The Care Squeeze: An Institutional Ethnography of a Nonprofit to Investigate the Diverse Labors Undertaken "To Fight for Better” in Coffee Markets


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Geography and Environmental Systems


Geography and Environmental Systems

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This study examines the everyday work in international development. Feminist geographers consistently argue that research at the scale of the everyday enables theoretical understandings from the bottom up of how power operates. Yet, geography lacks empirical research on everyday practices in development institutions and theoretical research on everyday labors in these institutions. I examine the consequences of transnational labor dynamics for nonprofit workers? everyday experiences, institutional structures, and project outcomes. The space where laborers in nongovernmental organizations from the Global North and Global South encounter each other in development institutions is a unique space to examine the intersection of productive, reproductive, and care work. My research questions led me to investigate: What is the work, who does the work, and what does the work do? For this research, I volunteered with an organization called Better Trade Coffee, and collected data through a multi-faceted institutional ethnography including: 520 hours of participant observation, 55 semi-structured interviews, 38 informal interview, textual analysis of 6 years of annual reports, and 3 focus groups with 35 people. In total, I interviewed 45 men and 45 women. I hypothesized that an increase in diverse labors would result in both undervalued and unseen labor, and that this unseen labor would, in turn, alter an organization'sgoal to reduce poverty. I found that the most undervalued work was the care work of the office workers, tour guides, and coffee farmers. Consequently, this undervalued work limited the institution'scapacity to achieve its goals to fix inequalities. The limited capacity reflected the workers? experiences of a care squeeze, which is pressure by society and markets to increasingly perform extra care work with the hope that it will bring a better life. The neoliberal marketplace encourages more care work: for consumers, care is enacted through the purchase of ethical products like direct trade coffee or community tours; for workers, care is enacted through finding a job that is your passion; and for farmers, care is enacted through the production of the best products. Yet the markets do not always value this care work monetarily and economic inequalities are perpetuated. Future research should explore the contradictions and diversity of care squeezes, including who feels it, how they feel it, and the impacts of these experiences on transforming economic structures.