Campaigns in support of home-based clothing workers (or ‘outworkers’ as they are more commonly known in Australia) deploy powerful images of the exploitative underside of fashion. The migrant woman huddled over her machine has become the quintessential image of campaigns directed against this exploitation. This article engages critically with the politics of such image-making. By examining how frames simultaneously shrink and magnify the image produced it raises questions about what these images exclude or expel and whether and how this matters. It also offers an alternative frame of the female immigrant outworker – an up-close portrait of Hien, a Vietnamese woman who works at home sewing clothes in her suburban shed. The article introduces Hien through a condensed collection of her self-narratives, before moving on to consider how a trade union and community-based movement against outworker exploitation mobilised images of suffering and injured Vietnamese women to promote its cause. It asks how these images speak for and represent women like Hien and suggests that their political ‘success’ relies to some extent on the women being ‘unseen’ and made to ‘unspeak’. Finally, through the metaphor of space, it proffers an expanded dimension to the already framed images invoking Hien’s shed as a space that both produces and disciplines her: ultimately, a ‘transitional space’ between the external and internal worlds that shape and constrain her.
Field of Research
160499 Human Geography not elsewhere classified 160599 Policy and Administration not elsewhere classified 169901 Gender Specific Studies
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