The seams of subjectivity and structure : women's experiences of garment work in Aotearoa New Zealand and Fiji
This thesis explores women garment factory workers' contemporary experiences of the processes of industrial restructuring in two contrastive locations. Industrial restructuring has been accompanied by a tide of neo-liberal reforms that has swept the Pacific region within the current climate of globalisation. This thesis compares the impact of these processes on women garment workers' lives in one advanced industrialised country and one less developed country - Aotearoa New Zealand and Fiji respectively. Women workers' lives form the subject of the study because global industrial restructuring entails specific implications for women that demand closer attention in the Pacific region. The thesis argues that subjective and structural forces, such as patriarchy and capitalism, combine to shape women garment workers' lives in the two nations, although these forces act in ways particular to each site. An exploration of these subjective and structural forces requires investigation at a variety of levels of analysis: from the macro-level of the state and capitalist production to the micro-level of workers' families and communities. Participatory ethnographic research proved the best approach for exploring women's experiences of industrial restructuring and the combination of subjective and structural forces that shape their lives. The New Zealand and Fiji garment industries have restructured in response to the state's implementation of trade liberalisation measures and creation of a permissive regulatory environment for industry as part of the neo-liberal approach. In New Zealand the state's reforms caused large-volume garment manufacturers to relocate production to offshore sites. Large companies remaining in New Zealand downsized their workforces and implemented high-technology innovations for the targeting of niche-markets. Smaller firms shifted more of production onto outworkers, and increasingly utilised the labour of migrants. In Fiji, the Tax Free Factories Scheme implemented as part of the state's reform programme prompted a rapid expansion in garment manufacture as foreign investors relocated their production to Fiji. The incentives scheme resulted in a marked increase in the demand for women workers. Case studies of the lives of garment workers in New Zealand suggest that restructuring of the industry for flexibility has hinged upon the casualisation of work, involving the substitution of part-time, temporary, contract, or outwork for full-time factory jobs. The Fiji case studies indicate that firms achieve flexibility by taking advantage of women's cheap labour and the state's slack enforcement of its regulatory legislation on the industry. The women garment workers in both sites are shown to absorb many of the costs of firms' flexibility, and to have highly uncertain futures as trade liberalisation threatens the competitiveness of their industries. Women garment workers employ a variety of creative methods to negotiate the constraints that capitalist production, the state and patriarchy pose on their lives. However their negotiation efforts are limited by cultural, religious and gender ideologies about women's appropriate societal roles.
Advisor: Leckie, Jacqueline
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Anthropology
Publisher: University of Otago
Research Type: Thesis