“We are just animals to them”: Migrant Domestic Workers, Victimization, and the Struggle for Justice

“We are just animals to them”: Migrant Domestic Workers, Victimization, and the Struggle for Justice

My broader research project describes how Singaporean migrant labor policy strategically maximizes the economic benefits of South and Southeast Asian migrant workers while minimizing the social, political, and economic costs borne by the state and its citizens. Despite comprising roughly 26% of the resident workforce, these low-wage foreign laborers are kept cheap, pliant, and precarious. Whereas extent research fixates on narrow permutations of gender + national origin + labor sector (e.g., male Thai construction workers, female Indonesian domestic workers), I use comparative methods to analyze how state-designated “male” and “female” migrant populations are forced into gendered employment configurations. Each deploys distinct forms of social boundary-making and control, including separate debt financing models, employment legislation, and labor dispute systems. Specifically, this talk draws upon a subset of the research: 8 months of casework at an NGO shelter for domestic workers, 60 in-depth interviews, and scores of case discussions. I describe the unique and extraordinary challenges faced by low-wage migrant women when they see seek justice for victimization—including physical/sexual violence, wage theft, and forced labor.

  • Kurt Kuehne, PhD Candidate, Sociology, UW-Madison

 

2 thoughts on ““We are just animals to them”: Migrant Domestic Workers, Victimization, and the Struggle for Justice”

  1. This is such an important presentation and conversation. Kurt I am really honored that 4W has supported this and hope we can do more to help you advance this research. I think some of the urban scholars on campus should learn about this as well.

  2. Thank you so much, Lori. I appreciate 4W’s support for this project; it means a lot and it’s exciting to be a part of this important community.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts as I continue with the writing. And yes, I find myself thinking about the urban dimensions quite often: the physical planning and architecture of the city, how people (or don’t move) move through it, how different populations live and work in relation to each other, and so on. It’s been a very rich case study on those fronts. I don’t think we can underestimate the importance of physical space in (literally and figuratively) ‘structuring’ social relations.

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