Recycling Working Daughters? Hong Kong Older Women’s Divergent Lives and Subjectivities

Project: Research

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Despite the enormous contribution of older people in the past, Hong Kong society generallysees them as uneducated, unskilled, financially and emotionally dependent, and unproductive.Worse still, Tsien and Ng (2010) find that local literature on family caregiving focuses on olderadults as care recipients instead of caregivers, economic burdens instead of economiccontributors. Additionally, due to older women’s longer lifespan relative to adult men and theirexpected familial role as caregivers, older women are the poorest among the poor in thepopulation (Chow 2005). They are in a disadvantaged position in receiving housing (Chan1997; Chan and Fung 2003) and informal family support (Lee and Kwok 2005). In light of this,the Hong Kong older women population should be studied separately from Hong Kong olderadult population in general.The proposed research will explore the experiences and identities of a particular generation ofolder women, who were born between 1940 and 1955 (aged 61-76 in year 2016). Thisparticular generation of women had been working daughters and household financial pillars(Salaff 1995) in the 1960s and 1970s. After marriage, their role as unwaged “homemakers”became integral to their identities (Lee 2002; Chan 2008), though some subtly resist theirdomestic roles (Ho 2007; Chan 2012), and the caregiver role persists even when they enter lateadulthood (Liu, Cheng and McGhee 2001). As focus on Hong Kong economy shifted from amanufacturing economy to a financial and service economy, these women have been facingunderemployment and unemployment since 1990s (Choi 2011) and (forced) retirementrecently. Although research had studied how this group performed as working daughters in thepast (Salaff 1995; Choi 1998; 2011), as well as the present situation of older women in general(Woo et al 2008), no research has explored how older women develop divergent subjectivitiesin relation to the changing material-discursive-structural forces of Hong Kong society, andhow their evaluation of their life experiences and their present everyday practices produce fluidand complex subjectivities.The main purpose of this research is to address this gap in knowledge. How did these womenreact to their changing social roles, establish their own identities, and gain, if any, of their ownself-esteem? How did they define their identities outside of familial and domestic roles? Whatare their everyday practices now? Do they manage to keep their older women caregiveridentity intact while subtly subverting the domestic role? How do they expand their lives underHong Kong’s minimal welfare system, stereotypical images of women as caregivers, and thegeneral negative images of older people?Instead of merely focusing on human agency, the proposed research will employ two differentapproaches – life history approach (Alwin 2012; Chan 2014; Kwok and Ku 2016) and agentialrealist approach (Barad 2007) – in order to explore the complex intra-actions of“spacetimematter” (Barad 2007; Juelskjaer 2013) and subjectivity, older women’s ownperspectives and values on their experiences in the past and in present, as well as how theseevaluations of the past affect their views about past and present lived experiences. Life historyapproach is increasingly used by gerontologists, and agential realist approach is established inscientific practices (Prophet and Pritchard 2015) but not in humanities and social scientificstudies. The use of two approaches in this research will be novel in both gerontology studiesand women’s studies. Through interviews of 50 older women and “embodied engagement” of8-10 selected women, this research strives to provide a fresh angle to explore the entanglementof discourses, materialities, and subjectivities in older women’s lives that contributes tosubjectivities.


Project number9042594
Grant typeGRF
Effective start/end date1/01/18 → …