Freeman, Carla. “Designing Women: Corporate Discipline and Barbados’s Off-Shore Pink-Collar Sector.” Cultural Anthropology 8.2 (1993): 169-186.
Freeman’s article argues that the rapid changes in economies transitioning from industrial economies to the information age are reconfiguring labor and capital in ways that transcend international boundaries (169). In this transition, symbolic-analytic work transforms into low-skilled, highly rationalized assembly-line work. In this sense, Freeman’s argument begins to trace the stratification of knowledge work into high-skill and low-skill sectors. This process – known as “critical labor process” by Marxists like Braverman (1974) – sees capital moving toward deskilling labor until only the most skilled laborers remain.
As a result of participation in these new TNCs, locals – or ‘natives’ – move between the first and the third world with increasing frequency. First world artifacts and ideologies move through media, ads, etc., while the realities of daily life are distinctly 3rd world. These women are – according to Freeman – a new class of proletarianized, feminine subjects that she terms “pink collar.” Investigating why this new labor force is made of women, the author concludes that despite natural, essentialist explanations for feminine aptitude, the real reason for 100% female employees in Barbados is patriarchic oppression.
Extending her analysis to corporate discipline in the open office, Freeman highlights how the panopticonic qualities of computer monitored productivity is representative of a double-layer of surveillance: both surface level by humans and deep level by computers. Yet technology alone isn’t to blame. The social processes that allow for these sorts of technological transformations are implemented by TNCs to enhance productivity and efficiency – technological rationalization or in Marcuse’s words “instrumentality.”
Focusing in on dress, Freeman argues that dress in the corporate environment of Barbados is an arena wherein local class-based and international corporate values are contested and consented to (179). Considering the position of these women, Freeman ends the article by considering whether TNC sites of labor are sites of independence or oppression. In so doing, the author notes how the Bajan acceptance of fashion and discipline don’t demonstrate a perfect corporate lie but rather emphasizes the complex and contradictory nature of being a woman and a worker in the age of transnational labor.