Soft violence: migrant domestic worker precarity and the management of unfree labour in Singapore

Rhacel Salazar Parreñas, Krittiya Kantachote, Rachel Silvey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


In Singapore, the temporary legal status of migrant domestic workers binds them in servitude to their employer-sponsor as their residency is contingent on their continuous and sole live-in employment with a sponsor whose permission they must secure in order to transfer jobs. This legal status technically renders domestic workers unfree and precarious as it gives employers tremendous power over domestic workers. Based on 30 in-depth interviews with employers, this article examines how employers in Singapore negotiate their power over domestic workers. We identify ‘soft violence’ as a tool that employer’s utilise in their management of domestic workers. By ‘soft violence’, we refer to the practice of cloaking the unequal relationship in domestic work via the cultivation of a relationship of ‘personalism’ while simultaneously amplifying one’s control of domestic workers. Representing a strategy utilised by employers to maximise the labour of domestic workers, ‘soft violence’ emerges from the paradoxical relationship of simultaneously relieving and amplifying servitude.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4671-4687
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Ethnic and Migration Studies
Issue number20
StatePublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Demography
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


  • employers
  • migrant domestic work
  • Singapore
  • Soft violence
  • temporary migrants
  • unfree labour


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