Diversified domains, such as workplaces, are suitable social fields for the study of ethnic identities, because identities are constructed through comparison and negation, that is, by identifying what or who the “other” is. In the present study I explore the talk of hands-on nursing care work, a stigmatized occupational field, to illuminate ethnic identities and the strategic boundary work that care workers conduct. The study is based on 14 months of field work and 51 interviews and observations at two Israeli geriatric wards with highly diverse staff. I show that actors negotiate their care worker identity by the opposite strategies of making and unmaking ethno-national boundaries. The first strategy denies and erases ethno-national boundaries by stressing universal professional values and individual virtues; the second one demarcates boundaries between ethno-national groups, using perceived cultural differences. The discussion addresses these antithetical evaluation frameworks in relation to theories of boundary making and unmaking.
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- Boundary work
- Dirty work
- Workplace diversity