Document Type

Book Chapter


Female domestic workers are emblematic of the increasing movement of peoples across national borders. The global economic and cultural flows associated with transnational migration play a significant role in shaping the construction of gender in both sending and receiving countries by creating new forms of subjectivity and community, and destabilising traditional national boundaries. The interplay between local expressions of gender relations, and macro-level global processes, is central to the processes of nation-building and nationalism. This paper examines the material and discursive practices that produce foreign domestic workers as "symbolic border guards" (see Armstrong) between "here" and "there", between "us" and "them", within Singapore. The increasing presence of migrant domestic workers in Singapore has given rise to a series of moral panics represented in local Singaporean media about deviant, lascivious female sexuality and/or inappropriate, surrogate mothering. Within these discourses, women from different national groups become marked in gendered and raced ways. Domestic workers, however, are not simply produced through discourse. A range of material practices, both in the sending countries and in Singapore, serve to "make" the maid. These include training courses run by recruitment agents that teach the women about "being a maid", and disciplining processes within the homes of employers that seek to shape the domestic worker's behaviour and actions. These disciplining processes, however, are not simply imposed by external agents, but are conditioned by normative rules and cultural constructions of appropriate gender roles. By exploring women's own stories of bodily and behavioural transformation, this paper examines both the production of docile bodies and the ways in which these women challenge and reinforce such disciplining practices