In the intimate context of domestic service, power relations take on one of their most personalized forms. Domestic servants and their employers must formulate their political identities in relationship to each other, sometimes reinforcing and sometimes challenging broader social hierarchies such as those based on class, caste or rank, gender, race and ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, and kinship relations.
This pathbreaking collection builds on recent examinations of identity in the postcolonial states of South and Southeast Asia by investigating the ways in which domestic workers and their employers come to know and depict one another and themselves through their interactions inside and outside of the home. This setting provides a particularly apt arena for examining the daily negotiations of power and hegemony.
Contributors to the volume provide rich ethnographic analyses that avoid a narrow focus on either workers or employers. Rather, they examine systems of power through specific topics that range from the notion of "nurture for sale" to the roles of morality and humor in the negotiation of hierarchy and the dilemmas faced by foreign employers who find themselves in life-and-death dependence on their servants.
With its provocative theoretical and ethnographic contributions to current debates, this collection will be of interest to scholars in Asian studies, women's studies, anthropology, sociology, and cultural studies.
Kathleen M. Adams is Associate Professor of Anthropology, Loyola University of Chicago.
Sara Dickey is Associate Professor of Anthropology, Bowdoin College.