The changing roles of female labour in economic expansion and decline: the case of Istanbul clothing industry
In this chapter, we use our research on female labor in Istanbul’s clothing industry to examine the effects of industrial boom and bust cycles on women’s lives.1 First, we trace how women gained entry into new globally oriented production systems during the clothing industry boom period (1980–95), exploring how entry into factory production shifted women’s identities and roles both in the family and in society. We argue that the restructuring of production not only generates new labor processes, but also creates new relations between home and work (see also Nippert-Eng, 1996; Castells, 1997; Weyland, 1997; Felstead and Jewson, 2000). Second, we examine how this segment of labor has been affected during the periods of vulnerability and economic downturn after 1995. Our analysis demonstrates that as the state loses capacity to intervene during cyclical economic downturns, women workers suffer most directly because of their more marginal position in the labor market. The article is divided into four main sections. The first section briefly discusses theoretical debates that shape our inquiry, while the second section examines the structural characteristics of a rapidly expanding clothing industry during the late 1980s and early 1990s in Turkey. The third section turns to the changing work patterns and identities of women workers during those years of rapid growth in the clothing industry. We argue that the incorporation of women into the clothing industry, usually second-generation migrants from rural Turkey, had a significant impact on gender identities and roles within migrant families. The fourth section traces the ripple effect of economic crisis, and the contraction of the clothing industry (2000–1), on women’s identities and family survival strategies. Our conclusion reflects upon the challenges of analyzing the dynamics of gender and work on global assembly lines prone to cyclical downturns such as those that have occurred in the Turkish textile industry.