Identity Management among Indonesian and Filipina Migrant Domestic Workers in Singapore



    1. Faculty of Integrated Arts and Sciences, The University of Tokushima, Japan
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    • This article was based on insightful dialogue with a number of non-governmental organizations (NGO), government bodies, and domestic workers. I am grateful to them for their cooperation and support, especially Bridget Lew Tan, the president of H.O.M.E (NGO) in Singapore who provided a useful insight.


This study examines how the identities of migrant domestic workers are likely to be endangered and how these individuals struggle to reconstitute them. It is largely based on an interview and observational study with Indonesian and Filipina domestic workers in Singapore. Inspired by the sociological discussion of Goffman and Ishikawa, the study reveals how each migrant domestic worker manages her identity in her specific social context. This study shows that domestic workers contrive tactics to negotiate their situations, given that domestic work is considered a low prestige occupation and workers tend to be divested of the usual “identity kit” to make up their identity front. Specifically, to compensate for their discredited status, domestic workers attempt to reconstitute their damaged identity, obtain a new identity kit, recall previous social and family roles, or anticipate a future identity. They also attempt to acquire new skills and increase their value, so they can identify themselves as more than “just a maid.” They obtain additional roles in an attempt to change how they feel about themselves, to alter the meaning of being a domestic worker, and to redefine their relationships with others either by individual struggles or through collective activities. This study also points out a possible pitfall of identity management among the actors. The mechanism of identity politics might lead to an erosion of value, alienation from other domestic workers, and a strengthening of conventional stereotypes and generalizations regarding ethnicity, nationality, and gender. In this context, how non-governmental organizations play a role in mitigating the pitfalls of identity management among domestic workers is also examined.