The Power of Everyday Subordination

Exploring the Silence and Disempowerment of Chinese Domestic Workers

Author: Mei-ling Ellerman


This paper examines how Chinese female migrant domestic workers are influenced by different forms of subordination; how norms, practices, and power relations enable and legitimize their subordination; and the ways in which subordination elicits compliance while silencing and disempowering the workers. I advance a new perspective on subordination, linking forms of subordination with forms of consciousness. Consciousness of one's treatment and how one is changed by it informs the decision of whether to remain silent. Compliance, silencing, and disempowerment are facilitated by recognizable and subtle forms of subordination that can directly control individuals' actions, shift their perspectives, and cause them to act against their own interests. When workers are not conscious of the insidious impact of subtle subordination upon their attitudes, perspectives, and behavior, they are far less likely to resist.

Regions: East Asia
Countries: China
Topics: Gender | Labor | Migration | Women

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© Jeff Kingston