Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Cross-Border Marriage, Transgovernmental Friction, and Waiting

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Cross-Border Marriage, Transgovernmental Friction, and Waiting

Article excerpt

Abstract. This paper examines how discrepant governmental rationalities and processes produce friction and shifting experiences of subjectiflcation as transmigrants cross borders. Using the experiences of mainland Chinese marriage migrants in Singapore as an example, the paper explores the notion of 'transgovernmental friction' and how it reinforces state boundaries, reshapes body politics, and animates waiting as an active practice that transforms migrant subjectivities. Locating the workings of governmentality, mobility, and space in the domain of transnational marriage and family, the paper brings to light the friction and crevices of governmental processes across borders and the embodied politics of im/mobility.

Keywords: mobility, gender, marriage, governmentality, friction, waiting


"Friction reminds us that heterogeneous and unequal encounters can lead to new arrangements of culture and power." Anna Tsing (2005)

"In our village (in China), as soon as a woman gets married, she should have children right away and stay home or help with farming. That is a difficult life. I have worked and lived outside (the village) before so I know I could have more. Life outside is better because there is no farming. As long as I am willing to work, I will be fine. So I told my mother, okay, I can go and get married in Singapore. I want to venture out and see what I can do."

Ah Xin, wife and hair-salon owner

When 32-year-old Ah Xin was approached by a matchmaker in her natal village in Fujian Province, China to marry a Singaporean man whom she had never met before, she agreed without hesitation. Marrying a Singaporean man, for Ah Xin, was a straightforward way out of an uneventful life burdened with the difficulties associated with childrearing and farming. Getting married abroad was a pathway for paid work, freedom, and adventure. Little did she expect that once married in Singapore, she would be 'trapped' in the small Housing Development Board (HDB) apartment*1' belonging to her husband's family because she was not permitted to work, given her immigration status as a 'dependent' foreign spouse. Ah Xin said that she knew she had to be patient and wait--for gradual acceptance into her marital family, for her immigration status to change after repeated applications to become a Singapore Permanent Resident (PR), and for a future when she could work, have a regular income, and even start a small business of her own.

Ah Xin is among the thousands of 'foreign brides' who began to arrive in the city-state of Singapore from the 1990s onwards when working-class Singaporean men found it increasingly difficult to win the hand of Singaporean women (Jones and Shen, 2008). Ah Xin's waiting is both ordinary and exceptional. It is ordinary because most of the foreign brides in Singapore have to go through indefinite periods of waiting before they can eventually become 'nonmigrants' in anticipation of "lives worth waiting for" (Gray, 2011). It is exceptional because marriage migrants' experience of waiting illuminates the dislodging effects of border crossing and the ambiguities of their status as both 'wife' and 'nonresident' in Singapore. Scholarship on migrant women traversing borders and boundaries has much to say about these dislodging effects in light of their marginality and the exclusionary politics operated through gendered, sexualized, classed, ethnicized, and nationalized apparatuses (Gaetano and Yeoh, 2010). While these women possess agency, they have to constantly negotiate their subject positions within the dominant social structures and rules ordered largely by state regimes, patriarchal norms, and gender ideologies at home and beyond. Border crossing and transnational mobility, as feminist scholars show, do not suggest the weakening of the nation-state but its reworking through more sophisticated power apparatuses and techniques of inclusion and exclusion (Mountz, 2011; Pratt and Yeoh, 2003). …

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