting employment system. Following Schwalbe et al. (2000), we analyze the contribution of commodification to Othering by investigating dehumanizing language. In particular, we trace the accepted ways of talk which develop in a specific context (Hajer 1995).

We begin by presenting oppressive Othering as introduced by Schwalbe et al. …

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