Domestic work and real estate bondage

Image: Himesh Mehta


The real estate urban space continues to operate the captivity of the founding land of the social relations of production

In this last week, updated PNAD indices[I] circulated indicating a higher prevalence, among professional categories, of deaths from covid-19 among street sweepers, cleaners, cleaning assistants, day laborers and cooks. Nothing more accustomed to the severe allegories that summarize the pandemic in Brazil, but, long before that, Brazil itself.

Repeatedly, we remember the foundational death in March 2020 of Cleonice Gonçalves, a domestic worker since she was 13 in Rio de Janeiro, who died while taking care of her sick employer from Italy. We also remember the most horrendous murder (were it possible to level the gravity of death), which condemned Mirtes Souza to work without dismissal during the pandemic and to live without his son Miguel, a boy who lost his life falling from the ninth floor of a building, on a whim murderer of Sarí Corte Real, the landowner and first lady from Pernambuco.

That building, the Twin Tower of Recife, as well as all the steel and glass structural light of the archaic colonial relations encrusted in the process of barbarization of Brazilian cities by real estate capital, is, possibly, the greatest proof that the Brazilian ruling class lives under unrivaled breeding patterns, and yet precursors compared to the rest of the planet.

There is a huge contingent of millions of black human beings in Brazil who replace, on a daily basis, the urban-real estate space in such a way that it can continue to be abstract, aseptic, spectral, as in the photographs of decoration magazines. For millions, there is no future in the rotting, albeit imperishable, retrofuturist architecture that animates bourgeois luxuries and capitalizes on the concentration of heritage in the metropolises.

Economically, the very traditional unpaid concrete work that governed the original capitalist accumulation in Brazil, when enslaved men and women carried out their activities as fixed capital income, is amalgamated with the modern unproductive and salaried concrete domestic work, tied to the rent of urban buildings.

Although paid domestic work in Brazil is often denounced as an extension of colonial enslavement, given its low exchange value, representative of the lowering of the reproduction costs of the workforce in the capitalist periphery, it is necessary to remember that it is this symbol of Brazilian backwardness that guarantees contemporary financialized accumulation, acting as an infrastructural countertrend to the depreciation of private real estate property. In order for the exchange value of flats, hotels, apartments, buildings, neighborhoods to be maintained, the collective effort to conserve their use value is a condition.

The ways of living and inhabiting the cities, the abstract domesticity of the ostensive apartments, which become preferred financial assets for families and groups of owners, continually depend on the maid's quarters, the residual slave quarters of bold designs and plans. It is an unconstrained spatiality, despite the scandalously recent legislation that recognizes domestic work as a profession.

As the classic statement by José de Souza Martins about the heart of the epidemic rage of the Brazilian ruling class summarizes, “if the land were free: day had to be captive; se o day were free, land had captive[ii]. The real estate urban space thus continues to operate the captivity of the founding land of the social relations of production in these parts.

* Carolina Freitas is a doctoral student at the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism at USP.



[ii] MARTINS, José de Souza. The Captivity of the Earth. São Paulo: Editora Contexto, 2010. p. 49.

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