The discourse of powerlessness and repression: Identity construction in domestic helper narratives


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36 Citations (Scopus)


This article analyses domestic helper narratives focusing on identity construction in diaspora. It reports on an ongoing research project in a church shelter in Hong Kong where foreign domestic helpers (FDHs) seek help when they have been abused. Many of the stories told by FDHs are trauma narratives about physical assault, starvation, underpayment, and exploitation, and the article explores how narratives may be used as a means for identity construction, but also as a site for empowering FDHs to re-author their stories and become agents in their own lives. The analyses show how linguistic resources are used to index different identities. They also show that FDHs have to accept forced identities and fight for their right to re-author their own life stories. Finally, the article provides examples of private and public discourses about FDHs in Hong Kong and suggests that ideologies of moral exclusion, or the local codes of argument, serve to legitimise their dehumanisation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)450-482
Number of pages33
JournalJournal of Sociolinguistics
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2012

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Philosophy
  • Linguistics and Language
  • History and Philosophy of Science

User-Defined Keywords

  • Agency
  • Discourse analysis
  • Empowerment
  • Identity construction
  • Ideologies of moral exclusion
  • Narratives


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