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    Still from Made in L.A. (Almudena Carracedo, 2007). Used with permission from California Newsreel.


  issue 3.1 |  

Journal Issue 3.1
Spring 2011
Edited by Agatha Beins, Deanna Utroske, Julie Ann Salthouse, Jillian Hernandez, and
Karen Alexander

Editorial Assistants: Mimi Zander and A.J. Barks


Made in L.A.: Hecho en Los Angeles. Directed by Almudena Carracedo. South Burlington, VT: California Newsreel, 2007.
Transnational Tradeswomen. Directed by Vivian Price. New York: Women Make Movies, 2006.

Reviewed by Anne Bonds


The films Made in L.A. (2007) and Transnational Tradeswomen (2006) interrogate international political economy, highlighting the reworking of gendered divisions of labor, transnational migration, and organizing for social justice in the context of neoliberal economic restructuring. Each film emphasizes the ways in which global economic processes connect women across places, even as those dynamics simultaneously reproduce gender inequalities and amplify differences among women. In Made in L.A. (70 min.) director Almudena Carracedo tells the story of three Latina immigrant garment workers employed in a Los Angeles sweatshop producing clothing for the fashion retailing giant, Forever 21. The film documents the women’s journeys from their home countries, their involvement in the garment industry, and their participation in a three-year organizing effort with the Garment Worker Center to win basic worker protections and owed compensation. Their intensely personal accounts emphasize the complicated realities that often facilitate migration decisions in a way that challenges commonplace stereotypes about immigration. Perhaps one of the most useful elements for teaching is the film’s focus on the prevalence of sweatshops in the United States. In shining a light on the pervasive, unregulated realm of subcontracting, the movie calls attention to the ways in which marginalized workers are exploited across the globe, even in places where labor laws are expected to provide some degree of protection for workers. However, the film’s analysis would be strengthened with a more explicit account of the social practices and discourses that concentrate women, particularly immigrant women, in subcontracting work.
        Made in L.A. also accentuates the challenges of feminist activism and labor organizing, candidly documenting campaign setbacks and the personal risks required for workers already vulnerable because of their citizenship status. The film demonstrates the double bind encountered by women demanding justice in the workplace even as they battle gender inequalities in the home by drawing attention to the way that gendered ideologies about femininity, care, and domesticity at once reinforce women’s disproportionate role in social reproduction and legitimate poorly paid, feminized work. Through this focus, Made in L.A. underscores the way that global capital accumulation is underwritten by women’s labor in the informal and formal spheres.1
      In the film Transnational Tradeswomen (62 min.) Vivian Price sets out to document women’s contributions to the construction industry worldwide. Drawing from her own background in trades work, Price’s exploration begins with an examination of women’s experiences in construction in the United States where, as in many other industrialized nations, affirmative action agendas have opened up opportunities for women to be hired in the trades. Yet such changes have done little to affect the masculinist culture of the industry and the sexism encountered by women on the job, which include unequal pay, harassment, and limited opportunities for advancement. From these observations, Price launches a global investigation, documenting women’s work in the trades in Thailand, Taiwan, Singapore, India, Pakistan, and Japan. While Price’s ambitious agenda does well in bringing attention to the global plight of women in the construction industry, her attempt to document women’s experiences in each of these countries ultimately creates a major weakness for the film: This exceedingly broad focus flattens out the geographic and historical specificities that constitute the differential circumstances encountered by women in each of these locations. Moreover, Price’s wide-reaching agenda creates a film that, at times, presents rich detail and a sharp, in-depth analysis, while in other instances seems to barely skim the surface. A more limited, comparative examination of two to three locations would allow Price to provide a comprehensive investigation that does justice to geographic specificity and the spatialization of discourse while calling attention to commonalities in women’s experiences in trades work.2
        In exploring women’s involvement in the trades industry globally, Price makes an important discovery: she learns that in many countries outside the United States women have been working in construction for centuries. In highlighting women’s long-term contributions in trades work in the global South, Price demonstrates the geographic variation in conceptions of femininity and work. Though a hallmark of the experience of tradeswomen in the United States is sexism based on the sentiment that laboring in the construction industry transgresses traditional notions of femininity, women have long been a common component of the sector elsewhere. Despite this historical presence, recurring discourses construct women as unskilled and justify their subordinate status. Price also exposes how rural migration flows subsidize large-scale construction projects, which raises important questions about modernity, development, and progress under contemporary globalization. As new technologies transform working conditions and increase the scale and pace of construction projects, they also displace those most marginalized in the construction industry, predominantly women and migrant workers.
       Implicit in Made in L.A. and Transnational Tradeswoman is a multiscalar analysis that foregrounds both deeply personal struggles and concerns for justice alongside workplace transformation, the restructuring of regional economies, rural to urban migration, and the increasingly transnational flow of goods and workers. Watching the films together draws attention to the continuity of powerful narratives about gender and work, underscoring the ways in which discourses surrounding social reproduction and femininity delineate women’s economic opportunities, legitimate gender inequality, and invisibilize women’s contributions in both the formal and informal spheres.
      At the same time the films also accentuate the historical and geographic contingency of gendered divisions of labor, demonstrating significant variations across place as well as new patterns emerging as a result of global restructuring and feminist activism. In building grounded, contextualized examinations of power relations and justice, the films challenge popular myths about the alleged benefits wrought by the borderless world of globalization, exposing instead how capital accumulation is subsidized by marginalized workers across the globe that are disproportionately women.    

Anne Bonds ( is an assistant professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. Her research interests center upon geographical approaches to political economy, social theory, and critical poverty and development studies. She has published research on the topics of gender and economic restructuring, the politics of economic development, and cultural constructions of race, ethnicity, and poverty.

1 Richa Nagar, Victoria Lawson, Linda McDowell, and Susan Hanson, “Locating Globalization: Feminist (Re)readings of the Subjects and Spaces of Globalization,” Economic Geography, 78, no. 3 (2002): 257-84.

2 Geraldine Pratt, Working Feminism (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2004).



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