Accepted paper:

The life-world outside garment factories: women's economic autonomy and freedom in Bangladesh


Mohammad Tareq Hasan (University of Dhaka)

Paper short abstract:

I explore the role of wage labour and describe the socio-economic effects that it has had on the garment workers in Bangladesh. I highlight the values in the life-world of the garment workers to demonstrate the emerging socialities in neoliberal Bangladesh - i.e., among the industrial workers.

Paper long abstract:

We tend to think of factory life as limited to the inside of the factory, its work hours, and its discipline, but I have found that factory life in Dhaka, Bangladesh encompassed all aspects of life for the garment workers amongst whom I lived. In this paper, I explore the role of wage labour and highlight the socio-economic effects that it has had on the garment industry workers in Bangladesh. I demonstrate how life outside the factories, to a large degree, revolved around the same values and concerns that preoccupied workers when they were at work. I claim that the ideological world had no outside, and that all the ruptures or changes in it continuously created new social orders with open-ended possibilities to which the workers were connected. This shall be seen reflected in the economic autonomy and freedom of the workers. The workers navigated between the established social orders and created possibilities of freedom, i.e. a break from the dominant relationships. I illustrate my arguments by explaining garment workers' understanding of their work, income, relationships within families, and use of consumer goods, and reveal situations where the social encompasses ideologically contradictory events in forming a temporal totality. This indicates reconfiguration of the social order, evinced by the ever emergent category of the 'worthy woman'. I think analysis of these events and processes will shed light into the ongoing creation and transformation of the social in its totalisation process during neoliberal transformation.

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