Chutes-and-Ladders: the Migration Industry, Conditionality, and the Production of Precarity Among Migrant Domestic Workers in Singapore
Yeoh, Brenda S.A.
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In order to understand how precarity is created for and experienced by labour migrants, we apply the concept of conditionality - which proposes that a migrant worker's experience of precarity is contingent on a set of formal and informal conditions, the actions of institutional actors, and migrants' own resources and strategies - to our study of how employment agents in Singapore and Indonesia recruit and place migrant workers. We develop this concept by arguing that viewing conditionality as not merely additive, but as compounding, sharpens our understanding of precarious work. We use the model of chutesand-ladders to understand how migrant domestic workers in and out of varying degrees of precarity over time. Based on qualitative interviews with migration intermediaries, we suggest that these 'chutes' and 'ladders' are not static, pre-existing, or inherent; instead, they are dynamically produced by migration brokers, who actively produce, shore up, or mitigate situations of precarity for workers by 'patching' chutes, leaving them, or opening up new ones. Conversely, creative agency models redraw the boundaries of conditionality through the creation of ladders. Workers' access to security is hence not merely conditional, but conditionally compounded, based on the necessity of simultaneously meeting multiple mutually reinforcing and interwoven conditions.
CitationWee, K.; Goh, C. and Yeoh, B.S.A. (2019) 'Chutes-and-ladders: the migration industry, conditionality, and the production of precarity among migrant domestic workers in Singapore', Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 45:14, 2672-2688, DOI: 10.1080/1369183X.2018.1528099
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