Global Economies of Care

Without care the global economy could not function, yet care is rarely recognised as a key economic driver of value.

Professor Beverley Skeggs

This research theme will run from April 2019 to September 2022 and is led by Dr Alpa Shah.

The Research Officer for this theme is Dr Shalini Grover.

Global Economies of Care involves LSE colleagues from the Departments of International Development, Law, Anthropology, Gender Studies and Social Policy.


If there is anything revealed by the global crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is how central a role care plays in global inequalities. This is not only a question of the decades of undervaluing our care workers (our health workers, our carers, our cleaners) or the stark ‘care inequalities’ faced by different communities across the world in access to care, but also how central care is for life itself. It is the question of the centrality of social reproduction – giving birth, bringing up children, running households, educating, looking after the elderly – for the global economy and how under capitalism this care is so easily hidden and devalued.

Without care the global economy could not function, yet care is rarely recognised as a key economic driver of value. Without care, workers would not be born, fed, educated and replenished. Social reproduction would halt. But care is not just a labour issue, not just caring for but also caring about. Care is about how we relate to others, the fundamental social relations that underpin our lives and survival. How we conceive of caring is also intimately connected to the politics we get.

The care theme at the LSE International Inequalities Institute is a space to examine the different scales, spaces and experiences of care. It is a forum to draw attention to the effects of the increased financialisation of care provision by national states, the privatisations of welfare states, and the distributions of care worker across the globe as a result of structural adjustment policies. It is also an arena to highlight and examine the conditions of all the multiple informal hidden economies of care, moving from global patterns of migration regimes to the intimate realm of household structures and moral duties. Crucial to this agenda is to explore the gendered and racialised inequalities and politics of care. Care is the crisis of our times and this theme will insist that we pay close attention to its significance.


Read more about 'Global Economies of Care'

Theoretical issues: 

This theme moves from abstract economic theories, through understanding social relations, political and legal structures to policy recommendations. 

1. Firstly, we enhance better economic understanding and ask how do we modify our current economic thinking in order to account for social reproduction. Fundamental to this question is how we understand value. Traditionally value has been located in the singular individual who engages in exchange in a market of commodities and labour. The care economy is global. The significance of remittances from care labour plays a major role in the global economy: according to the UN, migrants sent home approximately $600 billion in remittances in 2017, a figure that is 3 times all official development assistance. This generates relationships of global economic dependence that are frequently overlooked. What happens when the global economic model of abstract of monetary flows incorporates care? What happens to the model of the greedy self-interested individualist if we factor in the dispersed act of care giving? Care also enables the increased financialisation of everyday life. The major companies providing care in the UK for instance, are global multinational private equity companies. The industrialisation and privatisation of care will be subject to scrutiny, as differences between different care regimes are examined. This wake up call to traditional economic models will also address the significance of the geo-political condition of surplus populations (through war, forced migration), through institutional structures (nation states, care industries), asking who has a right to life, the ultimate question of social reproduction: How should we care for vulnerable children, people and populations? This also leads us to question “alternative” economic models, always asking where is “care” and social reproduction in Universal Basic Income (UBI) proposals. Do they assume that unpaid care is locked in by Universal Benefits? Who is likely to have responsibility? Does it re-traditionalise?

2. Secondly, we create spaces to investigate how social reproduction re-figures our understandings of class, gender and race. We know, for instance about social schemes that exist (in Holland for example) to encourage migrant women to undertake volunteer care work as a step towards national integration. As research has shown this places migrant women in the role of enabling European women to undo traditional gender and reinforce a racial and classed division of labour by allowing legal ‘national’ women to become workers in the ‘productive’ labour market, whilst migrant women are re-contained in another’s home for free. The theme will investigate the significance of migrant women’s labour to uneven gendered and raced development theories exploring labour deportability, pointing to the significance and routes of colonial histories of mobility. 

3. Thirdly, we focus on the experience of care. In the Dutch case cited above the migrant women were highly resistant to performing care work in the households of other women. Just as the experience of carers in the UK shows high levels of alienation and high turnover rates of employment. The contradictions between caring for and caring about have long been documented and are growing. Furthermore, while “care” as a moral value is often understood as overwhelmingly positive, we argue for a more nuanced interpretation which acknowledges the associated layers of support, such as “caring with”. Care may also be experienced alongside violence, vulnerability, control, and in some cases coercion.

4. Overall we seek to think about care in broad terms in relation to the sustenance of life itself and all that is undervalued towards this end in dominant economic thinking and modelling. In this frame, planetary care will be central -  because without air, water and food, how can we live? The absolutely fundamental life infrastructure is being extracted and destroyed with little care for life. But so will issues such as political regimes which incarcerate dissenters seeking to draw attention to the oppression and exploitation of those who care.

The theme aims to develop cross-disciplinary perspectives, work with activist groups and policy bodies. Ultimately we want to put the issue of social reproduction at the centre of new economic thinking. To make it an unavoidable issue for policy makers, not just siloed in ‘welfare’ or women’s issues but to make it integral to all economic thinking, planning and policy.

This theme was initiated by Professor Beverley Skeggs and is now run by Dr Alpa Shah.

Projects and Publications News

July 2020 Royal Geographical Society. Transaction of Institute of British Geographers publishes Alpa Shah’s article with Jens Lerche 2020 ‘Migration and the Invisible Economies of Care: Production, social reproduction and seasonal migrant labour in India.’

Hindustan Times carries an Opinion piece by Alpa Shah and Jens Lerche ‘The Five Truths About the Migrant Worker Crisis’. A longer version is on the Royal Geographical Society Geography Directions blog (July 2020).

‘If anything positive has come out of the Covid-19 crisis, it is that the world’s most stringent lockdown revealed the plight of the vulnerable Indian migrant labour force…. Read more

Following her publication of “Formations of Class and Gender” ( a study of the making of caring subjectivities), Bev Skeggs has been blogging about the crisis in social care.


New Project: Solidarity and Care During the Covid-19 Pandemic.

See latest stories on Covid-19 here and here.

Previous Events

Care-work for Colonial and Contemporary White Families in India: A Historical-Anthropological Study of the Racialized Romanticization of the Ayah

Tuesday 7th July 2020, 3:30pm to 5:00pm

Speakers: Dr Satyasikha Chakraborty (The College of New Jersey) and Dr Shalini Grover (LSE III)

Discussants: Professor Nandini Gooptu (University of Oxford) and Professor Swapna M. Banerjee (Brooklyn College of the City University of New York)

Chair: Professor Alpa Shah (LSE Anthropology Dept)

Theme Introduction: Professor Beverley Skeggs

Watch the video here

Listen to the podcast here


Caring Forward: the global care economy and its future

Thursday 20th June 2020, 6:30pm to 7:45pm

Speaker: Ai-jen Poo

Chair: Professor Beverley Skeggs (LSE Sociology)

Watch the video here

Listen to the podcast here




The Labour of Care: work, law and finance


Tuesday 1st May 2018, 6:30pm to 8:30pm


Speakers: Dr Lydia Hayes, Kevin Lucas, Dr Insa Koch and Professor Nicola Lacey


Chair: Professor Beverley Skeggs (LSE Sociology)


Watch the video here


Listen to the podcast here



Our research collective involves the scholars below who have all been major players in the field of social reproduction both in the LSE and beyond.


Professor Mary Evans
LSE Centennial Professor at the Department of Gender Studies

Shalini Grover
Research Officer in the International Inequalities Institute

Professor Deborah James
Department of Anthropology

Professor Naila Kabeer
Professor of Gender and Development, Department of Gender Studies

Dr Insa Koch
Associate Professor of Law and Anthropology, Department of Law

Professor Nicola Lacey
School Professor of Law, Gender and Social Policy, Department of Law

Dr Erica Lagalisse
Visiting Fellow, International Inequalities Institute

Professor Diane Perrons
Professor Emerita in Feminist Political Economy, Department of Gender Studies

Dr Ania Plomien
Assistant Professor in Gender and Social Science, Department for Gender Studies

Dr Huda Tayob
Huda is currently working as a post-doctoral fellow on Susanne Hall’s migration research.

Dr Susanne Wessendorf
Assistant Professorial Research Fellow, International Inequalities Institute

Key research scholars outside of the LSE

Professor Bridget Anderson
Director of Migration Mobilities Bristol and Professor of Migration, Mobilities and Citizenship Professor at of Sociology, Politics and International Studies
University of Bristol

Dr Camille Barbagallo
Post Doctoral Research Fellowship, Leeds University Business School, University of Leeds

Professor Agnes Bolsø
Department of Interdisciplinary Studies of Culture NTNU - Norwegian University of Science and Technology

Professor Andreas Chatzidakis
Professor in Marketing, School of Business and Management, Royal Holloway, University of London

Dr Sara Farris
Senior Lecturer, Department of Sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London

Dr Ana Gutierrez
Ana works on Latin American women migrants who take up domestic and sex work in London. She is currently based in Aberdeen.

Dr Jamie Hakim
School Of Art, Media and American Studies, Film, Television and Media Studies Department, University of East Anglia

Asiya Islam 
PhD Candidate, Christ's College, Gates Cambridge Scholar, University of Cambridge

Professor Prabha Kotiswaran
Professor of Law and Social Justice, Dickson Poon School of Law, The Dickson Poon Transnational Law Institute, King’s College London

Dr Jo Littler
Reader in Culture and Creative Industries, Department of Sociology, City, University of London

Dr Catherine Rottenberg 
Associate Professor in American and Canadian Studies, Faculty of Arts, Department of American and Canadian Studies, University of Nottingham

Professor Lynne Segal
Department of Psychosocial Studies, Birkbeck, University of London

Professor Imogen Tyler FAcSS, Head of Department, Professor of Sociology, Department of Sociology, Lancaster University

Dr Simon Yuill
Independent researcher and software engineer, who has begun a scoping project on digital care economies and Visiting Researcher with the Digital Culture Unit, Goldsmiths, University of London

Professor Rhacel Parrenas is a pioneer in global care chain theory, Rhacel is Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies, University of Southern California, USA.

Professor Brenda Yeo Brenda is Raffles Professor of Social Sciences at the Department of Geography, National University of Singapore (NUS), Singapore. She is a lead expert and pioneer for South-East Asia, on transnationalism, care-work and postcolonial geographies.

Dr. Lorena Poblete combines research, with activism and policy, looking into Argentinian domestic workers and the laws governing their lives. She is based at IDEAS-UNSAM, AV. Roque Saenz Pena 832, Piso 6, Caba (C1035AAP), Argentina.

Professor Neetha has long-standing research experience on the Indian state’s regulation (more so non-regulation) of domestic workers. She is based at the Centre for Women’s Development Studies, 25 Bhai Vir Singh Marg, New Delhi, India.

Dr. Thomas Chambers is an anthropologist who looks at the intersections of paid and unpaid care work in the context of rural north India factory work. He is Senior Lecturer in Anthropology, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Oxford Brookes University, UK.

Dr. Nicola Mai is Professor of Sociology and Migration Studies at the Department of Criminology and Sociology, Kingston University, London. He works on sex-workers in Europe.

We are keen to hear from anyone who would like to be involved in the future. We are interested in reaching out to historians, policy makers, legal experts and activists. This is a forum for diverse analyses on social reproduction.