The power of being served

Money to rule
When the wealthy cannot do without domestic workers
By Alizée Delpierre

“For us, domestic staff is not an option, it’s a life art, a need, it’s our culture,” says a French aristocrat refering to his three full time domestic workers responsible for cleaning, cooking and driving him around. What meaning(s) and use(s) do the wealthy make of domesticity? How do they explain they consider domestic service as a need, even though it is a privilege that only a few thousand people in France can afford at most? From European very wealthy people’ points of view, the paper explores the practices and social meanings of full-time domesticity. It highlights four social uses of domesticity: belonging to the very wealthy bourgeoisie; reaffirming divisions within this bourgeoisie; ensuring social reproduction; legitimizing the social utility of the bourgeoisie. By contributing to the research fields on paid domestic work in globalization and on the lifestyles and consumption of the wealthy, the article argues that by thus establishing the social position of multimillionaires, domesticity constitutes one of the bases of their power as a dominant class.

  • great fortunes
  • domesticity
  • distinction
  • nee
  • conspicuous consumption
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