JOPOL 7(2022)

Enacting Power through Control and Surveillance: Narrative Reflections from a Hong Kong-Based Foreign Domestic Helper
Selim Ben-Said 

Since the late 1970s, Hong Kong has witnessed a sharp rise in the population of Foreign Domestic Helpers (FDHs). While command of English and/or Cantonese constitute importance assets for FDHs, insufficient training in the two languages often results in miscommunication between FDHs and their employers. As this study will offer to show, tensions at home, can also be the result of power imbalance. The exercise of control and coercion as well as the different ‘technologies of power’ (i.e., surveillance, CCTV) and oppressive measures (i.e., rationing, control of time and space) used at home are equally forceful if not more potent sources of alienation experienced by FDHs. In this ethnographic narrative study, and adopting a foucauldian approach to discourse, I follow Aisha, a Filipina FDH, who brings forth her postcolonial multilingual repertoire (particularly her command of English) to anchor herself as a competent and confident employee when facing her employees’ complaints.

Keywords: foreign domestic helpers, Hong Kong, power, resistance, surveillance