Anatomies and Apparatuses of Violence. The Everyday Encounters of Migrant Domestic Workers in Singapore

Anatomies and Apparatuses of Violence. The Everyday Encounters of Migrant Domestic Workers in Singapore
Laura Antona


This thesis examines the experiences of migrant domestic workers in Singapore, a population who, I argue, are subjected to multi-scalar and multi-sited, anatomies and apparatuses of violence. While academic writing has most often drawn upon the experiences of domestic workers placed in employment, this thesis looks beyond that. It pays particular attention to how domestic workers are situated within Singaporean society more broadly and focusses on what happens when they are no longer willing/able to work for (and therefore reside with) their employers. By doing so, this thesis brings new light to the geographies of security and insecurity that they have to negotiate.

Utilising an intersectional feminist lens of analysis, this research is based on nearly a year’s ethnographic fieldwork in Singapore, split across three phases between June 2016 and December 2017. By embedding myself within a shelter run by an NGO, I adopted participant observation, semi-structured interviews and archival research as key methods. I was ultimately able to move beyond the shelter’s confines to spend time in the courtroom, the hospital and the Ministry of Manpower, as well as in embassies, public spaces, clinics, agencies, homes and even in corporate events throughout the island nation.

In this thesis, I firstly argue that during their move to Singapore, these labourers become ‘foreign’, ‘domestic’ and ‘worker’, their bodies objectified as they are rendered ‘commodity’, ‘possession’ and ‘disposable’ by the people and infrastructures that facilitate their mobility in processes of dehumanisation. This positioning makes certain workers more vulnerable to interpersonal violence than others and enables different actors to profit from an economy of violence. Secondly, in a nation which enforces an employer-led sponsorship system, I show how the state unpredictably materialised in the urban fabric of Singapore when DWs were rendered sponsorless. In these alternative geographies, I show that conceptualisations of safety/unsafety need rethinking. Rather than being spaces of justice, care and humility, the courtroom and hospital, for example, became spaces where further violence was enacted. Finally, by focussing on the emotional geographies of the shelter, I bring visibility to experiences of migrant detainment and practices of deportation, drawing attention to the violence of these systems. I demonstrate how the shelter became a space of both home/refuge and of confinement.


Laura Antona

PhD defended at

London School of Economics and Political Sciences


Social Sciences




Gender and Identity
Diasporas and Migration