Annotation: Gamburd, Michele Ruth. 2000. Kitchen Spoon’s Handle

Gamburd, Michele Ruth. 2000. Kitchen Spoon’s Handle: Transnationalism and Sri Lanka’s Migrant Housemaids. Ithaca, N.Y. : Cornell University Press.

The book presents a longitudinal ethnographic study of Naeaegama, a rural village of about 1,000 residents in southern Sri Lanka. Outbound migration from the village to the Middle East began in the late 1960s, and over time has become increasingly feminized. Gamburd begins by situating women’s migration within the global demand for petroleum and women’s domestic work. With overpopulation, and chronic un- and underemployment in the village, women began to leave to work overseas as domestic helpers–the kind of work which is otherwise unpaid (if not undervalued) in the village. Covering various aspects of village life, Gamburd examines pre-migration processes, such as how recruiting agencies and moneylenders facilitate women’s migration (Chapters 2 and 3), yet burden them with long-term debt. Overseas migration has led, as Gamburd argues, to changes in the social structure and in the patterns of human affiliation, as seen in the family, caste, village, and nation (232). Women’s migration from the village has created many challenges to local ideologies (e.g., women/men’s gender roles, caste hierarchies, class relations, and ethnic divisions). Migration has also prompted a local reassessment of the value of domestic work, has disrupted the old patterns of patriarchy, and has challenged the notions of motherhood and masculinity (240). The author argues against the pathologizing of the women’s and their families’ innovative practices created while in their places of destination, as well as back in the village (e.g. investment in household items and jewelry). Overall, Gamburd suggests that in the case of Naeaegama, migration seems to have strengthened, rather than weakened or endangered family relations (237). However, family structures and practices also appear to be in flux, because the strife to establish control over the distribution of financial remittances could potentially drive wedges between family members (239). While there has been some weakening of the structures of class and caste in the village, families with capital are able to send men abroad for education and better-paid jobs, while poor families send women abroad to earn low wages as domestic helpers (240), thus reinforcing class hierarchies in the village.

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