Cultural politics of emotions in households: migrant domestic workers in Macau
ABSTRACT: This article discusses the emotions and cultural politics within domestic work contexts involving employers and migrant domestic workers in Macau. Since Macau was transferred back to China from Portugal in 1999, the Macau SAR government has pursued a neoliberal economic policy that emphasizes economic growth. With a revitalized economy boosted by casino revenues, thousands of migrant workers have moved to Macau to take advantage of new employment opportunities. Based on first-hand interviews with migrant domestic workers and employers in Macau, this paper examines how emotions are motivated and articulated within the affective interactions between employers and Migrant Domestic Workers (MDWs). This includes how employers’ emotions of fear and disgust towards MDWs contribute to the creation of an MDW population as a feared and inferior “other,” and how such affective operations reinforces the existing hegemonic dominance of naming and legitimizing the exploitation of MDWs. Meanwhile, in the production of domesticity in the home, this paper explores how emotions such as emotional numbness and disgust experienced by the MDWs make affective negotiations and contestation possible, and generate disobedience and resistance to the disciplines and controls imposed upon them. This article also investigates how such emotions, acting as a kind of intervention, operate within the production of specific subjectivities and identities that MDWs want to claim for themselves.
Wei SHI is an assistant professor at the Department of Communication, University of Macau. She received her PhD degree from Goldsmiths College, University of London, and her research interest includes politics of emotion, culture and media. Her latest publication appears in Social Movement Studies. She is currently completing a book on Macau migrant workers.