Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1997

Korean Immigrant Women in the Dallas-Area Apparel Industry: Looking for Feminist Threads in Patriarchal Cloth

Shin Ja Um
Lanham, MD: University Press of America
0 7618 0463 3
$29.50 (hb)
166 pp.

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Shin Ja Um's book presents an interesting portrait of Korean immigrant working women in the Dallas (USA) apparel industry. The utilization of a multi-method approach combining in depth interviews (n=13) and questionnaires (n=74) seems an adequate and interesting methodological choice, although I believe that having a larger sample would be more useful, at least for the in-depth interviews. The results are presented in a clear and accessible way.

The book is divided into six chapters which take into account an important aspect of the worlds of work: the triple oppression of class, gender and ethnicity/race at work. The author highlights many interesting points that must be considered in future research on this subject, such as the division of labour between different ethnic and racial groups. Thus, in the apparel industry jobs are classified into sewing, where one finds the Korean women workers, and "shiage" (which includes hand sewing, trimming, ironing, making button holes, attaching buttons etc.), where positions are held mostly by Mexicans and elderly workers (p. 43).

Shin Ja Um also points out interesting cultural dimensions such as language deficiencies and cultural shock related to childcare facilities. For instance, Korean working women prefer to leave children with elderly or other Korean women. This is indicative of the general mistrust of childcare facilities due to the poor conditions of the Korean childcare system, which is transposed to the American reality. These are important cultural aspects for they may be decisive in working immigrant women's acceptance of homeworking. This experience of isolated work at home may highlight the sufferings at work for these women.

However interesting and important the subject is, the book suffers from a major weakness in my point of view in that it fails to incorporate major classic works in this field. As examples, the discussions of the differences between generations and the desire to educate children could have been more soundly explored had the author incorporated the ideas of Sennet and Cobb (1972) on this subject. Other dimensions related to race/ethnicity and women's oppression could also have improved if the pioneering works of British feminists in this field were considered (Phizacklea, 1983; Westwood & Bhachu, 1988). Finally, the presentation of Australian data on houseworking hours (p. 59) in comparison to hours that Korean working women spent in the USA seems to be misplaced. Again, the consideration of American data and literature on this subject could have been more useful and could have provided more sound arguments about the race/ethnicity differences among working women (Hochschild, 1989; Schor, 1991).

Finally, from a feminist point of view, I cannot agree with the statement that 'the apparel industry is very easy to reach because it does not require any qualifications to apply' (p. 43) as it perpetuates the invisibility of working women's skills. In fact, working as a sewer requires many skills which are acquired by women in 'training' for domestic work since an early age. However, those skills remain invisible for they are not acquired in formal, institutionalized channels. Considered as innate to women's 'nature', they are exploited and used as selection criteria in most organizations; and although they are fundamental to the production process, they are never recognized nor remunerated fairly.

Angelo Soares
Université du Québec à Montréal


HOCHSCHILD, A. R. (1989) The Second Shift: Working Parents and the Revolution at Home. New York: Viking.

PHIZACKLEA, A. (1983) One Way Ticket: Migration and Female Labour. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

SCHOR, J. B. (1991) The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure. New York: Basic Books.

SENNET, R. & COBB, J. (1972) The Hidden Injuries of Class. New York: W.W. Norton and Co.

WESTWOOD, S. & BHACHU, P. (1988) Enterprising Women: Ethnicity, Economy, and Gender Relations. London: Routledge.

Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1997