Interstitial Glimpses: The Linguistic Agency/Oppression of South African Domestic Workers
Domestic workers, the largest single sector of women’s employment in South Africa, have been impacted by racist educational laws that segregated learners according to skin color. They have struggled to make demands for improved working conditions and have seemingly been forgotten by policies regarding adult and language education. And yet, despite these multiple forms of oppression, domestic workers do not solely live within identities surrounding oppression and victimization, but also exhibit forms of agency that resist victimization narratives. Drawing from notions of (in)agentic practices and identities in relation to domestic work, as well as how agency is incited and hindered because of language, I use the HERstories of domestic workers taking English language classes in Johannesburg to reveal how these women are concurrently subjugated and autonomous beings who are working against the identities they have been relegated to by working within these same social and linguistic boundaries.
Keywords: South Africa, domestic work, agency, HERstories, English language learning