National University of Singapore
Kellynn Wee is Research Associate at the Asia Research Institute (National University of Singapore). Her research interests are focused on low-waged labour migration in Asia; migrant advocacy and civil society; credit, debt, and risk; and gender, intimacy, emotions, and the body. She has published in Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, Globalizations, City, International Migration, and Global Social Policy.
「 Maid Agents and the Puzzle of Moral Credibility: Brokering Migrant Domestic Work in Singapore 」
In Asia, migrant labourers on short-term contracts in low-waged jobs often have their mobilities mediated by the migration industry. Based on 29 months of fieldwork, this paper examines the practices of the employment agents who recruit migrant domestic workers from countries such as Indonesia to work in Singapore. It draws together anthropological theorising on brokerage and scholarship on the migration industry to ask why migration brokers carry out their practices in ways that often heighten the surveillance of migrant women. We argue that brokers’ uncertainty about a migrant domestic worker’s moral credibility—which stems from the ways in which domestic workers are imagined in indelibly racialised and gendered ways—is fundamental to the organisation of their practices. Migration brokers attempt to draw an equivalence between domestic workers’ living labour and replicable units of commodity so that they can sell migrant labour to employers. However, they are also cognisant that this moral interiority is ontologically impossible to evaluate, and that domestic workers possess the fundamental capacity to perform, subvert, and act. We argue that in order to resolve this, brokers map out a moral career for domestic workers as a blueprint for their idealised universe of order, in which domestic workers transform from naïve villager to triumphant returnee. Ultimately, we show that brokers act not because they set out explicitly to exploit migrants for gain, but because their universes of meaning are tightly interwoven with broader social ideas about gender, race, and nationality that naturalises particular ways of seeing migrant women.