Inheriting Domestic Workers: A Study of Norm Transmission among Expatriates in India

  • Sanna Schliewe Centre for Cultural Psychology, Aalborg University
Keywords: expatriate communities, domestic workers, social representations, norm transmission, negotiation of novelty, India


Based on an empirical study of Danish expatriates, this article explores how the social representations of domestic work are transmitted, shared, and negotiated in the expatriate community in Delhi. Domestic work belongs to the informal economy in India, which is largely unregulated. Expatriates often inherit domestic workers directly from each other, copying and re-constructing their predecessor’s contracts. What is also passed on, along with the workers and their contracts, are social representations and norms linked to being an expatriate employer in India. These social representations and norms are central for the newcomers’ ability to navigate the unfamiliar and difficult situation of managing domestic staff. Furthermore, the inheritance and sharing of social norms may protect the expatriate community from major changes and critiques. Thus, although the individual expatriate is only in India for a limited time, core structures of the work relationship and employment standards are continued and re-created by the ever present—but constantly changing—group of expatriates.

Author Biography

Sanna Schliewe, Centre for Cultural Psychology, Aalborg University

SANNA SCHLIEWE is PhD–fellow at the Centre for Cultural Psychology at Alborg
University, Denmark. Her research interest includes expatriates, everyday experiences, encounters with novelty, liminality, temporary migration, international communities, domestic workers, ethnography and interventions in mobile populations. Sanna have been teaching cross-cultural psychology to American exchange students in Copenhagen, and worked as a clinical psychologist in Denmark and Greenland. Furthermore, she is co-editor of the book ‘Cultural Psychology of Intervention in the Globalized World’, a volume in Advances in Cultural Psychology (2018). Email: