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Transnational Migration and the Gender Politics of Scale: Indonesian Domestic Workers in Saudi Arabia

"Recent research has begun to explore the dynamics of transnational migration from a feminist perspective, and studies of migrant domestic workers have played a prominent role in pushing forward this work. Emerging simultaneously, but largely separately, are explicit debates within geography about the politics of scale, the social construction of scale, and the gender dimensions of scale. This article develops an analysis of the gender politics of the production of scale, specifically, the ‘transnationalisation’ of Indonesian activist approaches to overseas migrant domestic workers' issues. Based on fieldwork in an Indonesian community in West Java that has recently become a sending area for migrants to Saudi Arabia and interviews with activists representing Indonesian migrant women, the article examines the various gender-specific ways in which migrant women's rights activists construct and deploy the scales of the body, the nation and the transnational. It argues that activist approaches to migrant domestic workers' rights and the ways in which activists mobilise migrant women's narratives represent sophisticated feminist theoretical approaches to scale. By identifying and exploring the scale theory embedded in activist strategies, the analysis highlights the imbrication of feminist theory with practice, and underscores activists' agency in producing the meanings of specific scales. In so doing, the article is aimed more broadly at elaborating the ambivalent relationship between feminist activism/theory and transnationalism."
Rachel Silvey
Domains-Issue Area: 
Saudi Arabia