Labour Studies Index

Redefining “enterprising selves”: exploring the “negotiation” of South Asian immigrant women working as home-based enclave entrepreneurs

Document type Thesis
Author Maitra, Srabani
Degree Ph.D., Adult Education and Counselling Psychology
Publisher University of Toronto, Ontario Institute for Studies in Educaiton; Toronto
Date 2011
Pages 203


This study examines the experiences of highly educated South Asian immigrant women working as home-based entrepreneurs within ethnic enclaves in Toronto, Canada. The importance of their work and experiences need to be understood in the context of two processes. On the one hand, there is the neoliberal hegemonic discourse of “enterprising self” that encourages individuals to become “productive”, self-responsible, citizen-subjects, without depending on state help or welfare to succeed in the labour market. On the other hand, there is the racialized and gendered labour market that systematically devalues the previous education and skills of non-white immigrants and pushes them towards jobs that are low-paid, temporary and precarious in nature. In the light of the above situations, I argue that in the process of setting up their home-based businesses, South Asian immigrant women in my study negotiate the barriers they experience in two ways. First, despite being inducted into different (re)training and (re)learning that aim to improve their deficiencies, they continue to believe in their abilities and resourcefulness, thereby challenging the “remedial” processes that try to locate lack in their abilities. Second, by negotiating gender ideologies within their families and drawing on community ties within enclaves they keep at check the individuating and achievement oriented ideology of neoliberalism. They, therefore, demonstrate how the values of an “enterprising self” can be based on collaboration and relationship rather than competition, profit or material success. The concept of “negotiation”, as employed in this thesis, denotes a form of agency different from the commonly perceived notions of agency as formal, large-scale, macro organization or resistance. Rather, the concept is based on how women resort to multiple, various and situational practices of conformity and contestation that often can blend into each other.