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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Reproducing class In the global labour force : the case of Singapore's division of labour Ye, Junjia


This thesis analyzes the reproduction of inequalities within the realm of production within Singapore’s division of labour that relies strategically on migrants for different tasks in the global city. I examine the mechanisms that reproduce class differences within and across labour divisions to illustrate the politics of cosmopolitanism in Singapore. Specifically, I look at workers from different positions within the hierarchical labour force: Bangladeshi migrants who had been working in either construction or marine industries until employment disputes rendered them effectively jobless and homeless; Johorean commuters who cross the international border between Singapore and Malaysia daily to work in low-paid service sector work; and finally, middle-class financial workers who are often seen as the skilled, cosmopolitan faces of Singapore’s economy. I use the extended case method to integrate Marx and Bourdieu’s notions of class to illustrate how inequality is reproduced through social reproduction vis-à-vis people’s access to economic resources. It is about how class is also lived through other constructions– in particular, “the self” and how certain constructions of personhood intersect with and constitute class. Rooted in the division of labour, class is reproduced through processes by which some individuals are denied access to economic and cultural resources because they are not recognized as being worthy recipients. These processes are constituted through both material and symbolic struggles and violence. I aim to unpack the ambiguities and precarities produced through this struggle of classed bodies – desires, hopes, choices alongside hyper-exploitative work conditions and symbolic violence – and through which, identities are formed in the larger social world. I would argue that no matter how ambivalent it appears, class and its reproduction are never free from power-laden processes. I argue that it is through theoretically-informed empirical analyses of processes of class formation that the notion of cosmopolitanism can retain its purchase of understanding work lives in a diverse division of labour.

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