Working women on the move

Genealogies of gendered migrant labour

We have recently witnessed a plethora of textual and visual representations of migrant and refugee women ‘travelling alone’—alone taking the meaning of not being accompanied by adult men. In this paper which emerges from a research project funded by the Leverhulme Trust, I look into the work experiences of migrant and refugee women on the move by tracing a long genealogy of gendered memories of work in the garment industry under conditions of forced displacement. The paper unfolds in four parts: first I follow a body of scholarship that has interrogated the migrant/refugee distinction by presenting and explicating the notion of ‘the mobility assemblage’; then I look at current phenomena of labour exploitation in the garment industry under conditions of forced displacement. In the third part I revisit feminist genealogies of labour migration in the garment industry and by way of conclusion I draw on Bonnie Honig’s notion of ‘the ambivalence of foreignness’ to make sense of multiple entanglements between global migration, labour activisms and feminist histories. In following stories of uprooted women ‘travelling alone’ and looking back at genealogies of gendered migrant labour I therefore raise the question: how can migrant women workers help us rethink and redefine feminist theory and praxis?