Annotation: Barber, Pauline G. 2000. Agency in Philippine Women’s Labour Migration

Barber, Pauline G. 2000. Agency in Philippine Women’s Labour Migration and Provisional Diaspora. Women’s Studies International Forum, 3(4):399-411.

Analyzing three cases of Filipina domestic workers in Canada, Barber argues that while women acquire cultural capital through migration, they remain subject to symbolic violence 1) in their workplace and 2) through “conventions” of Philippine femininity. Barber writes that women’s migratory decisions are “always taken in the light of negotiations with understandings of femininity” (401). The narratives of the women occur in several spatial-temporal dimensions, covering their pre- and post-migration lives, with the migration experience having come to define their past personal histories (401). Barber advocates for the study of migration that considers multiple actors, to the changing practices in the various locations, and to the shifting culture and power relations that affect women’s agency. The subjection of women (e.g. underemployment, disciplining through employer surveillance) works within the contemporary framework of Philippine cultural politics, and thus “women act within a regime of power and discipline from global political economy and skewed development” (406). This encouragement by the state to join the ranks of the migrants manages to capture women’s hopes for their future, despite the risks that their migration may bring. Barber proposes that Bourdieu’s theory of practice is useful in studying how culturally constituted identities – such as that of Filipino femininity, which is built upon obedience, loyalty, and reliability – are marketed by the state and are made to take on an economic value. As she writes, the women’s sense of “self” that receives market value in overseas migration, is “disguised and smuggled into stereotypical discourses of cultural loyalty and reliabilty” (408). Despite the experience of both symbolic and actual violence, the desires that compel women to migrate remain strong, as seen in the eventual overseas migration of the former recipients (mostly female kin) of remittances. As Barber concludes, women’s “choice” is contingent and agency is culturally constrained” (409).


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