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Feminist composite narratives of Chinese women: the interrelationship of work, family and community in forced labour situations

Lawthom, R and Kagan, C (2016) Feminist composite narratives of Chinese women: the interrelationship of work, family and community in forced labour situations. Community, Work and Family, 19 (2). pp. 181-192. ISSN 1366-8803

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Abstract

This contribution builds on the work Lewis has engaged in around women’s decision-making processes on work and care. Gender has been an important consideration across her work and this has been explored in familial and organisational settings. The personal is undoubtedly political and a feminist lens privileges this. Previous research (including Lewis) has marked a shift from work-life balance to work personal life integration. This implies agency and perhaps a particular kind of woman able to make choices. In contrast, this paper focuses on Chinese migrant women working in vulnerable situations. Drawing on data gathered from a forced labour project, we present some composite narratives from women as daughters, mothers and wives. These highlight the role of the core economy in decisions about migration for work. Inevitably work decisions are bound up with and situated in wider care and familial networks. These insights around emotional and practical labour are feminist concerns. We present the complex decisions made by women around precarious work, present and distant ‘families’ and care. We suggest that future work-life research should heed Lewis’ call for more nuanced understandings of the multi-layered context of people’s experiences, workplace practices and relevant national policies, but go beyond this, to pay attention to the globalised forces underpinning ever greater inequity in work, in families and in communities.

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