Making and unmaking difference: a study of expatriate women’s relationship with domestic workers in Singapore

Johnston, Barbara (2014) Making and unmaking difference: a study of expatriate women’s relationship with domestic workers in Singapore. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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This thesis is based upon ethnographic research conducted in Singapore between September 2008 and October 2009 and over a decade of observation and experience as an expatriate woman. It explores the relationship between two migrant women, an expatriate woman and a migrant domestic worker (MDW), focusing on interrelated processes shaping migrant subjectivities. The relationship between between 'upper circuit' transnational elites and 'lower circuit' migrants is an area of transnationalism that has received little attention. Yet, expatriates and MDWs routinely live together. I consider how overlapping transnational fields impact how both groups of women deal with class, racial and cultural differences and how they negotiate versions of femininity in their domestic interactions. I argue that the women‘s dual migrant status renders visible coexisting and competing forms of power that are often overlooked in studies of domestic work. A crucial aspect of my research design is that I include the perspectives of both expatriate women and MDWs as well as those of expatriate men. Most studies of domestic work focus on either the employer‘s (usually female) or the employee‘s (usually female) viewpoint and overlook male influence on household dynamics and the shaping of domestic femininities. My approach allows for a richer analysis of how class, racial/ethnic and sexual positionings (among others) both motivate and constrain how individuals identify themselves vis-à-vis 'others' across national, racial, class and cultural divides.

My findings are organised along four dimensions. First, I examine how shared migrant status is utilised by expatriate women and MDWs in their respective distance-making
processes. Second, I explain how through performing domestic labour both groups of women are 'doing' different versions of femininity that are simultaneously accomplishments of class and racial identities. Third, I focus on how sexualised and racialised discourses about migrant women‘s bodies permeate expatriate women‘s and MDWs‘ relationships. Finally, I link my study of the micro-politics of migrant women‘s relationships with the larger context of increasing transnational migration and globalisation.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Global Studies > Geography
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DS History of Asia > DS520 Southeast Asia > DS608 Singapore
H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labour > HD4801 Labour. Work. Working class > HD6050 Classes of labour Including women, children, students, middle-aged and older persons, minorities
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 25 Apr 2014 12:39
Last Modified: 18 Sep 2015 14:00

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