Cornell University

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Visiting Fellow Profile

Samanthi Gunawardana, Australia

Samanthi GunawardanaSamanthi Gunawardana is currently completing an interdisciplinary PhD in The Faculty of Economics and Commerce (Industrial and Labor Relations), and the School of Anthropology, Geography and Environment Studies (Development and Gender), at the University of Melbourne, Australia.

Samanthi's research examines the interrelationships between economic development policy, the structures of labor-management relations, and the intersections of class and gender. She uses anthropological research methods such as participant observation to explore these issues. For her dissertation, entitled "Contested Relations: The Employment System in the Katunayake Export Processing Zone, Sri Lanka."

Samanthi examines the complex interplay between state development policy, global production, firm human resource strategy, and gender and class identity to examine the character of the Export Processing Zone (EPZ) employment system in Sri Lanka. Samanthi’s other research interests include possibilities for organizing in contexts such as EPZs, where freedom of association is weakened and, in exploring the rise of a feminized labor movement in South Asia. Samanthi began fieldwork in EPZs in 2001 as part of her Honors research, for which she received a number of awards, including the Faculty- wide Kinsman Honors Research Essay Prize. She undertook participant observation in the Katunayake EPZ in 2003, living in a worker boarding house in the Katunayake village, and working as an unskilled worker along the assembly line of an EPZ apparel factory which was producing garments for corporations such as GAP, Nike and Liz Claiborne.

In addition, Samanthi took part and observed the activities of local and regional NGOS and Trade Unions, participating in a network of gender based labor groups and democratic trade unions in South Asia. Samanthi has further experience in grassroots advocacy for women workers in helping to establish a worker crisis center called the Kantha Diri Piyasa (Women's Strength Shelter) for Katunayake EPZ workers. The center was designed to provide worker education, referral and advocacy. By dealing with issues that are most pertinent to women workers, this center seeks to make labor organizing meaningful to the lives of women workers.

Samanthi's faculty sponsor at ILR is Professor Sarosh Kuruvilla. During her stay in the U.S. she will present her research at ILR-Cornell's February 2006 "Global Companies-Global Unions" international conference in NYC before returning to Melbourne.

- Samanthi Gunawardana

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