Coping through leisure, leisure through coping : a critical ethnography of Filipino foreign domestic workers’ day-off leisure experiences in Gulong Gulong, Singapore
Wong, George Boon Keng
Date of Issue2016
College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
Singapore is home to over 1 million low wage migrant workers, making up over one-sixth of the population in the republic. Despite their significant presence, foreign labourers are subjected to policy-induced and everyday social differentiation, discrimination and exclusion. One such group are Filipino foreign domestic workers (FFDWs), whose numbers are estimated at 70,000. They have been a important actors in providing domestic and care labour in Singapore since the 1980s (Yeoh & Huang, 1998; Yeoh, Huang & Gonzalez, 1999; Leong, 2014). Previous research has predominantly employed feminist-oriented or rights-based lenses, revolving around discrimination, exclusion and exploitation of these women within work and public spheres (Yeoh & Huang, 1998; Parenas, 2001; Lan, 2006; Constable, 2007). The significance of FFDW leisure experiences has therefore been often regarded as peripheral to work experiences. Recent policies such as the mandatory day-off ruling, and mixed public responses to increased presence of foreign domestic workers in public spaces have however shifted public attention towards the lives of low-wage migrant beyond work spaces within Singapore. Using critical ethnography with extended place method, I investigate how FFDW leisure experiences reveal unique socio-political dynamics that cannot be fully elucidated through formal work experiences. First, I unpack the ways in which implications of hyper-precarity through neoliberal migrant policies are understood in the everyday lives of Filipina foreign domestic workers (FFDW) in Singapore. Using the example of gulong gulong, I explore how FFDWs enact and develop this social space through various interpretations, a spatial practice I term “enclaving”, as well as the various micro-politics which occurred during the process of enclaving. Finally, I illuminate the various in ways which FFDWs themselves, as neither totally constrained subjects nor free agents, respond to both neoliberal precarity and their involvement in collaborative socio-spatial projects in gulong gulong through various forms of individual resistance, accommodation and patronage strategies. This research shows the significance of migrant leisure spaces as not only a zone of networks and friendships, but also as a mediator in understanding what it means to live in neoliberal times under hyper-precarious conditions as a low-wage migrant worker in Singapore. In doing so, the study hopes to contribute to the wider literature concerned with interactions between the everyday lives of low-wage migrant labour and neoliberal forms of governance, as well as bolster understandings of everyday resistance by marginalized groups within neoliberal regimes.