Consanguineous Minds

A blog of endless curiosity

Why being a social researcher is the coolest fucking job ever!

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Here is your mission: infiltrate a Mexican factory and pose as a factory worker, and lead someone else’s life for months in order to gain data.

I read a piece by Maria Patricia Fernandez-Kelly about just this, recently, and it reminded me of just how fucking cool some researchers’ jobs are. Fernandez-Kelly’s ‘Maquiladoras: The View From the Inside’ (1997) is about the author’s research work in one of the textile factories (Maquiladoras) lining the border of Mexico and the US. Here, for a pittance, a largely female worker population perform the ‘unskilled’ labour of sewing a quota of between 200-3500 pockets onto pants, or sewing a bias on a sleeve every 2.7 seconds.  One of the most fascinating things her research revealed was both the social issues and benefits arising from this type of work in this type of factory. The work created huge social tensions between the women, because of the bonus system. Each worker had to complete a quota per day to be eligible for the small bonuses. However, each step of work relied on the efficiency of another group of workers, for example, the thread-cutter’s workload relied on the number of sleeves or pockets completed by another worker. The women would become irate with each other when one woman’s work threatened another’s bonus. This was a very effective method of directing frustrations for working  conditions away from the managers (Fernandez-Kelly, 1997). Dastardly, no?

The other interesting thing to come out of the study was that the camaraderie felt by the women when they were outside of the factories and travelling in large groups gave them a freedom of speech and action, which may ordinarily have been suppressed. Fernandez-Kelly recounts a bus ride with a large group of the women, who, when a man stepped on board, started whistling and teasing, and tried to coax kisses from him. One of Fernandez-Kelly’s male interviewees says with disgust that the women have lost all sense of decorum. Essentially, the women had objectified the man. They had behaved like reverse chauvinists. By Fernandez-Kelly’s account, it was a light-hearted rebellion against a still very patriarchal society.

Doing this work as a researcher would have been daunting (when faced with the prospect of being unmasked as a university graduate from a big city), tough (Fernandez-Kelly had to do the same long hours sitting on a metal chair, skipping lunch to keep up with quotas as the maquiladora workers) and emotionally draining (she felt shame when unable to keep up with quotas and was pressured by the other workers to keep up). But how fucking interesting is it! It’s the height of storytelling, a real account of the working lives of real people with a real possibility for a social outcome. What a kick ass job! Not far off being a superhero in my books!

– Keep on readin’ superheroes! DS

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This entry was posted on May 1, 2013 by in Uncategorized.
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