In the intimate context of domestic service, power relations take on one of their most personalized forms. Domestic servants and their employers must formulate their political identities in relationship to each other, sometimes reinforcing and sometimes challenging broader social hierarchies such as those based on class, caste or rank, gender, race and ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, and kinship relations.
This pathbreaking collection builds on recent examinations of identity in the postcolonial states of South and Southeast Asia by investigating the ways in which domestic workers and their employers come to know and depict one another and themselves through their interactions inside and outside of the home. This setting provides a particularly apt arena for examining the daily negotiations of power and hegemony.
Contributors to the volume, all anthropologists, provide rich ethnographic analyses that avoid a narrow focus on either workers or employers. Rather, they examine systems of power through specific topics that range from the notion of "nurture for sale" to the roles of morality and humor in the negotiation of hierarchy and the dilemmas faced by foreign employers who find themselves in life-and-death dependence on their servants.
With its provocative theoretical and ethnographic contributions to current debates, this collection will be of interest to scholars in Asian studies, women's studies, anthropology, sociology, and cultural studies.
Kathleen M. Adams is Associate Professor of Anthropology, Loyola University of Chicago. Sara Dickey is Associate Professor of Anthropology, Bowdoin College.
"A sophisticated and sensitive text on domestic service in Turkey that singles itself out by a powerful account of the micro-sociology of power. It engages the reader in much broader debates about the mutual relations of class and gender, the role of patriarchal controls in shaping informal female labor markets and the management of status differentials by women in their daily lives. An important scholarly contribution written in a lucid and accessible style."
--Deniz Kandiyoti, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
Untidy Gender takes readers into the interconnected worlds of Turkish maids and the women who employ them, tracing the incorporation of rural migrant women into the interiors of the domestic spheres of the urban middle-classes. Firmly grounded in data collected through a representative survey of 160 domestic workers, in-depth interviews, and participant observation in the kinship-based communities of domestic workers, this book forges a new understanding of the complex interaction between gender and class subordination.
Ozyegin traces the lives of two kinds of workers; those from the squatter settlements who work in a number of locations, and those who live with husbands employed as "doorkeepers" or building superintendents in the basements of middle-class apartment buildings. In a literal "upstairs, downstairs" arrangement, the latter women sometimes take on apartment cleaning for clients in the building.
At the center of the book are a number of ironies about patriarchy. On the surface, husbands have absolute control over whether or not their wives work, but some women work in secret, and those "doorkeeper" husbands who allow their wives to work often provide child care themselves. Ironically, the very constraints on the spatial and social mobility of the women creates a labor market in which domestic workers' labor is expensive and not readily forthcoming, which, in turn, gives them a degree of power in negotiating their relationship with their middle-class employers.
Untidy Gender offers insights not only into the gender and class dynamics of Turkish society, but contributes to the refinement of central terms of feminist scholarship and research on work in the informal sector, cross-class relations between women, gender and class inequality, and women's experiences of modernity and urbanization. The author ends with a personal account of her own difficulties with the class tensions of the maid-employer relationship.
"Untidy Gender makes contributions to a large number of debates in several social science fields and sub-fields. And it does so on an extraordinarily sound methodological base: Ozyegin was able to construct a random sample for her 'women in the basement.' This is the gold standard of research, and may be unique in the research annals of studies of domestic workers."
--Rae Lesser Blumberg, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia
"This original book sheds new light on the dynamics of modernity and newly constituted urban identities. Through a careful ethnographic study of paid domestic work, Ozyegin illuminates the varied ways in which relations of class and gender inequalities are shaped and maintained. American audiences interested in rural-urban migrants, in intersectionalities of race, class, and gender, and in identities, power, and resistance in the workplace will find some of the most compelling ethnography and many valuable theoretical nuggets in this book."
--Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Southern California
"Ozyegin presents a cutting-edge analysis of the complexities of modernization by focusing on gender relations. While avoiding numerous rhetorical traps around questions of 'difference' Ozyegin seamlessly weaves together a thoughtfully articulated theory with a meticulous empirical analysis of patriarchal and class relations among modern urban women and more traditional migrant women living at the margins of modernity. Given its significant substantive and theoretical contributions, I will look forward to teaching Untidy Gender in my courses."
--Judith M. Gerson, Associate Professor, Departments of Sociology and Women's Studies, Rutgers University, New Brunswick