The Discourse of Powerlessness and Repression: Life Stories of Migrant Workers in Hong Kong.

  • LADEGAARD, Hans (PI)

Project: Research project

Project Details


Immigration is an essential premise of life in a global world. Many professionals choose to work abroad, but for some people, immigration is not a choice but a necessity. People from underdeveloped countries are often faced with grim alternatives: either their children are kept in poverty with no prospects of a better future, or they leave their country to become migrant workers, but, at the same time, suffer the pains of being separated from their families.

This project focuses on one group of migrant workers in Hong Kong – domestic helpers. There are about 230,000 maids in Hong Kong, most of them from Indonesia and the Philippines. The aim of the project is to tell the life stories of some of these migrant women by analysing group conversations in which domestic helpers, who have run away from their employers, or who have had their contracts terminated, share their experiences. The venue for data collection is a church shelter for migrant workers where PI is working as a volunteer, and the project analyses migrant worker life stories as evidence of displaced identities. Domestic helper narratives from informal group discussions will be recorded, and (a form of) Discursive Psychology (Potter and Wetherell 1987; Wetherell 2001) will be employed as the analytical framework focusing on themes such as identity-construction and displacement, discrimination and prejudice, powerlessness and abuse, and the externalisation of repressed experiences. The analyses will also focus on the importance of fellowship, religious faith and empowerment for reinventing identities in diaspora.

Many of the stories told by domestic helpers in Hong Kong (and elsewhere) are trauma naratives about physical assaults and sexual abuse, harassment, starvation, underpayment, and exploitation. The tellability of these narratives is compromised by the unacceptability of the events, and the project seeks to explore how repressed experiences become externalised and thus, become cognitively 'real' events which require some form of action. It is hypothesised that crying and laughter are important communicative tools in the process of reversing, or humanising, dehumanising experiences. It is also hypothesised that the articulation of shame and the verbalisation of repressed experiences (such as sexual abuse) are joint discursive accomplishments in the group where group members construct their narratives together, as it were, as well as respond to the rhetorical needs of the local context (Billig 1996).
Effective start/end date1/01/1231/12/13


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.