Agency In Appropriation: The informal territory of foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong

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Every Sunday, groups of Foreign Domestic Helpers (FDHs) collectively create informal territories within the urban fabric of Hong Kong’s Central Business District (CBD). FDHs are migrant workers living in Hong Kong who are legally bound to live in their employers’ homes.They work six days a week, and their duties and lifestyles are dictated by their employers, making them one of the most marginalised occupational groups in the city. Every Sunday – their day off – FDHs gather in public en masse to exercise freedom outside of their contractual confinement. In Hong Kong’s CBD these weekly assemblies of Filipino workers disrupt the city’s hegemonic spaces of financial capital. Various urban interior and exterior spaces – shop fronts, footpaths, elevated walkways and atriums – are appropriated and transformed with makeshift cardboard constructions. Hong Kong’s public-private zones are augmented into temporary domesticised places where the migrant workers socialise, rest, eat, groom, send packages, protest, dance and preach. At first glance, the FHDs’ occupation of public space may appear chaotically disordered, or an ‘ethnic spectacle’. Closer analysis reveals that this ritualised inhabitation has a unique ecology; it is a temporary but repeated socio-spatial system that produces a collective culture of solidarity, resistance and resourcefulness. Drawing upon ethnographic observations, interviews, photographs and spatial analysis, this paper explores the socio-political and cultural implications of this informal occupation. It demonstrates how FDHs are much more than docile subjects of domestic labour, rather, they are actors with agency, operating in an intermediate and mutable spatial zone, somewhere between the private and public sphere.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)102-117
Number of pages16
JournalIDEA Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 29 May 2015


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