Performances across Time and Space: Drama in the Global Households of Filipina Transmigrant Workers

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Abstract

The separation of transnational domestic workers from their kinship households and their inclusion into new ones is a conflict situation that creates social drama. Contradictions in their positions in these two global households highlight this drama, for example, in their contrasting roles as breadwinners in one household and as domestic workers in the other, as transnational mothers and live-in caregivers, and as international migrants and domestically confined workers. In this article, I employ Erving Goffman’s (1959) dramaturgical approach, particularly “contrived” and “real” performances, to examine the everyday performances of migrant workers across time and space, that is, vis-à-vis their contradictory roles as breadwinners in their left-behind kinship households in the Philippines and as “maids” in their co-residential global households in Singapore, over a period of time. I offer the time-performance continuum loop as a context explaining the variations of domestic workers’ performances. This model captures the initial years of employment as overwhelming the migrants with hardships and poor performances whereas long-term employment as equipping them with mastery in their performances. My research draws from conventional ethnographic fieldwork among Filipina domestic workers in Singapore, supplemented by a virtual ethnography in an online forum among Singapore employers.

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