Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

Immigrant Women and their Work in the Informal Economy in Toronto: Impacts and the Potential for Critical Transformations

Document type Thesis
Author Santhosh Thomas, Agnes
Degree Thesis
Publisher University of Toronto, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education; Toronto
Date 2014
Pages 285 pages


This research examines the everyday experiences of immigrant women working informally in the City of Toronto (Canada). The study is based on analysis of original in depth interview (n = 27) and focus group data (n = 19). The thesis begins from the belief that the choice of highly educated immigrant women, with and without professional work experiences from their home countries, to do informal work in Canada is part of a fact that they are going through a particularly intensive process of change. With special attention to the potential for critical transformative learning (e.g. Mezirow; Freire) - how this change is produced, experienced, and addressed is the key focus in this study. The study considers three avenues of experience potentially influencing change in the lives of immigrant women post-immigration: i) the ways of knowing, frames of reference, and worldviews of these women as shaped by the complex relationship between their private (e.g. as mothers and wives) and public (e.g. as community members and informal product/service workers) lives; ii) the various economic and cultural relations and shifting locations that mediate how the individual makes choices regarding (formal and/or informal) work activities; and, iii) the social relations shaping the changing experiences and interpretations of interlocking systems of power relations involving gender, race, class and disability.Agentive participation and learning in the context of economic participation are key in understanding women's choices, experiences, and outcomes in the context of their work and life experiences in Canada. This study reveals the multidimensional, often contradictory, processes of change that individuals in marginalized situations post-immigration go through and their awareness of and influence over these change processes. The analysis suggests a multilayered process that supports and sometimes inhibits the creation of a new foundation for various types of transformative learning trajectories; one that keeps the loose threads together and moves people towards and along a path they individually or collectively choose to follow in order to find meaning and realize positive change.