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Chand Somaiah, National University of Singapore, Singapore
Brenda Yeoh, National University of Singapore
Kristel Acedera, National University of Singapore
Theodora Lam, National University of Singapore
Host to a million migrant workers including around 250,000 migrant domestic workers, Singapore’s urban social exclusion of low-waged migrant workers was a pre-pandemic faultline which was exacerbated as Covid-19 peaked, exposing migrant workers to greater health and social risks than the average Singaporean. As pandemic conditions led to intensified surveillance and decreased mobility, many migrant domestic workers had to forego visits back to their home countries, endure confinement to their employers’ home, and in some cases, had their day off privileges withdrawn. This talk draws upon findings from 55 qualitative interviews with migrant domestic workers (MDWs) based in Singapore around themes surrounding their migration, food security, and carework. We employed a transnational lens to look not just at MDWs’ own experiences around securing access to food for themselves, but also for left-behind children and family members back home in Indonesia, the Philippines and Myanmar. We focus on developing within studies of food (in)security, the concept of foodcare which offers ‘low-income mothers an alternative to the logic of capital for their demonstration of self-worth’ (Parsons et al. 2020). We extend this concept in conjunction with the classic idea of global care chains (Hochschild 2000) to propose the idea of transnational foodcare chains. This distinctly agentic, migrant, and maternal food labour is being done under exceptional times of global pandemic-induced heightened social distancing, economic precarity, and limited travel. The foodcare chains that emerged are dually oriented. We argue that firstly, these foodcare chains are multi-relational (i.e. in relation not just to children but to other left-behind family members too) across transnational space, paralleling the relationality of the family migration project. Secondly, foodcare chains are also emplaced horizontally, extending to fellow migrant domestic worker friendships forged in Singapore. To “get the real taste of Indonesia”, for example, and satiate the yearning for comfort foods from home, MDWs spend effort in recreating home food for themselves and their friends in migrant contexts. Thirdly, this paper also reveals how under pandemic conditions, foodcare chains also enter the domain of health and healthcare as food became evoked as medicine.
About the speaker:
Dr. Chand Somaiah holds a joint appointment as a Research Fellow with the Asia Research Institute (ARI), National University of Singapore; and Yale-NUS College. Her research interests include intimate citizenship practices such as foodwork, and embodied, emplaced and intersectional subjectivities vis-à-vis migration. Since 2017, she has been working on collaborative mixed-methods research projects which investigate the impacts of parental absence on left-behind children and families from sending communities of international labour. Currently she is involved in projects which focus on well-being, food practices, and food security among migrant domestic workers in Singapore and their children. Her work has been published in a range of peer-reviewed journals including Global Networks; Ethnic and Racial Studies; Journal of Youth Studies; Emotion, Space and Society; Journal of Intercultural Studies; and South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies.
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