Migrant Domestic Workers in Lebanon – Issues of Access and Space

This post relates some of the ideas in an article just published in the most recent issue of Gender & Society (June 2012). Joya Misra–the current editor-in-chief–is really interested in getting more scholarship from outside of the U.S., and this issue is a great illustration of some of the fruits of her labor. One article that caught my attention documents Amrita Pande’s research on migrant domestic work in Lebanon (here). It deals with inequality and issues of space because Pande documents how migrant domestic workers in Lebanon (primarily from countries like Ethiopia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh) endure severe restrictions on virtually all aspects of their daily lives.

Studying this population at all is pretty amazing. All qualitative researchers confront issues of access, but this struck me as a population incredibly difficult to access. Pande was clearly not deterred by this fact. In fact, one of the initial ways she entered the field was to have “balcony talks” with domestic workers. Migrant domestic workers have sort of colonized balconies as a space for outreach and assistance–some in circumstances of incredibly cruelty and hardship. They speak across balconies with other domestic workers to ask about wages, time off, and trade tips for dealing with some of the more challenging issues with employers. It is a space to which many of them are largely relegated; yet they have found an interesting way of utilizing the space in a way that allows for what Pande refers to as meso-level collective action–playing on James Scott’s conceptualization of “infrapolitics” (here). But their collective action in not confined to the home.

Spatial structures discipline MDWs [migrant domestic workers] in Lebanon in two distinct ways: through the delineation of appropriate space within the employer’s house and through the restriction and surveillance of space outside the house. (390)

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