Purai [meaning the world, earth: Awabakal language] is a research initiative to integrate global and transnational analytical perspectives and

Global Indigenous and Diaspora
Research Studies Centre


Colonization and Domestic Service: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives Research Symposium

Colonization and Domestic Service Symposium 

Crowne Plaza, Newcastle
16-17 July 2012

This research symposium was organised as part of Victoria Haskins' Future Fellowship (2009-2013) research project, In Her Place: state intervention and Indigenous domestic service in Australia and the United States, 1880-1945. Two colleagues, Dr Claire Lowrie, and Professor Pam Nilan, were co-organizers and co-convenors.

The aim of this symposium was to bring together scholars to share insights and to enter into a conversation about the connections between domestic service and colonization. We understand colonization to refer to the expropriation and exploitation of land and resources by one group over others, and to encompass imperial/extraction and settler modes of colonization, internal colonization and slavery, and present-day neocolonialism. This symposium provided an opportunity to workshop individual papers in a collegial environment, drawing out key themes, topics and issues across different sites and times.  A selection of the workshopped papers will be included as peer-reviewed chapters in a book published by an international academic press.

The questions explored included:

  • What is the relationship between domestic service and colonization, historically and into the present?
  • How do the experiences and patterns of domestic service connect with processes of dispossession, displacement, and invasion, and the social and cultural upheavals that such processes generate?
  • What is the relationship between colonization, and the gendering and racializing of domestic service?
  • Is there a difference between domestic service in settler and non-settler colonies? Have such differences affected contemporary domestic service patterns?
  • How has colonization impacted on domestic service not only in the places being colonized, but in the colonizing society "back home"?
  • What are the historical parallels and connections between domestic service under colonization, and the transnational nature of much domestic work today?
  • What was/is the impact of colonization on political organization, activism and resistance in domestic service?
  • How and why have colonizing regimes sought to manage domestic labour, and can we see similar or continuous developments in postcolonial states and neocolonial contexts? What are the implications for calls for government regulation of domestic work, particularly of migrant domestic work, today?

Three keynote speakers were invited to address the symposium: Professor Mary Romero of Arizona State University (who had been a mentor on the Fellowship application), Associate Professor Swapna Banerjee of Brooklyn College, City University of New York (CUNY), and Emeritus Professor Barry Higman, of ANU.

The composition was very international, with speakers from the United States (5, including two of the three keynotes), Canada (2), New Zealand (2), the United Kingdom (2), Turkey (1), Singapore (1), South Africa (1), Papua New Guinea (1), and Australia (6, including one of the keynotes, as well as the 3 convenors and a special guest chair). Of the Australian speakers, two were from regional NSW (Armidale and the Blue Mountains), one from Sydney, one from Brisbane (Southport), one from Canberra, and one from Perth. Speakers included established scholars of international renown and emerging scholars, as well as two postgraduate students. Registered attendees also ranged from leading scholars to postgraduate students, and came from around Australia, with one attending from the UK. There was a range of disciplines represented including: history, anthropology, gender studies, geography, fine art, and law.

The symposium organizing committee decided upon five panels, which collectively reflected both the original aims of the conference and the submissions received. These were: Resistance; Intimacies and Anxieties; the State and Domestic Service; Settler Colonialism and Domestic Service; and Comparisons and Legacies. 

Keynote speakers were Professor Mary Romero (Arizona State University), Professor Barry Higman (ANU), and Associate Professor Swapna Banerjee (Brooklyn College of CUNY).

For further information contact:

Associate Professor Victoria Haskins Victoria.Haskins@newcastle.edu.au