The Lie Which Is Not One: Biopolitics in the Migrant Domestic Workers’ Market in Turkey

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In the 20 years since its emergence, the migrant domestic workers’ market in Turkey has become an intrinsic element of the urban (upper) middle-class experience. While the domestic work sector was formerly a realm that attracted Turkish women of the urban poor, it has become a true labour market with the arrival of migrants originating from post-socialist countries in proximity to Turkey. From the outset, a defining aspect of the migrant domestic workers’ market has been the high turnover of workers. Until the recent introduction of a government regularisation scheme, migrant domestics were typically employed through oral contracts based on mutual agreement regarding the workers’ wages, work schedules and workload. In practice, this has meant that neither side was legally bound to comply with any rules or regulations. From the point of view of employers, utilising migrants was thus very advantageous: because there was a constant in-flow of new migrants, there would always be somebody out there who was more hard-working, less demanding, less annoying and so on, if they were dissatisfied with their current employee. Since the power ultimately rested with them, employers were not compelled to consider the working rights of their employees and so the practice of readily hiring and firing migrant domestics became a defining aspect of the market.

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Most critical discussions of European immigration policies are centered around the concept of Fortress Europe and understand the concept of the border as a way of sealing off unwanted immigration movements. However, ethnographic studies such as our own multi-sited field research in South-east Europe clearly show that borders are daily being crossed by migrants. These findings point to the shortcomings of the Fortress metaphor. By bringing to the fore the agency of migrants in the conceptualization of borders, we propose to understand how borders are being shaped by taking as a starting point the struggles of mobility. Against the background of our two-year transdisciplinary research project TRANSIT MIGRATION European migration and border policies cannot be longer conceptualized as being simply oriented towards the prevention of migration. Since migrants cross the borders daily, what happens if the borders’ permeability is part of the way they work? If so, we have to investigate the mechanisms of border policies and practices anew. One is the concept of the border or migration regime. The other is the concept of the autonomy of migration. Our concept of ethnographic regime analyses is based on a transdisciplinary approach, comprising political studies, anthropology and sociology.
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One defining quality of our current moment is its characteristic state of anticipation, of thinking and living toward the future. Anticipation has epistemic value, a virtue emerging through actuarial saturation as sciences of the actual are displaced by speculative forecast. It is a politics of temporality and affect. Key dimensions are: injunction as the moral imperative to characterize and inhabit states of uncertainty; abduction as requisite tacking back and forth between futures, pasts and presents, framing templates for producing the future; optimization as the moral responsibility of citizens to secure their ‘best possible futures’; preparedness as living in ‘preparation for’ potential trauma; and possibility as ‘ratcheting up’ hopefulness, especially through technoscience. Anticipation is the palpable sense that things could be (all) right if we leverage new spaces of opportunity, reconfiguring ‘the possible.’ We illustrate exemplary sites of anticipatory practice, especially biomedical, highlighting how such sites are gendered, increasingly implicating young girls.
What is the relation between the economy, or the mode of production, and culture, beliefs, and desires? How is it possible to think of these relations without reducing one to the other, or effacing one for the sake of the other? To answer these questions, The Micro-Politics of Capital re-reads Marx in light of the contemporary critical interrogations of subjectivity in the works of Althusser, Deleuze, Guattari, Foucault, and Negri. Jason Read suggests that what characterizes contemporary capitalism is the intimate intersection of the production of commodities with the production of desire, beliefs, and knowledge.
Everyday, around the world, women who work in the Third World factories of global firms face the idea that they are disposable. Melissa W. Wright explains how this notion proliferates, both within and beyond factory walls, through the telling of a simple story: the myth of the disposable Third World woman. This myth explains how young women workers around the world eventually turn into living forms of waste. Disposable Women and Other Myths of Global Capitalism follows this myth inside the global factories and surrounding cities in northern Mexico and in southern China, illustrating the crucial role the tale plays in maintaining not just the constant flow of global capital, but the present regime of transnational capitalism. The author also investigates how women challenge the story and its meaning for workers in global firms. These innovative responses illustrate how a politics for confronting global capitalism must include the many creative ways that working people resist its dehumanizing effects.
Neoliberalism is commonly viewed as an economic doctrine that seeks to limit the scope of government. Some consider it a form of predatory capitalism with adverse effects on the Global South. In this groundbreaking work, Aihwa Ong offers an alternative view of neoliberalism as an extraordinarily malleable technology of governing that is taken up in different ways by different regimes, be they authoritarian, democratic, or communist. Ong shows how East and Southeast Asian states are making exceptions to their usual practices of governing in order to position themselves to compete in the global economy. As she demonstrates, a variety of neoliberal strategies of governing are re-engineering political spaces and populations. Ong’s ethnographic case studies illuminate experiments and developments such as China’s creation of special market zones within its socialist economy; pro-capitalist Islam and women’s rights in Malaysia; Singapore’s repositioning as a hub of scientific expertise; and flexible labor and knowledge regimes that span the Pacific.Ong traces how these and other neoliberal exceptions to business as usual are reconfiguring relationships between governing and the governed, power and knowledge, and sovereignty and territoriality. She argues that an interactive mode of citizenship is emerging, one that organizes people—and distributes rights and benefits to them—according to their marketable skills rather than according to their membership within nation-states. Those whose knowledge and skills are not assigned significant market value—such as migrant women working as domestic maids in many Asian cities—are denied citizenship. Nevertheless, Ong suggests that as the seam between sovereignty and citizenship is pried apart, a new space is emerging for NGOs to advocate for the human rights of those excluded by neoliberal measures of human worthiness.
This article concerns migrant domestic labour. It departs from existing analyses of such labour by examining the place of workers' mobility and workers' intimate life histories in the valorisation of migrant domestic labour. Drawing on insights from the literature on the autonomy of migration and on affective labour, this article argues that migrant domestic workers' status as mobile bodies infused with affective histories of maternal care is critical in the constitution of a market for their labour. This history endows migrant domestic workers' labour with unprecedented value, not least because the worker is expected to exude the affects of motherhood authentically in the home of her employer. The analysis forwarded here demands a new understanding of the operations of global care chains and transnational motherhood.
Borders are crucial sites of political and spatial contestation: and in an attempt to evade the lamentation for an ideal model of a single line or the empty insistence of the dominance of that line, this article argues that the trope of the suture better captures the dual world-creating functions of the border. By examining the critical border theories of Agamben, Walker, and Galli, the suture better focuses analytical attention towards the role of borders in the creation of both sovereign states and the system of sovereign states.
Over the last few years, we have witnessed, participated in, and interpreted, in various ways, a stunning proliferation of social and political manifestations of the global crisis of the world capitalist system. The multi-farious onslaughts of the larger crisis seem to plunge us collectively forward into ever more bewildering new predicaments, if not submerge us in outright disasters. Yet, we have nonetheless rediscovered and reinvigorated, in various ways, apparently dormant resources of creative energy for a heterogeneous and dazzling array of insurgent acts of desertion and dissension, defiance and subversion. Even to the varying extents that we may have sought to be participants in some of the diverse contemporary projects to “change the world,” however—not merely as “participant observers,” in other words, but as observant partisans—we have nonetheless only begun, I suspect, to adequately interpret this crisis. I am alluding here not so subtly to Marx’s famous Thesis 11 from the “Theses on Feuerbach”—wherein “the philosophers have merely interpreted the world, in various ways; [but] the point is to change it” (1970b, 123; emphases in original). Hence, it is with a sense of urgency with regard to our global political present—and likewise with respect to the inescapable demand of our unrelentingly calamitous circumstances that we act to radically change the world—that I am concerned nonetheless to engage the vexed problem of the analytic tools with which we presume to interpret our fast-and-furious reality. As Walter Benjamin never ceases to remind us, “the tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule.” Yet, Benjamin’s ever-prophetic injunction—no matter how often piously cited—seems to go always unheeded. Our interpretive and analytic traditions tend to be stubbornly impervious to the exigencies and urgent mandates of an intractable and unrelenting state of emergency. Benjamin goes on: “Where we perceive a [mere] chain of events, [history] sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage. . . .” Perceiving these developments only serially (as mere events), we witness this singular accumulation of disastrous tragedies and atrocities, and we inherit the perverse and invidious consequences. We live amid the wreckages and convert them into the predicates of a way of life. Our social science and historiography descriptively document and record the results. But somehow the urgency of the veritable cataclysm seems to elude our tools of thought. Our strategies and tactics for changing the world command an interpretation that uncompromisingly inhabits with us the state of emergency in which we live, an analysis that never retreats from crisis-as-a-way-of-life and refuses to avert its critical gaze from the abominable wreckage of a world characterized, now as in Marx’s time, by “uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation,” in which “all that is solid melts into air” (Marx and Engels 1967, 83). In his closing lines to The Poverty of Philosophy, Marx declares that “the last word of social science” must be “combat or death; bloody struggle or extinction [nothingness]” (1963, 175).1 Still earlier, in his Introduction to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Marx similarly invoked this dire nexus between struggle and science, between combat and critique: The weapon of criticism certainly cannot replace the criticism of weapons; material force must be overthrown by material force; but theory, too, becomes a material force once it seizes the masses . . . once it becomes radical. To be radical is to grasp matters at the root. But for man the root is man himself. Thus, we may better appreciate that the irascible young Marx’s revolutionary impatience for a practical disposition adequate to a world where emergency is the rule rather than the exception was no less exigent in its demand for a rigorously radical critique, indeed, a theory capable of truly apprehending the human condition itself. This would seem to suggest, in other words, the necessity for an adequately radical anthropology, in the most fundamentally philosophical sense of the word. Anthropology as an academic discipline, by contrast, has conventionally taken as some of its most cherished foundational categories, the precise...
This article strives to meet two challenges. As a review, it provides a critical discussion of the scholarship concerning undocumented migration, with a special emphasis on ethnographically informed works that foreground significant aspects of the everyday life of undocumented migrants. But another key concern here is to formulate more precisely the theoretical status of migrant "illegality" and deportability in order that further research related to undocumented migration may be conceptualized more rigorously. This review considers the study of migrant "illegality" as an epistemological, methodological, and political problem, in order to then formulate it as a theoretical problem. The article argues that it is insufficient to examine the "illegality" of undocumented migration only in terms of its consequences and that it is necessary also to produce historically informed accounts of the sociopolitical processes of "illegalization" themselves, which can be characterized as the legal production of migrant "illegality.".
In this incisive book, Michel de Certeau considers the uses to which social representation and modes of social behavior are put by individuals and groups, describing the tactics available to the common man for reclaiming his own autonomy from the all-pervasive forces of commerce, politics, and culture. In exploring the public meaning of ingeniously defended private meanings, de Certeau draws brilliantly on an immense theoretical literature to speak of an apposite use of imaginative literature.
At the beginning of Provincializing Europe, Dipesh Chakrabarty explains that the Europe he seeks to provincialize or de-centre is an 'imaginary figure‘ that remains deeply embedded in 'clichés and shorthand forms‘. Both social sciences and political discourses of development and citizenship continue to be shaped by these. Among these clichés a certain idea of labour plays a crucial epistemic and political role. Both social and economic theory and the theory and politics of citizenship have taken for granted that wage labour is the 'normal labour relation‘ within capitalism, the homogeneous legal scheme that articulates social conflict and integration as well as access to real citizenship. The situation has radically changed nowadays: while wage labour is declining as a standard relation even in Europe and in the 'West‘, the heterogeneity of labour relations that has characterized and characterizes colonial and postcolonial societies paradoxically seems to be more adequate to grasp the history and present of global capitalism. Drawing on a discussion of the second chapter of Provincializing Europe (‘The Two Histories of Capital‘) and on recent developments in postcolonial studies and 'global labour history‘, this article will attempt to outline a theory of postcolonial capitalism and of the lines of conflict and antagonism that crisscross it.
With global economic restructuring, one of the most striking migration flows within Asia has been that of women migrating to work as paid domestic workers in the region’s higher growth economies. Drawing on in‐depth interviews, we focus on the negotiation of mobility and work practices between employers in Singapore and their ‘foreign maids’ within home‐space. We investigate the way employers define domestic work practices through ‘ground rules’ which fix and confine the body to specific time‐spaces and postures, rendering the migrant domestic worker a non‐mobile subject. We also explore the strategies of the domestic worker in circumventing rules in a bid to regain mobility. Using ‘homespace’ as the site of analysis, the paper illustrates the everyday production of (im)mobilities in a city‐state where ‘migration’ and ‘migrants’ occupy a paradoxical place in its bid for global‐city status.
First published in 2000, Dipesh Chakrabarty's influential Provincializing Europe addresses the mythical figure of Europe that is often taken to be the original site of modernity in many histories of capitalist transition in non-Western countries. This imaginary Europe, Dipesh Chakrabarty argues, is built into the social sciences. The very idea of historicizing carries with it some peculiarly European assumptions about disenchanted space, secular time, and sovereignty. Measured against such mythical standards, capitalist transition in the third world has often seemed either incomplete or lacking. Provincializing Europe proposes that every case of transition to capitalism is a case of translation as well--a translation of existing worlds and their thought--categories into the categories and self-understandings of capitalist modernity. Now featuring a new preface in which Chakrabarty responds to his critics, this book globalizes European thought by exploring how it may be renewed both for and from the margins.
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